The Covenant

C. K. Williams

KR joins the poetry world in mourning the passing of C. K. Williams (1936-2015). We offer this poem from our archives in memory.

From The Kenyon Review, New Series, Winter 1992, Vol. XIV, No. 1

In my unlikeliest dream, my dead are with me again, companions again,
      in an ordinary way;
nothing of major moment to accomplish, no stains to cleanse, no oaths or
      debts to redeem:
dead are serene, composed, as though they’d known all along how this
      would be.
Only I look aslant, only I brood and fret, marvel; only I have to know
      what this miracle is:
I’m awed, I want to embrace my newly found dead, to ask why they had
      to leave me so abruptly.
In truth, I think, I want pity from them, for my being bereft, for my grief
      and my pain.
But my dead will have none of my sorrow, none of my asking how they
      came to be here again.
They anoint me with their mild regard and evidence only the need to
      continue, go on
in a dream that’s almost like life in how only the plainest pastimes of love
      accumulate worth.
Cured of all but their presence, they seem only to want me to grasp their
      new way of being.
At first I feel nothing, then to my wonder and perhaps, too, the wonder of
      the dead,
I sense an absence in them, of will, of anything like will, as though will in
      the soul
had for the dead been all given over, transfigured, to humility,
      resignation, submission.
I know without knowing how that the dead can remember the
      movements of will, thought willing,
the gaze fixed at a distance that doesn’t exist, the mind in its endless war
      with itself—
those old cravings—but the striving to will themselves from themselves is
      only a dream,
the dead know what death has brought is all they need now because all
      else was already possessed,
all else was a part of the heart as it lived, in what it had seen and what it
      had suffered,
in the love it had hardly remarked coming upon it, so taken it was with its
      work of volition.
I can hardly believe that so little has to be lost to find so much good
      fortune in death,
and then, as I dream again the suspensions of will I’m still only just able
      to dream,
I suddenly know I’ve beheld death myself, and instead of the terror, the
      flexions of fear,
the repulsion, recoil, impatience to finish, be done with the waiting once
      and for all,
I feel the same surge of acceptance, patience and joy I felt in my dead
      rising in me:
I know that my dead have brought what I’ve restlessly waited all the life of
      the dream for.
I wait in joy as they give themselves to the dream once again; waiting, I’m
      with them again.

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