The poet appears to be making a nostalgic return to the memories of youth and love, where even loss of
dignity is a romantic memory.
ABOUT THE POET
John Ashbery was born in Rochester, New York, in 1927. He was raised on a farm and then went to
Deerfield Academy where he began reading and writing poetry. He published a few of his poems as well
as a short story in the school newspaper.
He moved from there to Harvard University where he studied English, graduating cum laude in
1949. While there he was a member of the Harvard Advocate, the university's literary magazine.
He then went to Columbia University where he graduated with a Masters Degree in 1951.
Ashbery began work as a copywriter before a Fulbright Fellowship took him to France. There he took up
work as an editor, art critic and translator in order to earn pocket money.
Once back in the United States, he continued as an art critic for both New York and
Newsweek magazines, and was on the editorial board of ARTnews. For some years he was
also an editor at Partisan Review.
In the early 1970s, Ashbery began teaching at Brooklyn College and was elected a Fellow of the American
Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1983. During the 1980s he became Professor of Languages and
Literature at Bard College, a position he held until his retirement in 2008.
He was the poet laureate of the State of New York from 2001 to 2003, and served for a time as a
Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He is the author of more than twenty books of poetry and
has won nearly every major American award for poetry. He is recognized as one of the greatest 20th
century American poets.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
"It's this crazy weather we've been having;
Falling forward one minute, lying down the next
Among the loose grasses and soft, white, nameless flowers."
- What does the poet mean when he says, "Falling forward one minute, lying down the
- Is there any reason why the soft, white flowers should be nameless? (4)
"People have been making a garment out of it,
Stitching the white of lilacs together with lightning
At some anonymous crossroads."
- What does the poet mean when he says that "people have been making a garment out of it"? And why
were they stitching it together "with lightning"? (4)
- Why the mention of "some anonymous crossroads"? (4)
"The sky calls
To the deaf earth."
- What is happening here? And why is the earth "deaf"? (4)
"The proverbial disarray
Of morning corrects itself as you stand up."
- What is this "proverbial disarray of morning"? (4)
"You are wearing a text. The lines
Droop to your shoelaces and I shall never want or need
Any other literature than this poetry of mud."
- What is the "text" they are wearing? (4)
"And ambitious reminiscences of times when it came easily
Through the then woods and ploughed fields and had
A simple unconscious dignity we can never hope to
Approximate now except in narrow ravines nobody
Will inspect where some late sample of the rare,
Uninteresting specimen might still be putting out shoots, for all we know."
- What are "reminiscences"? Why should the poet speak about them as "ambitious
- How can we be certain that the poet is speaking of long past times? (4)
- Why does the poet say they can "never hope to approximate now except in narrow ravines nobody will
"some late sample of the rare,
Uninteresting specimen might still be putting out shoots"
- What point is the poet making here? (4)