Private: Edmund Keeley, 1928–2022

The Hudson Review mourns the passing of Edmund Keeley, a poet, translator, novelist and essayist. In his memory, we are sharing the last three poems he published with us (“Pelion” in Winter 2020, “Daylight” in Summer 2021 and “The Day Comes” in Winter 2022), which he intended as a trilogy.

Calling it a mortal fog
That slides across your late decade
Doesn’t ease the mystery ahead
Or the feeling that you’ll never know
What it is when its time has come.
And it doesn’t work to pretend you can still
Play with it in metaphor, like a thing
Arriving to surprise you on little cat feet
Or rubbing its muzzle on your windowpane.
Maybe dealing with that darkening night
Can only come with rousing memory,
What the mind still holds of those greener days
When the sun slanted across the cobblestones
To clear the way for a climb on Pelion
And the long rest at the first clearing,
Your companion silent, turning to see
Where the sound of a goat bell hid in the distance
And the myth of piling Pelion on Ossa
Hovered as a cliché that no longer entertained
Rebellious giants and nostalgic philosophers,
The truth of sprouting pine and olive
The first truth surrounding a spring
Still enough to clear the mind
And hold for a second the two faces
Suddenly reflected there
So alive in your reading of the moment
To kill the literary conceit of Narcissus
Or any mythical love of self
That challenged the love the gods had planted
With the lucid waters of that mountainside
And those other springs in the years beyond
Returning to guide you through the dimness
To feel that knowing how it ends
Would be nothing to remembering what it was.

Our plague has various names
None as blunt as the Black Death
Of the Middle Ages yet still as dark
Unless you can somehow believe that light
From a flash of final recognition
Or anticipated otherworldly dawn
Will always arrive before the end
To mute the horror of so much dying
And your own waiting for what might come.
So why wait any longer,
Why not leave it all to Nemesis
And take a long walk outside
In whatever direction holds the prospect
Of your recovering things to remember
From those lighter years in open spaces
That shore beside an endless sea
The white mornings to lie in wonder
After the beautiful dark passages
Of nightlong loving and the dividends
Of having held another beyond
Any belief that it could possibly end.
The Day Comes

The day comes, it seems, when
The mystery of our coming and our going
That has hovered over these late years
Begins to fade into one or another
Unsettled cliché about man and the gods
Or man on his own trying to fathom
What man or woman can never
Be wise enough to understand
With more than human certainty,
Whether their bland beginning
Or their opaque end, let alone
The generous space in between.
The godly say solace is there
Variously, comforting, perhaps obscure,
But the surest route for those of us
With little more than our dying hope
That mystery has its limitations
Is to gather the best from what remains
Unsentimental but felt, manifest,
To weave through the life we’ve known
With the right memory for interference
And find those images worth reliving:
A difficult father finally holding
One of his infant sons sky-high,
As though a golf trophy,
A bridge expert gourmet mother
Stepping back from her hot stove
To let her narcissistic daughter
Demonstrate how a grandmother sucks eggs,
And those images that go beyond wit
Or need for some saving irony
As honest first love in its failure
Almost lost to another more haunting
And yes, another, so surely there’s no
Consolation when the day finally comes,
Just the pain and gratitude.