Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Friday, June 13, 2014

Journey's End

If you come here often, you probably know that I have a good many friends who are painters--not sure how that happened, but I enjoy it and get as much or more out of talking about the visual arts as I do from talking about writing. In fact, I'm going to meet up with a couple of painter friends for lunch today... I tend to be more interested in talking about arts other than my own in some ways, as I think about writing quite enough. And if you know those things about me, you may also know that I have collaborated a good bit with painters and other artists, especially with Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Here's a poem I wrote about one of his early paintings, "Journey's End." It was written as a little gift for Clive, and it appears in The Foliate Head, the collection of my poems dedicated to him. In many of his inside/outside pictures, the foreground is a still life containing treasured, meaningful items, while in the background (often seen through open curtains, as in the stage, so important to Clive's history) a mysterious Welsh landscape appears. Items tend to repeat, much as we see actors in different plays. In this early picture, a sense of human presence on the stage of the world and a combining of still life with landscape already are important. The cup portrayed here belonged to his late father. The tower (Tretower) was the place to which Clive retreated for some years after breaking from his life in the theatre. The poem begins by musing over what seems missing--the strong narrative and bright, intense color of many of his later works. It glances at the painting, moves to consider story and imagines the painting as a kind of fount of possible stories related to his father and the father's death, and at last rests in the mystery of the picture.

Happy birthday, Clive! Slightly belated...


                  “. . . this early painterly approach to objects
                  can be seen in Journey’s End, the little still-life/landscape
                  painting of my dad’s tea mug standing in front
                  of Tretower Castle.”  –Clive Hicks-Jenkins

There’s nothing here bejeweled with twig and flower,
No wolfish fur that burns as if a kiln
Had been flung wide to let in sprays of salt,
And most of all, no story, wings, or saint.
Instead there is the seepage of a blue
Not twilight:  low, continual dim glow
Dispersed from borderlands beyond this world.

So here is landscape as the stillest life,
So here is still life hunkered in the grass,
Estranged from lamplit houses, grown outscale.
There’s nothing here but cup and keep and tree,
And tree resembles keep, and keep is tree
Truncated—cup is stump of leaning tree.

No teller yet, unless the tale be one
Older than the famed white book of Rhydderch,
Older than the red of Hergest, older
By far than these… Fetch me a magic fruit
So I can taste its glistening cells and gulp
The stubborn words that linger out of reach.

In blueing light, a father’s mug might be
The grail, might be Welsh cauldron, wombed with life,
Might over-brim with death-drink, colorless.
There’s nothing but a shadow in the cup!
Its clipper ship in sail is doldrum-glazed,
Forgets the fragrance of darjeeling seas.

The motte, a mound of good Welsh earth, was his,
As was the tower vacant to the sky,
The kingdom known as Powys long ago,
And all the rainy borderland of blue—
All things that flee and hide in borderlands
Between the earth and sky belonged to him.

But now he has passed through that realm of dreams
And left you wondering by hills of earth,
And long you’ll muse, and long you’ll meditate
And never understand the world you brushed
Across that sheet of paper:  world where tree
Is keep, and keep is tree, and cup can loom
As high as high Tretower or a tree.

                       Journey’s End, 1999

Prior mentions of Journey's End--
Mar 07, 2013
Journey's end. "Journey's End" with Tretower castle by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. You can find something I wrote about this piece here. Poem as tower. Unterecker, A Reader's Guide to William Butler Yeats (p. 107): By staring at any ...
Sep 01, 2011
7. Both those little paintings show Tretower,. where Clive hid himself in a cold chrysalis. between his life in the theatre and his life as a painter. The larger one is "Journey's End,". showing Clive's father's mug in the foreground.


  1. I love this poem so dearly, and I recite it to myself at moments of stress, or sometimes as I lie waiting for sleep to carry me away. I try it in different voices and with varying emphasis. I never tire of it. Sometimes it feels so much a part of me that it's almost as though the thoughts are mine rather than Marly's. Now THAT'S a gift!

    Thank you friend Marly.


    1. And that's a lovely response! I am glad.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.