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By A. R. Ammons

I don’t know somehow it seems sufficient

to see and hear whatever coming and going is,

losing the self to the victory

   of stones and trees,

of bending sandpit lakes, crescent

round groves of dwarf pine:


for it is not so much to know the self   

as to know it as it is known

   by galaxy and cedar cone,

as if birth had never found it

and death could never end it:


the swamp’s slow water comes   

down Gravelly Run fanning the long   

   stone-held algal

hair and narrowing roils between   

the shoulders of the highway bridge:


holly grows on the banks in the woods there,   

and the cedars’ gothic-clustered

   spires could make

green religion in winter bones:


so I look and reflect, but the air’s glass   

jail seals each thing in its entity:


no use to make any philosophies here:

   I see no

god in the holly, hear no song from

the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter   

yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never   

heard of trees: surrendered self among

   unwelcoming forms: stranger,

hoist your burdens, get on down the road.


A. R. Ammons, “Gravelly Run” from The Selected Poems, Expanded Edition. Copyright © 1988 by A. R. Ammons. Reprinted with the permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Source: The Selected Poems: Expanded Edition (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1986)

  • Activities
  • Arts & Sciences
  • Nature

Poet Bio

A. R. Ammons
The wonderfully varied poetry of A. R. Ammons reflects his lifelong interest in science; landscapes, animals, biological processes, and even the weather typically provide the raw materials for his philosophical meditations. An heir of the American transcendentalists Emerson and Thoreau, who sought in nature clues to an ultimate metaphysical reality, he also has affinities with Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. A self-deprecating, countrified humor marks both his short, personal lyrics and experimental longer poems. One longer poem, Tape for the Turn of the Year, was written entirely on adding-machine tape.

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