William Empson

(1906-1984 / England)

Missing Dates


Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
It is not the effort nor the failure tires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is not your system or clear sight that mills
Down small to the consequence a life requires;
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

They bled an old dog dry yet the exchange rills
Of young dog blood gave but a month's desires.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the Chinese tombs and the slag hills
Usurp the soil, and not the soil retires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.

Not to have fire is to be a skin that shrills.
The complete fire is death. From partial fires
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

It is the poems you have lost, the ills
From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003
Edited: Monday, April 08, 2013

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  • Rookie Laurence Beck (4/16/2009 11:13:00 PM)

    http: //www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/poems/202.html
    The final quatrain of this villanelle:

    It is the poems you have lost, the ills
    From missing dates, at which the heart expires.
    Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills.
    The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

    Rage, Rage against the dying on this line! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Mike Farman (8/23/2007 8:35:00 AM)

    Fascinated by this villanelle, but unable to penetrate its true meaning (if it has one) Most poems begin from the specific and may progress to a generalisation....this starts out with a generalisation and stays with it, unless I'm missing something. Would be glad to hear somebody tell me that I'm wrong and give their interpretation of this poem. (Report) Reply

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