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By Howard Nemerov

The cursive crawl, the squared-off characters

these by themselves delight, even without

a meaning, in a foreign language, in

Chinese, for instance, or when skaters curve

all day across the lake, scoring their white

records in ice. Being intelligible,

these winding ways with their audacities

and delicate hesitations, they become

miraculous, so intimately, out there

at the pen’s point or brush’s tip, do world

and spirit wed. The small bones of the wrist

balance against great skeletons of stars

exactly; the blind bat surveys his way

by echo alone. Still, the point of style

is character. The universe induces

a different tremor in every hand, from the

check-forger’s to that of the Emperor

Hui Tsung, who called his own calligraphy

the ‘Slender Gold.’ A nervous man

writes nervously of a nervous world, and so on.


Miraculous. It is as though the world

were a great writing. Having said so much,

let us allow there is more to the world

than writing: continental faults are not

bare convoluted fissures in the brain.

Not only must the skaters soon go home;

also the hard inscription of their skates

is scored across the open water, which long

remembers nothing, neither wind nor wake.


Howard Nemerov, “Writing” from The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov. Copyright © 1977 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted with the permission of Margaret Nemerov.

Source: The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov (The University of Chicago Press, 1977)

Poet Bio

Howard Nemerov was born in New York City, and attended the Society for Ethical Culture’s Fieldstone School and Harvard University, where he graduated in 1941. He then served as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, an experience he reflects on in “The War in the Air.” After the war, he completed his first book of poems and began teaching at Hamilton College, his first of many teaching positions. In the poems “The Vacuum,” and “Writing,” Nemerov combines a formal elegance with an intelligent wit and strong emotions to describe the mysteries of death and written language.

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