Famed as a writer of prose, Haniel Long’s poetry was discovered almost twenty-one years after his death. In her introduction to this volume, his friend poet May Sarton wrote, “The tone can be wry; it can tease a little; there is often a smile hovering about as in Robert Frost, and you have to sense the smile to understand what is being said. It can be pretty tough. But the toughness is part of the music.”
The full text of Haniel Long’s My Seasons is stored at Albertson Library at Boise State University, and can be downloaded here. The book is out of print.
If Our Great Fragile Cities
Man making nature to his own measure,
Making himself to his own measure,
Spun of his need
The switchboard of the telephones,
This symbol, this treasure.
If our great fragile cites were destroyed,
And the fabric of our life had to part
And we from the ground to make a fresh start,
It would be the light-flashing switchboard
My heart remembered in the void.
Trying to make corn grow
Without plow or hoe,
Trying to catch fish without hook or line,
My bare feet on sharp stones,
Not enough clothes to cover my bones,
To keep on living I could recall the time
When, if only over the telephones,
We became lights and went seeking
One another, and were answered by other lights,
And invisible people speaking.
Copyright © 1977 by Anton V. Long
The following is the preface from Haniel Long's Selected Poems, written by May Sarton.
Haniel Long's presence in our world is vivid. People are discovering his poetry, now twenty-one years after his death, and I who have known it for years find myself going back to these poems in different moods and in different seasons as I used to go to a spring near my house in New Hampshire when I got thirsty for a drink of sweet water. It had a special taste of roots and rain and leaves unlike any other water, and so do Haniel Long's poems.
The lyric poet has always been rare. His is a gift literally given in the same way that musical or mathematical genius is given, and as with them makes its appearance early. Unfortunately lyric poetry is often overlooked by the critics because it is magic and so does not feed the critical mind. The reader either experiences the authentic shiver, or he does not. I felt it the other day when I came on the line, "the stillness / Flows over me like a stream." Obvious? Almost too simple? Maybe. Most magic looks simple, and what can a critic say about it, except, "There it is again," like a trout in a pool.
Haniel Long's poems are not exactly like anyone else's. I get the feeling as I reread him that his lyricism was meditative, that it did not spring out of the moment as one expects the lyric to do, as much as after, as part of a· meditation on something elusive and haunting that may have taken place years before. They are distillations rather than outbursts. This may be why the best of them reverberate as they do. "May Your Dreams Be of the Angels" gathers in the past and weaves history into our present anxieties and fears to ask an unforgettable question:
And who then or who now
Knows whether knowledge and peace are to be striven toward,
Or places prepared by us for them to come to?
Some poets would have left it at that. But Haniel Long comes closer—this is characteristic-to make a final statement that includes the reader.
In all these poems one feels one is being directly addressed. The reader is present. He is not being told about something; he is being conversed with, drawn in. It is a matter of tone, the tone of voice. Anyone who knew Haniel hears him read the poems, and hears the occasional deliberate roughness in the tone.
Frogs and snakes and a dead cat or two
Have fallen into the spring, the spring
That is our spring.
The tone can be wry; it can tease a little; there is often a smile hovering about as in Robert Frost, and you have to sense the smile to understand what is being said. It can be pretty tough.
But the toughness is part of the music. The danger in using qUite simple forms is that the effect can be shallow or too neat, and then the poem glides away and is lost. Haniel often breaks lines up, setting the meaning across the metre. Who else could get away with
Grow and inflame me still,
Democracy; sweeten in me again.
And it is just that break in the line that gives it its force. He is not clever with rhymes, but he was not out to prove how clever he was.
Some of the good toughness comes from what Haniel Long saw and where he saw it: 'The gale swayed the car"; "Hill tops are forms of silence"; "To wake at dawn with dryness in the throat / That is halfway to choking, and to know / The dust is blowing." These poems are steeped in the New Mexican landscape, 'which can be awesome. It is an exact vision of the earth as he saw it around him, as he experienced it. But the beautiful clear images and the haunting flutelike sound in these poems are the servants of a quiet penetrating attitude toward life itself. One reason Haniel Long's poetry has so much power to move us is that the questions he asks are our questions: the relation of man to the earth, the necessity for keeping himself in a good fruitful relation to it, and how to do it? The necessity for keeping aware always of what is going on in the world outside and for relating it to the past so as to understand it, and above all to keep our worlds open to each other. In essence these are poems about communion, the communion between nations as well as between friends, the communion in a marriage, the communion between a father and son. Reading them again I took a fresh look at what it is to be a poet, but even more at what it is to be a human being.