John Updike

March 21, 2007


John Hoyer Updike
Born in Pennsylvania
Attended Harvard University on a full scholarship
Known for his careful craftsmanship and prolific writing, having published 22 novels and more than a dozen short story collections as well as poetry, literary criticism and children’s books
Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems have appeared in The New Yorker since the 1950s
Works often explore sex, faith, and death, and their inter-relationships


The scum has come. / My cocoa’s cold. / The cup is numb, / And I grow old.
It seems an age / Since from the pot / It bubbled, beige / And burning hot-
Too hot to be / Too quickly quaffed. / Accordingly, / I found a draft
And in it placed / The boiling brew / And took a taste / Of toast or two.
Alas, time flies / And minutes chill; / My cocoa lies / Dull brown and still.
How wearisome! / In likelihood, / The scum, once come, / Is come for good.

-Lament, For Cocoa (in whole)

My child as yet unborn, the doctors nod, / Agreeing that your first month shall be March, / A time of year I know by heart and like / To talk about- I too was born in March.
March, like November a month largely unloved, / Parades before April, who steals all shows / With his harlequinade of things renewed. / Impatient for that pastel fool’s approach, / Our fathers taunted March, called him Hlyd-monath, / Though the month is mild, and a murmurer. / Indeed, after the Titan’s fall and shatter / Of February, March seems a silence. / The Romans, finding February’s ruins / At the feet of March, heard his wind as boasting / And hailed his guilt with a war-god’s name.
As above some street in a cobbled sea-town / From opposing walls two huge boards thrust / To advertise two inns, so do the signs / Of Pisces the Fish and Aries the Ram / Overhand March. Depending on the day, / Your fortunate gem shall be the bloodstone / Or the diamond, your lucky color crimson / Or silver gray. You shall prove affable, / Impulsive, lucky in your friends, or cross, / According to the counterpoint of stars. / So press your business ventures, wear cravats, / And swear not by the moon. If you plant wheat, / Do it at dawn. The same for barley. Let / The tide transplant kohlrabi, leeks, and beans. / Toward the month’s end, sow hardy annuals.
It was this month when Caesar fell, Stalin died, / And Beethoven. In this month snowflakes melt- / Those last dry crusts that huddle by the barn. / Now kites and crocuses are hoisted up. / Doors slap open. Dogs snuffle soggy leaves, / Rehearsing rusty repertoires of smells. / the color of March is the one that lies / On the shadow side of young tree trunks.
March is no land of extremes. Dull as life, / It offers small Flowers and minor
holidays. / Clouds stride sentry and hold our vision down. / By much the same token, agonized roots / Are hidden by earth. Much, much is opaque. / The thunder bluffs, wind cannot be gripped, / And kites and crocuses are what they are. / Still, child, it is far from a bad month, / For all its weight of compromise and hope. / As modest as a monk, March shall be there / When on that day without a yesterday / You, red and blind and blank, gulp the air.

-March : A Birthday Poem for Elizabeth (in whole)

Sunflower, of flowers / the most lonely, / yardstick of hours, / long-term stander / in empty spaces, / shunner of bowers, / indolent bender / seldom, in only / the sharpest of showers: / tell us, why / is it your face is / a snarl of jet swirls / and gold arrows, a burning / old lion face high / in a cornflower sky, / yet by turning / your head, we find / you wear a girl’s / bonnet behind?

-Sunflower (in whole)

At verses she was not inept, / Her feet were neatly numbered. / She never cried, she softly wept, / She never slept, she slumbered.
She never ate and rarely dined, / Her tongue found sweetmeats sour. / She never guessed, but oft divined / The secrets of a flower.
A flower! Fragrant, pliant, clean, / More dear to her than crystal. / She knew what yearnings dozed between / The stamen and the pistil.
Dawn took her thither to the wood, / At even, home she hithered. / Ah, to the gentle Pan is good- / She never died, she withered.

-Poetess (in whole)

In the novel he marries Victoria but in the movie he dies.
-caption in Life

Fate lifts us up so she can hurl / Us down from heights of pride, / Viz.: in the book he got the girl / But in the movie, died. /
The author, seeing he was brave / And good, rewarded him, / Then, greedy, sold him as a slave / To savage M-G-M.
He perished on the screen, but thrives / In print, where serifs keep / Watch o’er the happier of his lives: Say, Does he wake, or sleep?

-In Memoriam (in whole)


One Response to “John Updike”

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