Weldon Kees

Weldon Kees Poems

Between the visits to the shock ward
The doctors used to let you play
On the old upright Baldwin
Donated by a former patient

The dog stops barking after Robinson has gone.
His act is over. The world is a gray world,
Not without violence, and he kicks under the grand piano,
The nightmare chase well under way.

To Ernest Brace

"And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was
about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto

This nothingness that feeds upon itself:
Pencils that turn to water in the hand,
Parts of a sentence, hanging in the air,
Thoughts breaking in the mind like glass,


The porchlight coming on again,
Early November, the dead leaves
Raked in piles, the wicker swing
Creaking. Across the lots

Looking into my daughter’s eyes I read
Beneath the innocence of morning flesh
Concealed, hintings of death she does not heed.

Under the bunker, where the reek of kerosene
Prepared the marriage rite, leader and whore,
Imperfect kindling even in this wind, burn on.

The tower bell in the Tenth Street Church
Rang out nostalgia for the refugee
Who knew the source of bells by sound.
We liked it, but in ignorance.

Robinson at cards at the Algonquin; a thin
Blue light comes down once more outside the blinds.

Squat, unshaven, full of gas,
Joseph Samuels, former clerk
in four large cities, out of work,
waits in the darkened underpass.

When the coal
Gave out, we began
Burning the books, one by one;
First the set

For a while
Let it be enough:
The responsive smile,
Though effort goes into it.

Butcher the evil millionaire, peasant,
And leave him stinking in the square.
Torture the chancellor. Leave the ambassador
Strung by his thumbs from the pleasant

Last summer, in the blue heat,
Over the beach, in the burning air,
A legless beggar lurched on calloused fists
To where I waited with the sun-dazed birds.

Unmanageable as history: these
Followers of Tammuz to the land
That offered no return, where dust
Grew thick on every bolt and door. And so the world

Not a third that walks beside me,
But five or six or more.
Whether at dusk or daybreak
Or at blinding noon, a retinue

It must have been in March the rug wore through.
Now the day passes and I stare
At warped pine boards my father's father nailed,
At the twisted grain. Exposed, where emptiness allows,

The smiles of the bathers fade as they leave the water,
And the lover feels sadness fall as it ends, as he leaves his love.
The scholar, closing his book as the midnight clock strikes, is hollow
and old:

"A equals X," says Mister One.
"A equals B," says Mister Two.
"A equals nothing under the sun
But A," says Mister Three. A few

The state cracked where they left your breath
No longer instrument. Along the shore
The sand ripped up, and the newer blood
Streaked like a vein to every monument.

Weldon Kees Biography

Weldon Kees was born in Beatrice, Nebraska, on February 24, 1914. His father, John Kees, owned a hardware store. As a boy, Kees had an interest in music, art, and writing. He also published his own movie magazine. In 1935, he graduated from the University of Nebraska with a B.A. degree. While still in college, Kees began to publish fiction in many mid-western literary magazines. Kees began to write and publish poems shortly after college. His first job was working for the Federal Writers' Project in Lincoln, Nebraska. Through the 1930s Kees mostly wrote short stories, placing them in the little magazines and intellectual quarterlies (Prairie Schoone, Horizon, Rocky Mountain Review). He continued to write fiction after leaving the Federal Writers Project for a job as a librarian in Denver. In October 1937 at the age of 24, he married Ann Swan. His reputation as a writer of fiction continued to grow. A novel, Fall Quarter, was completed in 1941, but its whimsical tale of a young professor who battles the dreariness of staid Nebraskan college life was thought by publishers to be too droll for a year in which war seemed imminent (eventually published in 1990). In 1943, the couple moved to New York City, where Kees wrote for Time magazine and published reviews in national magazines and newspapers such as The Nation and The New Republic. Kees's first collection of poems, The Last Man, was published in 1943. His second collection, The Fall of Magicians, first appeared in 1947. In the mid-forties, he also began to paint; he had one-man shows at galleries including the Peridot Gallery. His painting was often shown with and compared to abstract expressionists such as William de Kooning. Between 1934 and 1945, he published more than thirty stories. In 1951 Kees moved to San Francisco. In California, he began to study and play jazz piano, while continuing his painting. His jobs included writing film reviews for radio, writing for a theater review entitled Poets Follies, and working on screenplays. Much of this writing is collected in the volume Reviews and Essays, 1936-1955 (1988). In the mid 1950s, Kees became increasingly depressed. His wife became seriously alcoholic and then mentally ill; the two separated in 1954 and were divorced. His final book, Poems 1947-1954, was published in 1954. On July 18, 1955, his car was found abandoned on the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge. He had told a friend that he wanted, like Hart Crane, to start a new life in Mexico. He had also suggested that he might kill himself. His disappearance has been treated as a presumed suicide. Five years after his disappearance and presumed suicide, Kees's Collected Poems was first published. In his introduction to that volume, Donald Justice called Kees among the three or four best of his generation. Justice went on to note that Kees is original in one of the few ways that matter: he speaks to us in a voice or, rather, in a particular tone of voice which we have never heard before. Kees's Collected Poems have since been reprinted twice. His collection of fiction, Ceremony and Other Stories, first appeared in 1983.)

The Best Poem Of Weldon Kees

A Musician's Wife

Between the visits to the shock ward
The doctors used to let you play
On the old upright Baldwin
Donated by a former patient
Who is said to be quite stable now.

And all day long you played Chopin,
Badly and hauntingly, when you weren't
Screaming on the porch that looked
Like an enormous birdcage. Or sat
In your room and stared out at the sky.

You never looked at me at all.
I used to walk down to where the bus stopped
Over the hill where the eucalyptus trees
Moved in the fog, and stared down
At the lights coming on, in the white rooms.

And always, when I came back to my sister's
I used to get out the records you made
The year before all your terrible trouble,
The records the critics praised and nobody bought
That are almost worn out now.

Now, sometimes I wake in the night
And hear the sound of dead leaves
against the shutters. And then a distant
Music starts, a music out of an abyss,
And it is dawn before I sleep again.

Weldon Kees Comments

Midnight Solitude 11 December 2011

One of America's greatest poets.

6 0 Reply
Lamont Palmer 25 November 2006

Kees is probably the greatest obscure poet of the 20th century in American poetry. Nearly on par with Stevens in his words and music. -LP

4 0 Reply
Pietro Roversi 19 February 2010

True great poetry, like Dickinson, Stevens or Moore, hard to read but the reward is definitively there!

3 0 Reply
The Word 30 July 2023

One of the best. Deserves to be better known.

0 0 Reply
Evelyn 16 July 2018

Why would anyone imagine that we'd want to hear poetry read in a robotic computerized voice, with no sense of the poem's mood or tone or cadence? It's horrible!

0 0 Reply
Thomas. Goodwin 22 February 2018

Trying to get my workout

1 0 Reply
Thomas Goodwin 15 December 2017

Trying to get my name out there

1 0 Reply
Constance Steckel 01 December 2013

Kees deserves to be much better known. The New Yorker did publish many of his poems.

4 0 Reply

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