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Kenneth Koch’s Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams

Considered the humorist of the group

  • Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams
  • 1
  • I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
  • I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
  • and its wooden beams were so inviting.
  • 2
  • We laughed at the hollyhocks together
  • and then I sprayed them with lye.
  • Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.
  • 3
  • I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten years.
  • The man who asked for it was shabby
  • and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.
  • 4
  • Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
  • Forgive me. I was clumsy and
  • I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor! 
  • Mountain
  • Nothing’s moving I don’t see anybody
  • And I know that it’s not a trick
  • There really is nothing moving there
  • And there aren’t any people. It is the very utmost top
  • Where, as is not unusual,
  • There is snow, lying like the hair on a white-haired person’s head
  • Combed sideways and backward and forward to cover as much of the top
  • As possible, for the snow is thinning, it’s September
  • Although a few months from now there will be a new crop
  • Probably, though this no one KNOWS (so neither do we)
  • But every other year it has happened by November
  • Except for one year that’s known about, nineteen twenty-three
  • When the top was more and more uncovered until December fifteenth
  • When finally it snowed and snowed
  • I love seeing this mountain like a mouse
  • Attached to the tail of another mouse, and to another and to another
  • In total mountain silence
  • There is no way to get up there, and no means to stay.
  • It is uninhabitable. No roads and no possibility
  • Of roads. You don’t have a history
  • Do you, mountain top? This doesn’t make you either a mystery
  • Or a dull person and you’re certainly not a truck stop.
  • No industry can exploit you
  • No developer can divide you into estates or lots
  • No dazzling disquieting woman can tie your heart in knots.
  • I could never lead my life on one of those spots
  • You leave uncovered up there. No way to be there
  • But I’m moved. 
  • Poem for My Twentieth Birthday
  • Passing the American graveyard, for my birthday 
  • the crosses stuttering, white on tropical green, 
  • the years’ quick focus of faces I do not remember . . . 
  • The palm trees stalking like deliberate giants 
  • for my birthday, and all the hot adolescent memories 
  • seen through a screen of water . . . 
  • For my birthday thrust into the adult and actual: 
  • expected to perform the action, not to ponder 
  • the reality beyond the fact, 
  • the man standing upright in the dream. 
Kenneth Koch

Kenneth Koch (1925-2002) was an American poet and playwright, and a prominent member of the New York School, an arts and literary collective active during the 1950s and 1960s. Members of the School used the spontaneous, the surreal and the avant-garde to give expression to their craft. The poets in the New York School drew inspiration in particular from their experiences in travel as well as from other mediums, including painting and music. Koch, considered the humorist of the group, often wrote in a seemingly light style, although it was undergirded by serious themes, often by following a grave line of verse with a silly line in his compositions, and by parodying other more “serious” poets.

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Fried chicken, biscuits, and things made from biscuit dough
  • Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams
  • 1
  • I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
  • I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
  • and its wooden beams were so inviting.
  • 2
  • We laughed at the hollyhocks together
  • and then I sprayed them with lye.
  • Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.
  • 3
  • I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten years.
  • The man who asked for it was shabby
  • and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.
  • 4
  • Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
  • Forgive me. I was clumsy and
  • I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor! 
  • Mountain
  • Nothing’s moving I don’t see anybody
  • And I know that it’s not a trick
  • There really is nothing moving there
  • And there aren’t any people. It is the very utmost top
  • Where, as is not unusual,
  • There is snow, lying like the hair on a white-haired person’s head
  • Combed sideways and backward and forward to cover as much of the top
  • As possible, for the snow is thinning, it’s September
  • Although a few months from now there will be a new crop
  • Probably, though this no one KNOWS (so neither do we)
  • But every other year it has happened by November
  • Except for one year that’s known about, nineteen twenty-three
  • When the top was more and more uncovered until December fifteenth
  • When finally it snowed and snowed
  • I love seeing this mountain like a mouse
  • Attached to the tail of another mouse, and to another and to another
  • In total mountain silence
  • There is no way to get up there, and no means to stay.
  • It is uninhabitable. No roads and no possibility
  • Of roads. You don’t have a history
  • Do you, mountain top? This doesn’t make you either a mystery
  • Or a dull person and you’re certainly not a truck stop.
  • No industry can exploit you
  • No developer can divide you into estates or lots
  • No dazzling disquieting woman can tie your heart in knots.
  • I could never lead my life on one of those spots
  • You leave uncovered up there. No way to be there
  • But I’m moved. 
  • Poem for My Twentieth Birthday
  • Passing the American graveyard, for my birthday 
  • the crosses stuttering, white on tropical green, 
  • the years’ quick focus of faces I do not remember . . . 
  • The palm trees stalking like deliberate giants 
  • for my birthday, and all the hot adolescent memories 
  • seen through a screen of water . . . 
  • For my birthday thrust into the adult and actual: 
  • expected to perform the action, not to ponder 
  • the reality beyond the fact, 
  • the man standing upright in the dream. 
Kenneth Koch

Kenneth Koch (1925-2002) was an American poet and playwright, and a prominent member of the New York School, an arts and literary collective active during the 1950s and 1960s. Members of the School used the spontaneous, the surreal and the avant-garde to give expression to their craft. The poets in the New York School drew inspiration in particular from their experiences in travel as well as from other mediums, including painting and music. Koch, considered the humorist of the group, often wrote in a seemingly light style, although it was undergirded by serious themes, often by following a grave line of verse with a silly line in his compositions, and by parodying other more “serious” poets.

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Oct. 12, 2020
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