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Daniel Hoffman, the Felix E. Schelling Professor of English Emeritus at Penn and former poet laureate of the United States, passed away on March 30 at age 89. The following poem is reprinted from his final book, Next to Last Words, which was published in April by Louisiana State University Press.



Night Journey

 

After thrusting

through thickets, a tangled

way opens in

darkness. Air’s tinged

 

with odor of leafmould,

fishscales, salt

on seabreeze. Branches part,

I break from where basalt

 

on beach and dark glints

of sea stretch before.

At tide’s edge, tongues

of an untended fire,

 

and out on black water

as through a pinhole afar

light spills, comes nearer,

torchblaze on a bier.

 

When it touches the shore

my lost love rises

and, holding the flame,

beckons, calling my name—

 

we flow through a halflight

throbbing with silence.

Applescent sifts the air

as we glide among islands.

 

There, thronging the shore

to welcome us, crowds

call, and gesture.

The wind stirs their shrouds.

 

My tall Grandpa’s there

and my Dad—“You’ve come

too soon, too far.

You haven’t done

 

what you have to do …”

“What is that?” I cry,

but a great fogbank furls

the island from my view

 

and what it was they reply

becomes one with the sway

of the sea, as the light pries

my eyes to the day.

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