Z-siteA Companion to the Works of Louis Zukofsky
55 Poems (1941)
Despite its publication date, LZ’s first book of poetry collects the pre-1935 poetry, other than the movements of “A”, that he wanted to preserve. The seemingly innocuous title obscures the organizational conception of the volume, which in fact includes 61 poems (counting “‘Mantis’” and its “Interpretation” as one). The volume is framed by the two major poems, “Poem beginning ‘The’” and “’Mantis,’” which are intended to define an initial stage in LZ’s career. In between are two sets of 29 poems, which despite their distinction as “poems” and “songs” are determined by composition dates rather than genre: “29 Poems” were written from 1923-1929 while the “29 Songs” are all from 1931-1934. “‘Further than’—,” which strictly speaking falls outside either grouping, is the only poem written after “‘Mantis’” in Jan. 1935.
LZ appended a somewhat puzzling terminal note (CSP 73) to 55 Poems pointing out that “Song 29” mentions that he had written only 23 of the intended 29 songs by the 29 Jan. 1933 deadline he had set himself, which at the time he believed to be his 29th birthday (see note to “Song 29 N.Y.”). Apparently 29 also dictated the number to be selected from his pre-1930 short poems as the “29 Poems.” Although he wrote the remaining six “songs” during 1933 and early 1934 and included them in the volume, he says he did not count these for the title 55 Poems. However, even leaving out these six songs, the number 55 assumes the inclusion of “’Mantis’” and “’Further than’—,” which were written during the year following his 29th birthday.
7 [Persian epigraph]: this is a ruba’i in the original Persian by Omar Khayyám (1048-1123). The verse is written in Basil Bunting’s hand, who suggested LZ use it when they met while visiting EP in Rapallo, Italy in Aug. 1933 (Booth 35). Bunting provided a phonetic transcription and a translation: “We cannot speak out as many of the world’s secrets as are in our ledger. It would bring calamity upon us. Because there is not, amongst these learned people, one with sense, not everything that is in our mind can be uttered” (HRC 21.5, see also Scroggins Bio 208-209). The card with Bunting’s translation indicates that he was working from poem #11 in F. Rosen, Ruba´iyat-i-Hakim ´Umar-i-Khayyam (Berlin, 1925). Among LZ and CZ’s effects is a handkerchief-sized texture embroidered with this verse in Persian, which presumably was sent to them by Bunting.
In All, this Persian epigraph is printed on the same page as the title and notes for “Poem beginning ‘The,’” as if it belongs with this poem, but this is incorrect as it is intended for the entire volume of 55 Poems.