29 Poems

#1 Memory of V.I. Ulianov

3 Aug. 1925 / The Exile 4 (Autumn 1928)


Hass, Robert. “Zukofsky at the Outset.” American Poetry Review 34.5 (2005): 59-70.

Woods, Tim. The Poetics of the Limit: Ethics and Politics in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry (2002): 38-39.

Steven, Mark. Red Modernism: American Poetry and the Spirit of Communism. Johns Hopkins UP, 2017. 168-171.


When this poem was originally published in The Exile 4 (1928) and later reprinted in Poetry Out of Wisconsin (1937), it had the title “Constellation” with “(In Memory of V. I. Ulianov)” as a subtitle and an epigraph from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (1678): “—wherefore being come out of the River, they saluted them saying, We are ministering Spirits, sent forth to minister for those that be heirs of salvation—.”

As a follow-up to the publication of “Poem beginning ‘The’” in The Exile 3 (1927), LZ sent to EP on 20 Feb. 1928 (EP/LZ 9) a group entitled 18 Poems to the Future that included a preface but not this poem to Lenin. EP was not sufficiently impressed by the sequence of poems, but the preface was published in The Exile 4 immediately following the Lenin poem. The scanty internal evidence indicates the poems of 18 Poems to the Future were mostly written 1926-1927. Whether these poems were put together in response to EP’s request or originally written as a sequence is difficult to say, but it does have an overall coherence. The poems address New York City and manifest LZ’s growing political awareness. However, only three of the 18 poems were published: two in 55 Poems, “Poem 7” (“During the Passaic Strike of 1926”) and “Poem 11 (“Stubbing the cloud-fields—the searchlight, high”), and another uncollected poem, “N.Y. 1927” published in the journal Nativity 2 (1931). All but two of the 18 poems have epigraphs taken from Pilgrim’s Progress, which also provided the underlying pattern for E.E. Cummings’ novel, The Enormous Room (1922); a point alluded to in LZ’s review of Cummings’ Him, which was originally entitled, “Mr. Cummings and the Delectable Mountains” (see Prep+ 84-85) and also appearing in The Exile 4. The only Bunyan quotation to ultimately survive was that for “During the Passaic Strike of 1926” (#7 below; see also #11). The typescript of 18 Poems to the Future survives among EP’s papers at Yale.

In light of the earlier title of this poem, it is possible LZ also has in mind a passage from Chap. XXVII of The Education of Henry Adams (1918), which is in part quoted at “A”-8.82.11f: “Very likely, Russia would instantly become the most brilliant constellation of human progress through all the ordered stages of good; but meanwhile one might give a value as movement of inertia to the mass, and assume a slow acceleration that would, at the end of a generation, leave the gap between east and west relatively the same.”


Title:     V.I. Ulianov: = Lenin (1870-1924), Russian revolutionary leader and Premier of the Soviet Union (1917-1924).

21.16    hegira: a journey to escape danger, from Muhammad’s flight from Mecca to Medina in 622, marking the beginning of the Muslim era.


#2 “Not much more than being”

24 Jan. 1924 / Blues (Fall 1930)


LZ comments on this poem in his 1968 interview with L.S. Dembo (Prep+ 237-239).

Ahearn, Barry. Zukofsky’s “A”: An Introduction (1983): 16-18.

Conte, Joseph M. Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry (1991): 144-145.

Stanley, Sandra Kumanoto. Louis Zukofsky and the Transformation of a Modern American Poetics (1994): 112-115.


22.9      Leopard: presumably the constellation Camellopardalis (Camel-leopard, i.e. Giraffe); like Draco (see next) it is near Ursa Minor and the North Star.

22.11    The Dragon: Draco, a northern circumpolar constellation between Ursa Major and Cepheus. See CSP 64.2.


#3 “Cocktails”

7 June 1928 / Transition (Feb. 1929)


Scroggins, Mark. Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge (1998): 152-153.

Stanley, Sandra Kumanoto. Louis Zukofsky and the Transformation of a Modern American Poetics (1994): 118-124.


22.6      Bacchae: female followers of Bacchus, Greek god of wine; perhaps not irrelevant that the Bacchae or Maenads tore the legendary poet Orpheus to pieces in one of their frenzies.

23.7      thyrsus: a staff entwined with ivy and tipped with a pinecone associated with Bacchus and his revelers.

23.19    elevated: the elevated railway or El in NYC.


#4 “Buoy—no, how”

1 Nov. 1928 / Pagany (Jan.-March 1931)


Perloff, Marjorie. “Barbed-Wire Entanglements: The New American Poetry 1930-32,” Modernism/Modernity 2.1 (1995): 158-160.

Scroggins, Mark. Louis Zukofsky and the Poetry of Knowledge. Tuscaloosa, AL: U of Alabama P, 1998. 152-153.

Watten, Barrett. Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics. Wesleyan UP, 2003. 175-176.


#5 Ferry

16 Jan. 1925 / Poetry (June 1929) and Contact (Feb. 1932)


Conte, Joseph M. Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry (1991): 145-146.


Given the title “North River Ferry” when published in Poetry


#6 “How many / Times round”

19 July 1926 / Negro Anthology (1934)


There are some notable differences in details as printed in the Negro Anthology edited by Nancy Cunard (see here). The lineation of the poem in 55 Poems agrees with the manuscript (HRC 12.10) but differs in the following details:
line 2: time ’round
line 11: lacks dash
line 13: Hisself ‘s
line 15: Before ‘e
lines 19-22: these lines are in quotation marks and the final two lines lack the additional exclamation points. 


#7 During the Passaic Strike of 1926

18 April 1926


This poem was included as #14 of “18 Poems to the Future,” which LZ submitted to EP for The Exile in Feb. 1928; see note to “Memory of V. I. Ulianov.”

Title:     Passaic Strike: Textile workers in Passaic, NJ began a strike in Jan. 1926 organized under the leadership of Albert Weisbord over wage cuts and better working conditions. Eventually, 15,000 workers were out on strike, which lasted through most of the rest of the year and involved numerous clashes with police and arrests of strikers.

26.1      St. Mark’s-on-the-Bouwerie: Episcopal church, one of the oldest in NYC, located at the corner of Second Avenue and East 10th Street in the Bowery on the Lower East Side, near where LZ grew up. A good many well-known figures are buried there, so would be a prestigious place to be interred.

26.2      S.T.H.: S. Theodore Hecht (1895-1973), long-time friend of LZ from their student days at Columbia University, and one of his poems was included in the “Objectivists” issue of Poetry (1931). Hecht became an educator. See also note at “A”-6.36.5.

26.4      How will the dead bury their dead: echoes Matthew 8:22: “Let the dead bury the dead.”

26.13    “I was born indeed in your dominions…: from Part I of John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian is in the Valley of Humiliation; the sentence LZ quotes continues with a quotation from the bible: “for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). See note to “Memory of V.I. Ulianov.


#8 “And to paradise which is a port”

29 Oct. 1928 / Blues (May 1929)


#9 “A dying away as of trees”

19 April 1927 / Blues (Spring 1930)


#10 “Passing tall”

12 April 1925 / Pagany (Jan.-March 1931)


#11 “Stubbing the cloud-fields—the searchlight, high”

3 May 1926


This poem was #10 of “18 Poems to the Future” (see note to “Memory of V. I. Ulianov”) with the title “In the Era of Rays” and an epigraph from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress: “—the reflection of the Sun upon the City (for the City was pure gold) was so extremely glorious, that they could not as yet with open face behold it, but through an Instrument made for that purpose.” Also in the surviving manuscript (HRC 12.10), as well as the typescript of “18 Poems to the Future,” this poem had an additional opening line: “Once, and again it moves along the heavens!” and the penultimate line reads: “Ours again, till once again it moves along the heavens,”


#12 “Millennium of sun—“

22 Feb. 1924 / Blues (Feb. 1929)


28.2      Beast of the field,— / Kissing the beast…: this first phrase is Biblical, but the rest of the poem is apparently suggested by Bottom’s transformation into an ass and the beloved of Titania in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.


#13 “We are crossing the bridge now”

10 Jan. 1926


28.7      brume: mist, fog, vapor.


#14 “Only water—“

30 Aug. 1926 / Pagany (April-June 1930)


#15 “And looking to where shone Orion”

28 April 1925 / Pagany (April-June 1930)


29.1      Orion: the Hunter, a constellation lying on the celestial equator between Canis Major and Taurus, containing the stars Betelgeuse and Rigel.

29.2      Wickson: when originally published in Pagany (April-June 1930), this poem was accompanied by two others, “’It is well on this June night’” and “Only water,” the first also explicitly addressed to Wickson and both set at the seaside. My guess is that this is Whittaker Chambers (1901-1961), LZ’s close friend and classmate at Columbia, who lived in Lynbrook near the south shore of Long Island where LZ spent a good deal of time, especially in the summers.

29.4      “As to taste there’s no dispute…: from the L. proverbial phrase, de gustibus non est disputandum; see “A”-6.27.18.


#16 Aubade, 1925

24 Sept. 1925 / Hound & Horn (Winter 1931)


Title:     Aubade: a poem or song of the dawn, especially of parting lovers; the form is particularly associated with the medieval Provençal troubadours.


#17 “Cars once steel and green, now old”

29 Dec. 1924 / Poetry (June 1929)


Conte, Joseph M. Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry (1991): 147.


31.2      Cedar Manor: a neighborhood in Queens in eastern Long Island. LZ is almost certainly referring to train station and a graveyard for old train cars. He would have passed through Cedar Manor on the way to and from the south shore of Long Island near where Whittaker Chamber’s family home was located and which he frequently visited (see note on Wickson in #15 above).


#18 “Tall and singularly dark you pass among the breakers—“

6 July 1924 / Pagany (Jan.-March 1931)


#19 “Run on, you still dead to the sound of a name”

15 Oct. 1925 / Fifth Floor Window (May 1932)


When this poem was first published in Fifth Floor Window, it was given the title “Poem—1925” and had a somewhat fuller second stanza as follows:

Near, pass near, the curve of the heavens,
Tho sunned your whiteness is of winter frost,
In the ceaseless pulsation, wintry, lost.


#20 “Close your eyes”

21 Dec. 1925


#21 “O sleep, the sky goes down behind the poplars”

21 Dec. 1925


#22 “Cactus rose-mauve and gray, twin overturned”

29 Jan. 1928 / Pagany (1930)


33.7      nescience: lack of knowledge, ignorance.

33.8      mortmain: real property held inalienably, perpetual holding of land; the oppressive influence of past events or decisions.

33.10    Hannah, “grace”: the Anglicized form of the Heb. Chana, meaning grace or favor (of God), and therefore referring to LZ’s mother who died 29 Jan. 1927.


#23 Song Theme

26 Jan. 1927 / The Dial (Dec. 1928)


#24 tam cari capitis

27 Nov. 1923 / The Dial (Dec. 1928)


Title:     tam cari capitis: proverbial L. phrase from Horace: Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus / tam cari capitis? (What shame or bound can there be in longing for so dear a person?; trans. Andrew Lang), the opening of Ode 1.24, “To Virgil on the Death of Quintitius.”


#25 “Like the oceans, or the leaves of fine Southern”

Jan. 1926


#26 “Ask of the sun”

2 June 1928 / Front (Dec. 1930)


LZ included the last five stanzas of this poem in “A”-17.377.15-24, as part of his tribute to WCW.

35.15    Brueghel: Pieter Brueghel the Elder (c.1525-1569), Flemish painter; LZ here refers to “The Harvesters,” which depicts a peasant prominently sprawled out having a nap. LZ also mentions this painting at “A”-8.66.15.


#27 “Blue light is the night harbor-slip”

11 Nov. 1928 / Pagany (April-June 1931)


#28 & 29 Two Dedications

5 & 2 Feb. 1929 / Blues (Fall 1930) and Morada (1931)


Stanley, Sandra Kumanoto. Louis Zukofsky and the Transformation of a Modern American Poetics (1994): 91-97.


In the original version of “American Poetry 1920-1930,” LZ comments on the use of a two and three count (word) line respectively in these poems, claiming that “[…] in this manner necessarily restricting the number of syllables but allowing for variations that might make the quantity interesting,” as well as pointing out that WCW used this technique, “perhaps not too consciously,” in Spring and All (see The Symposium 2.1 (Jan. 1931): 64).


Title      Tibor Serly: (1901-1978), Hungarian-American violinist, violist and composer, who lived much of his life in the U.S. He was closely associated with Béla Bartók (1881-1945), particularly after the latter fled to the U.S. in 1940, arranging and promoting his works. Serly met LZ in the late 1920s, who introduced him to EP and subsequently Serly participated in many collaborative projects with EP in Rapallo. Also via LZ, Serly met WCW, with whom he attempted to compose the music for the latter’s The First President opera, but the project eventually fell through.

Title      D.R.: Diego Rivera (1886-1957), Mexican painter and muralist closely identified with revolutionary leftist politics throughout his career. The composition date of this poem indicates it preceded Rivera’s major mural projects in the U.S., including the contentious Rockefeller Center murals of 1933 and his enormously successful retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC in Nov. 1931. It is possible LZ is working from illustrations of the huge mural and fresco project at La Secretaría de Educación Pública in Mexico City, which Rivera worked on from 1923-1928.