Two Poems

by Jeffrey Burghauser (November 2020)

Sleeping, Lucian Freud


On Reading William Empson’s The Face of the Buddha[i]

Empson nestles into the Imagination’s seam:
India, Japan, Korea, China—where the treasure is.
Something massive happening before his eyes
In Cambodia propels the man to theorize:

The effect of being quite withdrawn into a dream,
And yet dreaming with profound activity & pleasure, is
For some reason compatible with great size.

I don’t understand why this would come as a surprise,

For withdrawal seems the precondition of supreme,
Active pleasure, and fantastic size assumes that leisure is
Able somehow to compress against such skies
As the very mind of Size itself may formalize.

Does he find the head unduly big, or does he deem
Active pleasure weirdly small? Regardless what the measure is,
Public, wakeful, easy pleasure sans disguise:
This betokens the Redemption we shall recognize.


Return to Clifftop

Fayette County, West Virginia

One has such a lovely sense of being back,
Waking under skies that tender no demands.
A girl plays “Judson’s Waltz” for the Returner,
Fiddle sheltering inside its sanded works
Notes we needed to reconstitute a home
Of a sort transcendent of the technical.

“I’ll be back” means “Here exist the technical
Preconditions of a Back”; so, “I’ll be back”
Means “I am back”. Ever since renouncing home,
I have known “I’m back” (like “I’m infirm”) demands
Just as much as it describes. Life’s distance works
Through the man. Though static, he’s a Returner.

Concepts, seldom seen as buttery, turn er-
Ótic. Here’s the living half of technical
Metaphors: distress as anise, or the works
Of Paphian myrtles. “Lord, my God, give back
Everything I never had,” the heart demands,
Mourning midnights squandered once upon a home.

Show me narrow shoulders syrup’d by the home
Just beyond some coral sky, faery turner
Of those rosewood pegs. The eventide demands
Proof that human flesh is expert, technical.
Neither terns nor minerals long to go “back”.
Longings are amongst Creation’s finest works.

I pursue the Master’s motives in His works.
I pursue the pleasure’s proxy to its home.
I pursue the wagonful of fiddleback
Plum & carob heaped in some arête urn, or
Wooden palette harnessed to the technical,
Drawn into the night by ifs & tandem ands.

Home is anywhere where love makes no demands.
Home is anywhere where everything just…works.
Any villanelle achieving technical
Excellence is an Ambassador of Home.
Back is a condition of the Returner.
Any forest where the fiddle is, is back


[i] Ed. Rupert Arrowsmith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. The italicized material in the second stanza is adapted from a quotation on pages 29 – 30:

Cambodia is the only part of the world which made a success of colossal heads as a unit of architecture. The term “colossal” is often used for anything larger than life-size, but here it is meant seriously: the heads carved in relief on the towers of the Bayon are six feet high. Very big heads were tried fairly often in Buddhist art up to a late date (Burma, northern China, and Japan have the main surviving ones) but they are all as dead as mutton. The Khmer effect of being completely withdrawn into a dream, and yet dreaming with great activity and pleasure, is for some reason compatible with great size.


«Previous Article Table of Contents Next Article»




Amazon, and his website is

Follow NER on Twitter @NERIconoclast