09 August 2007

Margaret Avison

The Globe and Mail carried an obituary today for Margaret Avison, who died in Toronto on July 31, in her ninetieth year. It includes these words:

Margaret wrote poetry almost all her life. She twice received the Governor Generals Award (Winter Sun, 1960, and No Time, 1989). She held three honorary doctorates and in 1985 was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. Her Concrete and Wild Carrot, 2002, was awarded a Griffin Prize for Poetry. Her first six volumes of poetry were collected as Always Now, 2003, and a seventh, Momentary Dark, appeared in 2006.

It does not mention what is my favorite of her works, a poem entitled “The Dumbfounding”:

When you walked here,
took skin, muscle, hair,
eyes, larynx, we
withheld all honor: “His house is clay,
how can he tell us of his far country?”

Your not familiar pace
in flesh, across the waves,
woke only our distrust.
Twice-torn we cried, “A ghost”
and only on our planks counted you fast.

Dust wet with your spittle
cleared mortal trouble.
We called you a blasphemer,
a devil-tamer.

The evening you spoke of going away
we could not stay.
All legions massed. You had to wash, and rise,
alone, and face
out of the light, for us.

You died.
We said,
“The worst is true, our bliss
has come to this.”

When you were sen by men
in holy flesh again
we hoped so despairingly for such report
we closed their windpipes for it.

Now you have sought
and seek, in all our ways, all thoughts,
streets, musics—and we make of these a din
trying to lock you out, or in,
to be intent. And dying.

Yet you are
constant and sure,
the all-lovely, all-men’s-way
to that far country.

Winning one, you again
all ways would begin
life: to make anew
flesh, to empower
the weak in nature
to restore
or stay the sufferer;

lead through the garden to
trash, rubble, hill,
where, the outcast’s outcast, you
sound dark’s uttermost, strangely light-brimming, until
time be full.

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