Language: a Love Poem

Stephen Dunn

After Neruda

When I say your hairis the color of a moonless nightin which I've often been lost,I mean approximately that dark.And the dove outside our windowis no symbol, merely wakes usat dawn, its mate a grayish creaturethat coos quite poorly. Peaceis an entirely different bird.The rose, to me, signifies the rose,and the guitar signifiesa musical instrumentcalled the guitar. At other timeslanguage is a slaughterhouse,a hammering down, its subjects hangingfrom hooks, on the vergeof being delicious. When I saythese things to you it's to watchhow certain words playthemselves out on your face,as if no one with imaginationcan ever escape being a witness.The whale, for example, no matterits whiteness, is just a mammalposing as a big fish, exceptof course if someone is drivento pursue it. That changes everything.Which is not to suggest I don't lovethe depth of your concealments.When I say your name over and overit's because I cannot possess you.

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Stephen Dunn (1939–2021) was the author of twenty poetry collections, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning Different Hours. He was a distinguished professor emeritus at Richard Stockton University. Over his six-decade career, he received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement, among many other honors.

A radiant celebration of Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Stephen Dunn’s enduring oeuvre.

Hailed as "indispensable" (David Wojahn), Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Stephen Dunn masterfully shifts between the metaphysical and the ironic, never wavering in his essential honesty. His graceful poems confront our contradictions with tenderness and wit, enliven the ordinary with penetrating observation, and alert us to the haunting wonders and relationships that surround us.

The Not Yet Fallen World draws from all nineteen of Stephen Dunn’s crystalline volumes, including his most recent, Pagan Virtues (2019); the National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist Loosestrife (1996); and the Pulitzer Prize–winning Different Hours (2000). By turns sardonic and profound, Dunn examines the disguises we don to hide from ourselves and reveals sublime beauty hidden within seemingly mundane interactions. Nine new poems extend the poet’s inquiry into the paradoxes of contemporary life; as he writes in "Love Poem Near the End of the World," "Something keeps me holding on / to a future I didn’t think possible."

"Stephen Dunn’s poems remind us that honesty begins at home, with a determination to struggle against self-deception, to discover what one really thinks and feels beneath what may be expected and approved…This collection gathered from a lifetime of writing makes clear how distinct a voice Dunn has created, and how coherent, important, and moving his accomplishment."
— Carl Dennis

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