The Poets Agree to Be Quiet by the Swamp

The title comes from the poet David Wagoner. Here is the poem in its entirety:

They hold their hands over their mouths
And stare at the stretch of water.
What can be said has been said before:
Strokes of light like herons’ legs in the cattails,
Mud underneath, frogs lying even deeper.
Therefore, the poets may keep quiet.
But the corners of their mouths grin past their hands.
They stick their elbows out into the evening,
Stoop, and begin the ancient croaking.

I keep coming back to this poem, at least once a year since 1974, when I first discovered it in an anthology I had purchased for a grad school course. Truth be told, I didn’t enjoy the course very much, but this one little poem made the whole thing worth it.

Of course, what can be said has been said before! Who could think otherwise? But what do I care when what can be said has not necessarily been said by me!

Yes, the poets may keep quiet! That is every poet’s right. But what writer (even yours truly, the humble blogger) hasn’t thought, “I love this story. I’m going to tell this story again. There must be somebody who hasn’t heard me tell it!”

Hence the tagline of this blog. I know a few good stories. I’ve been telling a lot of them for a long time already, but please, please, don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one before!

And there we gol Suddenly my mouth breaks into a grin I can’t hide. I stick out my elbows as I stoop over the keyboard. I start to type and, before I know it, I have begun the ancient croaking.

Frogs, poets and bloggers sometimes agree to things they don’t mean.

2 Replies to “The Poets Agree to Be Quiet by the Swamp”

  1. This is one of my favourite poems. So much so, I wrote a work based on this poem in 1984

    “What can be said has been said before” has a hint of the John Cage …”I have nothing to say and I am saying it” … The American poet was very kind and my work was in 1985 without the usual hassles.

    Mark {Ribbit}.

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