Eric Hoffman

from Emerson in America

Snow & moonlight makes all landscapes alike.
Everything may be painted, everything sung

But to be a poem
Its feet must be lifted from the ground.

The wind will go down with the sun,
Leafless trees will become spires of flame

& the stars of dead calices of flowers
& every withered stem rimed with frost

With all their forms & hues
Contribute to the mute music of the world.


How old is the pebble,
The magnet –

I consult the auguries of time,
Look at the Almanack affectionately –

The thing set down in words
Is not affirmed

It must affirm itself –
This is the core of the world.


Evil times make men think.
Wise moments are years

Forever lighting the countenance.
They are good; they do not

Belong to genius, but to man.
They refuse to be recorded.

The eye that sees that all things are good,
Not of man, neither by men –

The round world loose
In the silent vacuum of space.


What must be said in a lyceum?
Fragmentary lopsided mortals
Assembling to the heavens,

The soul endowed with the poverty of affliction
To whom a starved worm reeks
Of the bounty of heaven –

Compassion – who speaks of compassion?
Those that decorate the galleries,
Open their doors, offering free admission

So that the child that hungers might know
That beyond the grimy tenement windows
Are sublime visions.


Mind is the first philosophy,
The science of what is

& not what appears to be.
The mark of astronomy

Contains the sphere,
Astonishes understanding

& gleams of a world
In which we do not live.


We have yet to devise
Words that can withstand
The perfection of intuition.
“The tumult of the soul” –

It is not, it will not be
The Sermon on the Mount –
Utterance of the mind
Contemplating the world.


We equally walk
Practiced roads
In restless charity,

We bow to the merchants
Who scrape the native cities,
Their trade a bubble

Built upon a bubble
& without end –
A work of arithmetic,

Adding voyage to voyage,
Stock to stock,
Dexterity in particulars,

Their arms remote.
If this perilous world
Were made solid

It would fit in a nutshell –
Books are an errand
Of the ignorant & profane –

The wise passage of genius,
Whose infinite conclusions
Are his confessions.


In the chambers of the street,
Wisdom’s regions are unearthed –

How thin the veil,
& a Lethean stream

Washes us through
& bereaves us of ourselves –

This common life
Of phantasms – the long after

We dream of sand
& light breaking over the rocks.

Eric Hoffman is the author of eleven collections of poetry, the most recent being Forms of Life (Dos Madres, 2015). His critical biography of poet George Oppen, Oppen: A Narrative, was published by Shearsman in 2013. He has also edited three volumes of the University Press of Mississippi's celebrated Conversations with Comics Artists series, edited by M. Thomas Inge, Dave Sim: Conversations, Chester Brown: Conversations (both 2013) and Seth: Conversations (2015).

Poems, articles, essays and reviews have appeared worldwide, including Jacket2, Talisman, E-Ratio, Poetry Flash, Rain Taxi, Smartish Pace, otoliths, Big Bridge, Moriah, Indefinite Space, and many others.

Other poems from Emerson in America have appeared previously in Otoliths, in issue thirty-five.
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