Friday, April 19, 2024

'The Things That Pass'

Among the books and magazines for sale in our neighborhood library I found the Winter 1985 issue of The American Scholar, which I bought for a quarter. Joseph Epstein was still the editor. On Page 97 is a poem, “Old Man Sitting in a Shopping Mall,” by a writer whose name was unfamiliar to me, David Bergman: 

“When I was young I gave my love

 to what I thought was permanent:

 God, Beauty or Eternal Truth.

 But now the things that pass take hold

 of my affections, and I'm lost

 in you, my dear, who even now

 are turning into someone else.”


In my experience, it’s rare to be taken by surprise by a previously unknown piece of writing, unaccompanied by context, and for it to give immediate pleasure. What struck me was Bergman’s ability to condense a life, or at least what was most important in it, into seven lines. The person in the poem moves from a Keatsian faith in the permanent things  -- “all ye need to know” – to an acceptance of transitoriness. The things that mutate and fade – almost everything – now stir his affection. A lucky old man sitting in that shopping mall -- an appropriately mundane American scene.


The forty-year-old credit line in The American Scholar says Bergman “teaches English at Towson State University. His forthcoming volume Cracking the Code won the George Elliston Prize.” A cursory search reveals he was born in 1950 and is still around, is gay and Jewish, and has Parkinson’s disease. In a 2016 Kenyon Review interview, Bergman says:


“I have been thinking for a while about the kinds of pleasures that have gone out of style in poetry, including gorgeousness and whimsy. I read poems because they give me pleasure but I think we increasingly teach poems and literature as social documents.”

1 comment:

Wurmbrand said...

The joy of good library discard finds: I got the whole run of Joseph Epstein's American Scholar issues for nothing, some of the issues bound as volumes, in blue buckram, others loose. Reaching for a volume or an individual issue at random, I can be sure of finding something of interest, always.

Dale Nelson