Kenneth Koch

Here you will find the Long Poem Bel Canto of poet Kenneth Koch

Bel Canto

The sun is high, the seaside air is sharp, 
And salty light reveals the Mayan School. 
The Irish hope their names are on the harp, 
We see the sheep's advertisement for wool, 
Boulders are here, to throw against a tarp, 
From which comes bursting forth a puzzled mule. 
Perceval seizes it and mounts it, then 
The blood-dimmed tide recedes and then comes in again. 

Fateful connections that we make to things 
Whose functioning's oblivious to our lives! 
How sidewise news of light from darkness springs, 
How blue bees buzz from big blooms back to hives 
And make the honey while the queen bee sings 
Leadbelly in arrangements by Burl Ives? 
How long ago I saw the misted pine trees 
And hoped, no matter how, to get them into poetry! 

Stendhal, at fifty, gazing as it happened 
On Rome from the Janiculum, decided 
That one way he could give his life a stipend 
Was to suspend his being Amour's fighter 
And get to know himself. Here he had ripened 
Accomplished, loved, and lived, was a great writer 
But never had explored in true detail 
His childhood and his growing up. So he set sail 

Composing La Vie de Henry Brulard 
But in five hundred pages scarcely got 
Beyond his seventeenth year, for it is hard 
To take into account what happens here 
And fit it all onto an index card. 
Even one moment of it is too hot, 
Complex and cannibalistically connected 
To every other, which is what might be expected. 

Sterne's hero has a greater problem, never 
Getting much past his birth. I've had a third one. 
My autobiography, if I should ever 
Start out to write it, quickly seems a burden 
An I-will-do-that-the-next-time endeavor. 
Whatever life I do write's an absurd one 
As if some crazy person with a knife 
Cut up and made a jigsaw puzzle of a life. 

In any case a life that's hardly possible 
In the conditions that we really live in, 
Where easy flying leaps to inaccessible 
Mountainy places where love is a given 
And misery, if there, infinitesimal, 
Are quite the norm. Here none by pain is driven 
That is not curable by the romanza 
That's kept in readiness to finish any stanza. 

Whatever, then, I see at this late stage of 
My life I may or may not have stayed ignorant 
Of that great book I've strained to write one page of 
Yet always hoping my page was significant. 
Be it or not, for me and for the ages 
I leave it as it is. Yet as a figurant 
Who has not stopped, I'm writing in addition 
More lines to clarify my present disposition. 

One person in a million finds out something 
Perhaps each fifty years and that is knowledge. 
Newton, Copernicus, Einstein are cunning. 
The rest of us just rise and go to college 
With no more hope to come home with the bunting 
Than a stray dachshund going through the village. 
However, what a treat our small successes 
Of present and of past, at various addresses! 

To be in all those places where I tarried 
Too little or too late or bright and early 
To love again the first woman I married 
To marvel at such things as melancholy, 
Sophistication, drums, a baby carriage, 
A John Cage concert heard at Alice Tully? 
How my desire when young to be a poet 
Made me attentive and oblivious every moment! 

Do you remember Oceanview the Fair? 
The heights above the river? The canoes? 
The place we beached them and the grass was bare? 
Those days the sandbars gave our knees a truce? 
The crooked line of pantry shelves, with pear 
And cherry jam? And Pancho, with his noose? 
Do you remember Full and Half and Empty? 
Do you remember sorrow standing in the entry? 

Do you remember thought, and talking plainly? 
Michel and I went walking after Chartres 
Cathedral had engaged our spirits mainly 
By giving us an insight into Barthes. 
Michel said he was capable of feigning 
Renewed intentions of the soul's deep part, 
Like this cathedral's artificial forces 
That press a kind of artless thought into our faces. 

And yet? � The moor is dark beneath the moon. 
The porcupine turns over on its belly 
And new conceptions rap at the cocoon. 
Civilization, dealing with us fairly, 
For once, releases its Erectheion 
Of understanding, which consoles us, nearly. 
Later we study certain characteristics 
That may give us a better chance with the statistics. 

How much I'd like to live the whole thing over, 
But making some corrections as I go! 
To be a better husband and a father, 
Be with my babies on a sled in snow. 
By twenty I'd have understood my mother 
And by compassion found a way to know 
What separates the what-I-started-out-as 
From what-I-sometimes-wished-I-was-when-in-the-mountains. 

To be onc