Monday, August 29, 2016

John Wheelwright

John Wheelwright (1897—1940) is the author of three poetry collections. He was born into an elite Boston family. After his father had a mental breakdown, and committed suicide in 1912, Wheelwright converted from the traditional Unitarianism of his family, to become an Anglican. During his years at Harvard, however, he found himself clashing with church dogma, particularly in his socialism. In his activism, he showed sympathy for Marxism and Trotsky. Faith in Christ is an important theme throughout his poetry, such as in a series of poems about Thomas.

He made close connections with some major American poets of his day, such as E.E. Cummings whom he knew at Harvard. One of Wheelwright's best-known poems is "Fish Food" — an elegy at the death of his friend Hart Crane, who drowned himself by jumping off a steamship in the Gulf of Mexico.

At age 43 John Wheelwright was killed by a drunk driver. His Selected Poems were published in 1943, and his Collected Poems (New Directions) in 1972.

On a Rococo Crucifix

Guarded by bursts of glory, golden rays, —
Christ, when I see thee hanging there alone
In ivory upon an ebon throne;
Like Pan, pard-girded, chapleted with bays;
I kiss thy mouth, I see thee in a haze,
But not of tears, of heartbreak there is none ...
Is it, oh, Sufferer, my heart is stone?
Am I, in truth, the Judas who betrays?

To hang in shame above a gory knoll,
To die of scorn upon a splintered pole, —
This was not beautiful, I know, for thee ...
Would I have whispered upon Calvary,
"An interesting silhouette, there, see!"
While God groaned in the dark night of his soul?

Seed Pods

Where the small heads of violets
are shrunk to smaller skulls,
in meadows where the mind forgets
its bull fights and its bulls;
the dust of violet or rose
relinquishes its scent
and carries with it where it blows
a lessening remnant
of heresies in equipoise
and balanced argument
with which the mind would have refleshed
the flower's skeleton,
but that it found itself enmeshed
in the web of oblivion.
Therefore, when Gabriel sound the horn
and dust rise through the ground,
our flesh shall turn, on our last morn
fleshless as the horn's sound.

Thanks to Burl Horniachek for recommending this and other poets for Kingdom Poets!

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.