Eric Hoffman

from Emerson In America

The shell’s knot & spine, the lip of structure,
The magnet wheels north
& clings to iron like one alive –

A universe
Constructed –
Harmonious & perfect –

All classification arbitrary & yet
In all the permutations & combinations
Might not a cabinet of shells
Retain its beauty
If not examined apart?

The glimmering of that pure, plastic Idea –

The etymologist no better than a titmouse
Peeping & darting after prey,
What Goethe sought in his metamorphosis of plants,

The Pythagorean doctrine of transmigration,
The Swedenborgian affections clothed.

Minute dissections,
The added acquaintance of intimate structure
Under sun & landscape –

Integrate the particulars –

The apparations of ethical truths
& natural classifications
Already their place & fate.

Goethe’s arch, all possible vegetable forms
Gives birth to Beasts & Dreams.


A prophet is always preparing
A penitentiary for angels –
Rich wisdom hidden
In the dust & decay
Coughs & sputters
In the utter collapsing dark –

Some duties are above courtesy.
Solemnity prevails. Prayers distress
The withheld world,
The weariness of a delicious day
Touched by celestial fingers –
Puppets or potentates –

The creator’s clearinghouse
Obscures & obfuscates –
Unwieldy design –
A waterhouse of confusion & pain,
The spirit overlaid & lost,
Or worse, collected into books.


Charmed by the color & forms of the shell,
I picked them up & placed them in my pocket.

When I returned home, I found nothing
Of what I gathered, just ugly mussels & snail shells.

Then I learned that Composition
Is more important than forms.

On the shore they lay wet & social by the sea.


Too much philosophy
& the world goes to sand.
Quam parva sapientia.

Natural history is without value
But marry it to human history
& it becomes poetry.

The plant’s habit, the sound
Of a hurried insect –
Human nature is beautiful?

To some degree.
King Lear is beautiful –
That wretched & pitiable scream

Of a naked & broken man,
A king confronted by a fool, himself,
Sturdying himself with rage.


We are as poor as we are rich.
I shall parade my rags

Before the throne of God
As emblems of my suffering

To show him I did not fail from want.
When the stones go blind contemplating

The sudden death of our sun
& the oceans & all the wandering graceless tribes

Of living things lay down
In a furnace of ice

To greet the avenging spirit
Who drew from us our last labored breath

& placed it against his heart,
In the cold throne of the firmament,

I will carry the bleeding stone that bends
Its suffering hands

To the warmth that sparks
All startled creation.

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.
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