Jack Gilbert

Jack Gilbert Poems


Suddenly this defeat.
This rain.
The blues gone gray
And the browns gone gray

We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.

Woke up suddenly thinking I heard crying.
Rushed through the dark house.
Stopped, remembering. Stood looking
out at bright moonlight on concrete.

The Poles rode out from Warsaw against the German
Tanks on horses. Rode knowing, in sunlight, with sabers,
A magnitude of beauty that allows me no peace.
And yet this poem would lessen that day. Question

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according

Love is apart from all things.
Desire and excitement are nothing beside it.
It is not the body that finds love.
What leads us there is the body.

The fox pushes softly, blindly through me at night,
between the liver and the stomach. Comes to the heart
and hesitates. Considers and then goes around it.
Trying to escape the mildness of our violent world.

When the King of Siam disliked a courtier,
he gave him a beautiful white elephant.
The miracle beast deserved such ritual
that to care for him properly meant ruin.

I'd walk her home after work
buying roses and talking of Bechsteins.
She was full of soul.
Her small room was gorged with heat

Once upon a time I was sitting outside the cafe
watching twilight in Umbria when a girl came
out of the bakery with the bread her mother wanted.
She did not know what to do. Already bewildered

Every morning the sad girl brings her three sheep
and two lambs laggardly to the top of the valley,
past my stone hut and onto the mountain to graze.
She turned twelve last year and it was legal

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there's music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.

Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.

There is always the harrowing by mortality,
the strafing by age, he thinks. Always defeats.
Sorrows come like epidemics. But we are alive
in the difficult way adults want to be alive.

There was no water at my grandfather's
when I was a kid and would go for it
with two zinc buckets. Down the path,
past the cow by the foundation where

Poetry is a kind of lying,
necessarily. To profit the poet
or beauty. But also in


In the small towns along the river
nothing happens day after long day.
Summer weeks stalled forever,
and long marriages always the same.

The fish are dreadful. They are brought up
the mountain in the dawn most days, beautiful
and alien and cold from night under the sea,
the grand rooms fading from their flat eyes.
Soft machinery of the dark, the man thinks,

Jack Gilbert Biography

Jack Gilbert was an American poet. Biography Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.'s neighborhood of East Liberty, he attended Peabody High School then worked as a door-to-door salesman, an exterminator, and a steelworker. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, where he and his classmate Gerald Stern developed a serious interest in poetry and writing. His work is distinguished by simple lyricism and straightforward clarity of tone. Though his first book of poetry (Views of Jeopardy, 1962) was quickly recognized and Gilbert himself made into something of a media darling, he retreated from his earlier activity in the San Francisco poetry scene (where he participated in Jack Spicer's Poetry as Magic workshop) and moved to Europe, touring from country to country while living on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Nearly the whole of his career after the publication of his first book of poetry is marked by what he has described in interviews as a self-imposed isolation— which some have considered to be a spiritual quest to describe his alienation from mainstream American culture, and others have dismissed as little more than an extended period as a "professional houseguest" living off of wealthy American literary admirers. Subsequent books of poetry have been few and far between. He continued to write, however, and between books has occasionally contributed to The American Poetry Review, Genesis West, The Quarterly, Poetry, Ironwood, The Kenyon Review, and The New Yorker. He was a close friend of the poet Linda Gregg who was once his student and to whom he was married for six years. He was also married to Michiko Nogami (a language instructor based in San Francisco, now deceased, about whom he has written many of his poems). He was also in a significant long term relationship with the Beat poet Laura Ulewicz during the fifties in San Francisco. Gilbert died on November 13, 2012 in Berkeley, California. Awards 1962 Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition for 'Views of Jeopardy 1962 nomination for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for 'Views of Jeopardy Guggenheim Fellowship Lannan Literary Award for Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. 1982 American Book Award 1982 National Book Critics Circle Award 1983 Stanley Kunitz Prize for Monolithos 1983 the American Poetry Review Prize for Monolithos 1983 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award for Refusing Heaven)

The Best Poem Of Jack Gilbert


Suddenly this defeat.
This rain.
The blues gone gray
And the browns gone gray
And yellow
A terrible amber.
In the cold streets
Your warm body.
In whatever room
Your warm body.
Among all the people
Your absence
The people who are always
Not you.

I have been easy with trees
Too long.
Too familiar with mountains.
Joy has been a habit.
This rain.

Anonymous submission.

Jack Gilbert Comments

Sonia 04 July 2018

Want to know if he wrote the following poem: When you live every hour by the grace of His power and you know He will guide you aright, then day in and day out faith is stronger than doubt, and faith puts your worries to flight.

0 2 Reply
Dorothy Wilson 16 December 2017

I love this poem. It's the first one of his that I have read. It shocks the heart and destroys judgment- that's how it affected me anyway. Thanks for posting it.

3 0 Reply
Ronald Jorgensen 31 May 2013

Entering the website through the search phrase on Google of all poems of Jack Gilbert, and finding that tag on the site, clicking on it is not fruitful. I wanted to see his poem, Guilty, and got nothing in the search for it. Do you not, in fact, have all of his poems as the tag promises? I am disappointed, for Guilty is one of his great creations (in my opinion, of course) , and stands as a creative originality even in the context of his already creative originality generally. After writing this comment, I found I was able to locate the poem elsewhere and have copied and pasted it below for your consideration. I'd, of course, be interested in reactions. Guilty The man certainly looked guilty. Ugly, ragged, and not clean. Not to mention their finding him there in the woods with her body. Neighbors told how he was always playing with dead squirrels, mangled dogs, even snakes. He said those were the only things that would allow him to get close. Look at me, the old man said with uncomplaining simplicity, I'm already one of the dead among the dead. It's hard to watch things humiliated the way death does it. Possums smeared on the road, birds with ants eating out their eyes. Even dying rats want privacy for their disgrace. It's true I washed the dirt from her face and the blood off the body. Combed her hair. I slept beside her, at her feet for two days, the way my dog used to. I got the dress on the best I could. She looked so neglected. Like garbage thrown in the weeds. Like nobody cared because he had done that to her. I kept thinking about how long she is going to be alone now. I knew the police would take pictures and put them in the papers naked and open so people eating breakfast could look at her. I wanted to give her spirit enough time to get ready. Thank you for the opportunity to share this, Ronald

12 2 Reply

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