Poet's Pick April 13
James Henry: "Another and another and another"
Selected by Devin Johnston
National Poetry Month 2016

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Devin Johnston's Poetry Month Pick, April 13, 2016

"Another and another and another"
by James Henry (1798–1876)

Another and another and another
And still another sunset and sunrise,
The same yet different, different and the same,
Seen by me now in my declining years
As in my early childhood, youth and manhood;
And by my parents and my parents’ parents,
And by the parents of my parents’ parents,
And by their parents counted back for ever,
Seen, all their lives long, even as now by me;
And by my children and my children’s children
And by the children of my children’s children
And by their children counted on for ever
Still to be seen as even now seen by me;
Clear and bright sometimes, sometimes dark and clouded
But still the same sunsetting and sunrise;
The same for ever to the never ending
Line of observers, to the same observer
Through all the changes of his life the same:
Sunsetting and sunrising and sunsetting,
And then again sunrising and sunsetting,
Sunrising and sunsetting evermore.

 

* Devin Johnston Comments:
James Henry (1798–1876) was an Irish doctor and classicist, mostly remembered for his commentaries on the Aeneid. He was a skeptical freethinker, a pagan, and poet of considerable interest. A good deal of his verse is “chiefly philosophical” as well as comical: “By what mistake were pigeons made so happy, / So plump and fat and sleek and well content, / So little with affairs of others meddling, / So little meddled with?” To get a full sense of Henry’s range, see his Selected Poems (Handsel Books, 2002), edited by Christopher Ricks. To my ear, his strongest poems tend to be rooted in observation, drawn from the shape of an ordinary day.

In “Another and another and another,” the temperament is strikingly modern, the language clear and direct. Much of the poem’s interest lies in the tone established through the circling repetitions of ordinary words. Irony and wry impatience—boredom, even—turn into wonder at the sheer accumulation of days. I love the flickering time lapse of rising and setting suns, and the way the poem slides from first to third person as it moves backwards and forwards through the infinite generations. As Henry would have recognized, this sort of musing on the workings of time occurs often in epic: “Like leaves on trees the race of man is found, / Now green in youth, now withering on the ground; / Another race the following spring supplies; / They fall successive, and successive rise: / So generations in their course decay; / So flourish these, when those are passed away” (from Book 6 of the Iliad, trans. Alexander Pope).


Devin Johnston:
Devin Johnston’s most recent book is Far-Fetched (FSG, 2015).


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