Poetry Friday: John Frederick Nims and
the Love Poem of All Love Poems (says Jules)

h1 February 22nd, 2008 by jules

I decided to share a poem on this Poetry Friday that has always been one of my very favorites. I discovered it in college, and I am so in love with this love poem (hey, why not celebrate Valentine’s Day each day of the year?) that I thought for sure I had already shared it here at 7-Imp. But, no, a quick search tells me I haven’t.

This perfectly lovely creation sprung from the mind of poet John Frederick Nims (pictured below). Reading that link about him reminds me that this is one of those poets about which I know nothing (well, until reading that link — and this Wikipedia link in which I learned he was Editor of Poetry magazine from 1978 to 1984) and that I’ve never read any of his other works. I need to remedy that, because this poem SLAYS ME IN HALF every time I read it, particularly the final stanza (“Be with me, darling, early and late. Smash glasses— / I will study wry music for your sake. / For should your hands drop white and empty / All the toys of the world would break.”) It makes me swoon, people.

John Frederick NimsAnd what brought it to my mind this week was my general clutziness. Graceful I am not, but this week was particularly wobbly, including another burn on another finger from an attempt at another culinary creation (good thing my husband is an excellent cook). The subject of this poem is clumsy as well. So, after yet one more wobble this week, the poem’s first line — “My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases” — came to my mind and I had to go read it again (though I’ve practically got it memorized from repeated readings for over fifteen years now, as I remember I was a sophomore in college when I first read it). Now, nothing could be more irritating than someone suggesting they are just like the adored subject of such a poem. In other words, I’m not placing myself squarely in the subject’s shoes, as that would be suggesting I have grace and charm and beauty with people, which the speaker of the poem feels is more important and claims this woman, his true love, has. Nonetheless, let’s just say I can relate to the subject’s stumblings. “Misfit in any space.” Yup, I know what that feels like. “At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring”? Yup, I broke this week the second of two black plates my husband had pre-me, and I broke the first one last month.

There is a very funny “Simpsons” episode about the Springfield Chili Festival, the Merciless Peppers of Quetzlzacatenango (“grown by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum”), and Johnny Cash as the Space Coyote (“El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer,” or “The Mysterious Voyage of Homer,” episode number 162 in the eighth season of the show, if you’re a nerd). It is actually about one’s soul mate as well, but I digress. One of Homer’s lines (arguably, the best of all Homer mutterings), as he is tripping on his Guatemalan insanity pepper, is: “Note to self: Stop doing anything.” Yeah, that. That was me this week. Not ’cause I was hallucinating on peppers in a fantasy world while hearing Johnny Cash’s voice in the sky, but because I’m a big, honkin’ clutz.

I love the imagery in this poem. And I love how the entire thing is set up on one big whoppin’ contradiction: Love poems usually celebrate the subject of the poem as some ideal of utter perfection, but Nims celebrates his true love’s faults as well, while at the same time celebrating her . . . well, her heart. Yeah, I think “heart,” poor little word, is over-used and has become cliche-ridden, but there. I said it. Sure enough, he’s celebrating her very essence, her kindnesses, her soul.

Enough of that. Here it is. Pardon me while I go swoon:

My clumsiest dear, whose hands shipwreck vases,
At whose quick touch all glasses chip and ring,
Whose palms are bulls in china, burrs in linen,
And have no cunning with any soft thing

Except all ill at ease fidgeting people:
The refugee uncertain at the door
You make at home; deftly you steady
The drunk clambering on his undulant floor.

Unpredictable dear, the taxi drivers’ terror,
Shrinking from far headlights pale as a dime
Yet leaping before red apoplectic streetcars-
Misfit in any space. And never on time.

A wrench in clocks and the solar system. Only
With words and people and love you move at ease.
In traffic of wit expertly manoeuver
And keep us, all devotion, at your knees . . .

That’s probably sharing too much re copyright restrictions, but ah well. I take my chances. Here’s the poem in its entirety.

Happy Poetry Friday to all . . . Kelly Herold’s handling the round-up today at Big A little a.

{BONUS: Here’s a poem of grief by David Mason, written in remembrance of Nims after his death in 1999: “We’re dizzy / children searching for a cause, / dead serious in laughter, green / in grief.” I like that.}

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12 comments to “Poetry Friday: John Frederick Nims and
the Love Poem of All Love Poems (says Jules)”

  1. That was me, stopping everything, to listen to this poem. To be loved is one thing, but to be truly known, as in this poem, and loved even more for it… well, that’s worth more than any breakable thing.


  2. I KNOW, Sara! Isn’t it swoon-worthy?


  3. That was an enthusiastic, agreeing, Monica-Geller kind of “I KNOW!”, by the way. Not a yell-y one.


  4. I hear you, Monica. ;)

    And I see that because I put my sound effect between two html markers, it got eaten. But you can imagine the CRASH at the beginning of my first comment…


  5. Wow, first time reading this poem. What a beauty! I do think you’re in this poem — the part about being good with words, wit, love, and people — your keen perceptions about books, how you communicate so eloquently with all of us — anything but clumsy or klutzy. Sorry to hear about the kitchen burn and broken plate! Thank you for sharing your favorite poem :) .


  6. It’s funny, Jama. I assumed everyone would have heard this poem and been all, booooring. But I guess that’s ’cause it’s famous in my world. Funny how our favorite poems do that to us, huh? Make us assume everyone else knows it just as well.


  7. “So gaily in love’s unbreakable heaven” -worth losing every other talent, IMO. What a fine love poem!


  8. I do love this poem, and I think I first heard it because of you. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.


  9. Nice.

    I am clumsy, so I relate to that, too. I love to cook, but my mother is a… let’s say RELUCTANT cook, and she is fond of telling me that the kitchen is the most dangerous room in the house and that I should avoid it whenever I tell her I am cooking something. And it is true that I am pretty much constantly injuring my hands.

    My mother also warns me against power tools, and I listen to her on that one.


  10. Adrienne, glad to know I’m not alone.

    And I’d say it’s safe for me to just pretty much keep away from power tools. I always had older brothers to help with those anyway.


  11. We read this poem this morning for a critical read in English IV AP and I was thrilled because I never thought I would be reading about myself. :)


  12. just a feeling……


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