Eric Hoffman


Among buildings and streets,
the orderly progression
of documents and laws

impels a man to labor harder,
to set himself to eke out
fortune or failure,

to be clothed in fineries
or in rags, to clamor for bread
or for dividends, to choose

his charities or to make a charity
of himself –
Even in a vicious place,

virtuous attachments
grow strong, stronger even
than in places of peace


Hunting and gathering,
the population dispersed,
spread thin – the Nomad’s passion
is less ardent, diffuse as the men
between them –

Settling in some fruitful spot,
the tribe relaxes into alien civility,
acquiring children as fast as poverty –
their women chattel, resigned to slavery


If food were plenty,
their children would live, all of them,

not simply the ruddiest,
even the pale and infirm,

the weak little starling
whose small heart flutters



Distress by want of food
violates the human heart –

The slow progress of our numbers
can at times not be traced

to the decay of passion
which exists in undiminished vigor –

To see the orphaned children
crowd the street –

already accustomed to barter and theft


Rank on the ladder,
the steps ascending or descending and,
depending on the degree of deprivation,
the stature one wants to attain,
the considerations are trivial
or contemplative –

A man will submit to harder fare
and labor for the sake of living
with a women he loves –

For they will gladly give
food and the love of Christ
for one more thorn-bound soul


Those who have opened the doors
to the church, who have collected
the donation plate,
they have no means besides –
slipping silver up their sleeves –

Their sons and daughters
will not be found such easy cherubs
as romances describe


Corpses of Orcus –
moldy patents –
and the increase of one
decreases the other,
and so they remain impoverished –

Any interference
with the affairs of others
is a seedling tyranny –
evil gone too far
to be remedied –

The poor submit,
they perform the part
of the contract
and fulfill their portion
of an obligation
we never intend to return –
for it is impossible –

They sacrifice liberty
for nothing


Error of supposing
that the difficulty
is at a great distance –

Condorcet’s sketch –
the progress of the human mind –

the perfectibility of man –
the whole earth
a cultivated garden


Unlimited progress
from partial improvements –

a fallacy of limits –

an ‘organic perfectibility
of man’ –

who supposes?

If his natural facilities
remain the same,
what will be the certainty –
the extent of hope


Things improve –
refinements –

adjustments, the preponderance
of evidences

to the maw of human knowledge

that has no preference
for cordiality or sin


Duration will increase without ceasing,
will have no assignable term –

All is indefinite –
a constant approach to unlimited extent –

The immensity is geologic –
astounded by the expanse
of the cave’s mouth,
the slow cylinder of time
cauterized by its vaulted depths –


When comes a time
of the diminution of happiness
and the advent of misery
that diminishes happiness –

a necessary oscillation –

For men and women
without children
is the loss of hope
and the erasure
of everything it means
to be human



We are in that savage state
despite the fair-sounding words,
the noble plumage of genius –

All we have are our exertions
and a little death
at the end, some sleep –

perhaps some satisfactions
and laughter that wounds
all memory, staves off death


The pride and self-deceiving
expectations of our children –
the diminishments of our kingdoms –
as when a vast fortune
falls victim to some complex
unexpected action,
emptying its coffers,
its fruit consumed by lechers,
all the blandishments
of our best intentions
devoured by wolves


Skull drudgery,
habits of mind
that precludes
the common vision –

We inhabit
an echo-worn,
darkened sphere –

the angry, shrill
paranoiac and hysteric
drowns out the calm,
still voice of reason



He rests his shoulders
in a resigned shrug,
his brow heavy,
his eyes downcast,
the weight of the tool
in his hand –

so much force
for so little exertion,
so much toil
for so little fruit –

The wheelcart of the sun
and the sweat of the oxen,
the hundred tonne
gallon per second swing
of the river’s arm
clothing cool stones
as it spills, turning
the immense carved wheels
of the water house
in eternal motion –

Our ardor in pursuit –
the heavy mechanisms
that chains our mouths
to sugared tubers and fruits –

A beautiful system
of event and distance


The want for the child to grow,
for the wife to live,

the want of happiness
weighed against misery,

the sorrow of witness,
the heart that wears its convictions –

calamity averted, calamity defiled


Impurity, the turbid
spring of human life –
no equality in plenty –

And if all had all, all
would suffer to guard
his life, a little storehouse
until the earth refused
absolutely to produce anything more –
returning you to the dark days of nothing –

This presses upon us,
so that even utmost purity
collapses under hunger’s weight
and its petty degradations


This beautiful fabric
of imagination vanishes
at the severest touch of Truth –

The spirit of benevolence,
invigorated by plenty, repressed
by the chilling breath of want –

The hateful vanished passions,
the black train of vice –
want triumphant,

save for some mysterious interference
of heaven –
Benevolence, not self-love –

a stripping away
of impediments –
the heart’s boundaries


Passion in an age is not consistent
with reason or virtue –
ardor is arduous –

who has felt at first
that insatiable hunger
without reason or cause
or lust, if true,
but a selfless lust
appealing to more
than bestial urges –

a refinement of the eye,
a kind of tangible aesthetic
that cripples the mind –

It is the most invigorating
oxygen, a sanctuary
from the inevitable,
spontaneity’s remnant


Walking many miles in ice
and snow, with purpose

in mind, the body does not tire –
it has more effect

upon the mind than the mind
upon the body –

The mind’s first object
is to act as purveyor

to the body’s wants –
Satisfied, it can then wander –

It cannot fix its attention
on one or more objects at once –

When a horse of spirit
is half-tired,

the stimulus in the spur
and bit put upon his mettle


Want was the goad
that drove Scythian shepherds
from their flock, famishing
wolves in search of prey –

This cloud of Barbarians descends
from the North, their congregated
bodies blotting out the sun –
Desolation extends its empty arms around them –

Want pinches the poor –
Young scions parceled out from parent-stock
give instruction to explore fresh regions,
to gain happier seats by their swords


From want, the passions arise,
and from passion, vice and evil –

A throw of the dice:
combinations become frequent –

Cause flows in the acme of perfection –
The florist prepares the flower,

yet other suns
may produce a more perfect pink

of carnation and yet
a bursting flame may be a trifle


The savage would slumber
forever under his tree
unless roused from his torpor
by the cravings of hunger
or the pinching of cold –

The wants of the body
have given cause
to the noblest of exertions –
not pleasure, only pain,
including pain induced

by pleasure’s lack –
All are compelled
by blind necessity
and the pursuit of good
is without vicious propensity

Eric Hoffman is the author of eleven books of poetry, the most recent being By the Hours: Selected Poems, Early and Uncollected (Dos Madres, 2013). Oppen: A Narrative, a critical biography of George Oppen, was published this past October by Shearsman. In 2009, he edited a George Oppen centennial festschrift, All This Strangness: A Garland for George Oppen. Poetry and prose have appeared in Jacket2, Talisman, Rain Taxi, Reconfigurations, Moria, BlazeVOX, Galatea Resurrects, Listenlight, E-Ratio, Otoliths, Smartish Pace, Rattle, Cultural Society and Big Bridge, among many others.

The poems above are from a new book, Forms of Life.
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