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Advent Poetry Calendar – “A Sword in a Cloud of Light”

  • Posted by: Michael Foight
  • Posted Date: November 29, 2016
  • Filed Under: Library News

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“A Sword In A Cloud Of Light” by Kenneth Rexroth
Read by Kenneth Rexroth (@29:02)
Submitted by Michael Foight

Michael Foight is Special Collections and Digital Library coordinator at Falvey Memorial Library and submitted this poem with the comment, “my favorite poem of all time.”

The recording provided is from the Poetry Center Digital Archive* and is Kenneth Rexroth reading many of his poems including “A Sword In A Cloud Of Light,” which is at 29:02. You can also download the recording or listen to it on the Poetry Center Digital Archive’s site.

“A Sword In A Cloud Of Light”
By Kenneth Rexroth

Your hand in mine, we walk out
To watch the Christmas Eve crowds
On Fillmore Street, the Negro
District. The night is thick with
Frost. The people hurry, wreathed
In their smoky breaths. Before
The shop windows the children
Jump up and down with spangled
Eyes. Santa Clauses ring bells.
Cars stall and honk. Street cars clang.
Loud speakers on the lampposts
Sing carols, on juke boxes
In the bars Louis Armstrong
Plays White Christmas. In the joints
The girls strip and grind and bump
To Jingle Bells. Overhead
The neon signs scribble and
Erase and scribble again
Messages of avarice,
Joy, fear, hygiene, and the proud
Names of the middle classes.
The moon beams like a pudding.
We stop at the main corner
And look up, diagonally
Across, at the rising moon,
And the solemn, orderly
Vast winter constellations.
You say, “There’s Orion!”
The most beautiful object
Either of us will ever
Know in the world or in life
Stands in the moonlit empty
Heavens, over the swarming
Men, women, and children, black
And white, joyous and greedy,
Evil and good, buyer and
Seller, master and victim,
Like some immense theorem,
Which, if once solved would forever
Solve the mystery and pain
Under the bells and spangles.
There he is, the man of the
Night Before Christmas, spread out
On the sky like a true god
In whom it would only be
Necessary to believe
A little. I am fifty
And you are five. It would do
No good to say this and it
May do no good to write it.
Believe in Orion. Believe
In the night, the moon, the crowded
Earth. Believe in Christmas and
Birthdays and Easter rabbits.
Believe in all those fugitive
Compounds of nature, all doomed
To waste away and go out.
Always be true to these things.
They are all there is. Never
Give up this savage religion
For the blood-drenched civilized
Abstractions of the rascals
Who live by killing you and me.

*The Poetry Center Digital Archive is a Project of The Poetry Center at San Francisco State University.


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Last Modified: November 29, 2016