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John Ashbery, Double Dream of Spring Annotated

John Ashbery, The Double Dream of Spring (New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1970) First Published (New York: Dutton, 1970)

Close Readings and annotations of every poem in the collection March-April 1997 in preparation for In the Process of Poetry: The New York School and the Avant-Garde (Bucknell UP, 2001)


· Shoptaw notes a diversity of styles never to be repeated and an intensified abstract expressionist language, consisting of omitting portions of sentences leaving them visibly unfinished.
“In The Double Dream of Spring Ashbery’s abstract expressionism involves minimizing or erasing the markers of everyday spoken language, producing a compacted, somber, abstract lyric discourse.” (100)
· deliberately short-circuits speech and therefore decontextualises his own work making it more painterly by allowing is to develop in space, thought these apparently disengaged abstractions did not sit well in the politicized climate of the States he was returning into.

John Ashbery “The Task”, 13

· Shoptaw merely notes the dreary cadence of the opening lines. Note the lack of punctuation here and the return to the line as unit over sentence and phrase.
· stanza1: good opening for a new collection, they could be now Americans and note the colon also, the time zone is now very familiar to the reader, between one thing and the next thing; note also the syntactic ellipses Shoptaw notes marking the more abstract style: the colon, (a) new pennant. The predictable romance could be crypted “predicted” I guess but also fits into his philosophy of qualification.
· Stanza 2: semi-mythic gathering of the tribes, the everyman figure (scapegoated) returns unfruitfully and instead must be an actor, a “straight” actor”.
· Stanza 3: the corrosion and filth are familiar from TCO as is the inclusive or should we call it “stratified you”,. The conclusion is one of waiting, making do, living for the moments. Nice dynamic interaction between gatherings and departures, much less obvious than in the “Skaters”.

John Ashbery “Spring Day”, 14-15

· strict stanzaic form again, the spring day motif is predominant because of the collection’s title I suppose but also a reference to Koch’s early work.
· stanza1: the lines run across and beyond the stanzas seem to continue the setting of “The Task”, a city, someone coming out of the night, sleeping/dreaming.
· Stanza 2-3: the dreaming body of “The Skaters”, seems passive and almost under threat by all that is imposed upon it, again it is giant as in “The Skaters” (II).
· Stanza 5-7: narrative of the giant that of belatedness and hope for our proceeding from their lead.
· stanza 8-9: return to previous mountains especially the “Pied Piper”.
· stanza 10-12: Mallarmean page, we are placed in the final stanza in the temporal entre.

John Ashbery “Plainness in Diversity”, 16

· Shoptaw notes opening as typifying Ashbery use here if speech but decontextualised and thus isolated into non-communication space: “the steep blue sides of the crater”. The title is very picturesque, that democracy = the dullness of including everything, leaving everything in—articulated double.
· stanza 1: presents a locale of isolation not alienation or loss but rather a process of losing.
· stanza 2: contrasts myth (sagas) with narrative of now. Again a mountain and an image of betweeness, the final image of time’s arrow and the sun recalls Mayakovsky and O’Hara, who died during the writing of this collection.

John Ashbery “Soonest Mended”, 17-19

· Shoptaw notes Ashbery labelled this as “One-size-fits-all confession poem”, recollections of Harvard set in the frequentive progressive tense and in the dual and general 1st and 2nd persons. Topic of the poem is economy and its economy of the half-proverb which shows it is the economy of means and meanings which Ashbery compares to Thomas Traherne’s “Poverty” where the poet looks about him but cannot possess what he sees. “Happy Hooligan” is a 1969 comic strip about an army recruit. Sees it as Ashbery reflecting on a world where he as poet hardly counts so he turns to presence his semantic resources which mean privately and publicly avoiding confrontation, generally indulging in a passive resistance.
· p.17: poem is as Shoptaw notes, a reflection on the marginal people who seem to be living out other’s lives and not their own, looking for economy of scale so as not to be noticed.
· p.18: the “talkers” explains reticence and economy is needed due to the basic economy of desire beneath which leaves the whole process messy. The result is this fence-sitting, seeing and understanding but unable to possess or influence.
· p.19: last 9 lines convey the Ashbery, middle class American subject, which results in the periplus of his poetry of vicissitudes.

John Ashbery “Summer”, 20

· stanza 1-3: describes a process of PL, aeolian harp, latter reflection on it, the between tuché-automaton and the thinning out phase which follows that.
· stanza 3-5: the mood changes from the first process to an implication for life and dying m summer in this is simply symbolic and contrasted to winter/
· stanza 5-6: summer is descending from the general to the particular through the censorship of living, the final image being that of Narcissus.

John Ashbery “It was Raining in the Capital”, 21-23

· a nursery rhyme kind of proverbial poem/narrative involving:
She (her delight)
the coming rain
the Aquarian
· Talks do alienation as life = death, final stanza conveying the sudden setting sun as a death’s head, small narrative then of urban alienation.

John Ashbery “Variations, Calypso and Fugue on a Theme of Ella Wheeler Wilcox”, 24-29

· Shoptaw calls it a musical medley starting with the “bad” poetry of Wilcox, varies the theme in free verse, goes into a calypso of high-school couplets and ends with a figure of prose and valentine verse, compares it to Cage and “Idaho”. Frames the work by 2 popular works from his youth, Wilcox and Roy Rochwood’s “The City Beyond the Clouds: or Captured by the Red Dwarves”, raising question about his own development.
· p.24-25: free verse. Takes Wilcox’s truism and extrapolates the tree becoming a centre, a sheltered a place for men to also love each other, of growing old and coming to terms with that until finally the moment is passed ad the tree is gone. This juxtaposition articulates a space between bad, doggerel and good discursive poetry suggesting, as Shoptaw also notes, it is the process/poem and not the idea which matters.
· p.25-27: the couplets. Taxonomic, it is the bildungsroman grand tour, spelling out a truism re: home, act in accordance with your art, trust in the dream, which whilst banal are the truism f his project so far:
-search for an aesthetic
-trust in dreams/faith
· again, brilliantly debunking thematic import in favour of poetic process.
· p.27-29: prose. Precursor to TP here. Paragraph 1: relates to the moment and the onset of happiness/holidays and generally again of economy and how to survive. Paragraph 2: talks of forgotten incident, that of overspill, that becomes the mythic one for many people as they cannot know it. Paragraph 3: NN style opening. Paragraph 4: returning back to survival and now a bland reminiscence. Paragraph 5: concludes from the sci-fi mode. Interposed are doggerel couplets which relate back to the avant-garde prose collages of TCO and would be a good place for comparison and a stopping off point between TCO and TP.

John Ashbery “Song”, 30

· a kind of house Ashbery style. The song tells us of the Ashbery period in space perhaps, but basically one of belatedness and imminence.

John Ashbery “Decoy”, 31-32

· Shoptaw calls is a “strenuous exercise in discursive subversion” (102). Showing poets re-emergence into writing, rather than collaging, common American language and public discourse especially Declaration of Independence, now a decoy , long lines without Whitman’s optimism, adopting the American declarative “we”:
“As elsewhere in Ashbery’s poetry, those left out of the American system in “Decoy” define those included.” (104)
· See other notes for readings of this, last stanza most important via the gap between lovers and homotextual.

John Ashbery “Evening in the Country”, 33-34

· perhaps call these climatic poems, set in the Ashbery time of day-evening, often summer-winter, and dealing with the predicament of the post-subject, here a subject of happiness under threat from darkness, about two thirds through the poet makes as if to come to the point but doesn’t really, he asks about context after the threat of night. Moves on then to the realms of imagination and dreaming. Last 4 lines seem to encapsulate how he feels about the predicament:
-perhaps remain here
-caution but free
-protected from the turmoil of living.

John Ashbery “For John Clare”, 35-36

· Shoptaw notes this is a return to prose, writing in the spring of 1969, about a year before “The New Spirit”, his first poem completely on prose since “The Young Son”. Mercurial prose communes with a non-committal nature and TP was inspired by Clare’s journal writing which was directionless and messy.
· p.35: aimless, wandering prose, half observational of the sky and street scene, half-reflexive-discursive. Again images of spreading out and American expansiveness.
· p.36: the wren could refer directly to Clare, we get a sense of chaos here” east of the sun and west of the moon”, picking up on upper left-hand corner, where probabilities emerge. The sail is the page and the voyage. Again a poem/prose piece that emphasises process over the product, need to take one piece of prose and look at the practice of its construction, better to do this in TP.

John Ashbery “French Poems”, 37-40

· See Ashbery note at the end of the collection and try to get the originals perhaps?

· poem 1:
· stanza 1: puts forward the sublime base of being as searching, suggesting systems of obfuscation, “the mist”, have censored the secret is as to keep it alive.
· stanza 2: goes on then to say that the “mass of mist” (paradox + involution), becomes itself more interesting than the secret itself. Second sentence is oxymoronic suggesting the misrepresentative truth of all of this, also the climate.
· stanza 3: the climate subsists of unresolvable contacts, desire, that can be neither resolved in the sublime “creator” or the picturesque “this microcosm”.

· poem 2:
· stanza 1: question, do they form separate units to an ongoing narrative? (Double Dream aspect). The proposition certainly does, there is being and then there are examples which are hidden therefore they are the secrets. Again examples of hierarchy and protection (armour and seals), which is annoying-natural. Compared with the heaviness of mass, we have also the light ness of “closed ambience”.
· stanza 2: raises the sublime question promoted but the picturesque.

· poem 3:
· seems a continuation of Poem 2, “for it does seem...”, contained in l.1, both numbers and happiness. Here he actually uses the terminology of the sublime (magnitude) along with sublime motifs:
-hope—doesn’t exist
-suspended birth
-invisible light
· the glebe is the subject, in pursuit of advancement whilst trying to retain its position.

· poem 4:
· stanza 1: back to the imagistic precepts, the simplicity of objects. Actually is a poem of sublime, that in pursuing the sublime for answers one goes against it but also keeps it alive as it is exactly this process of the picturesque moving into magnitude.
· stanza 2: relates the Imagism to the sublimity and shifts from rural to urban.

· poem 5:
· stanza 1-2: confounds the vastness and the miniature of the sublime, picturesque by a “tepid” compromise of timidity and banality.
· stanza 3: allegiance reference back to “Decoy”, the discourse ends on magnitude + numbers. Essential poems of the sublime also reference to their strange provenance French to English.

John Ashbery “The Double Dream of Spring”, 41-42

· stanza 1: ongoing motif of journeying plus a number of reference to creativity, the scene set is the typical climate, with breath (poetry) and sex again synonymous. We also have a narrative of double, mixed, halves which allows for this double dream which may be worth considering in the larger terms of its reference to the collection as a whole.
· stanza 2: a journey and a plan, we are disrupted by a narcissus in a dream which again leads to the sexual motif. The double is contrasted with the sequential sidewalk.
· stanza 3: the romantic “between” is taken over by the powerful locomotive, the end is lyrically inconclusive but need not be read semantically but in terms of its units: sickness, night time, defence, the day.

John Ashbery “Rural Objects”, 43-45

· Shoptaw notes these quatrains were highly revised to produce a greater sense of abstraction. The title tells us this is another adolescent poem and is in fact a lovely love poem, another double dream therefore.
· stanza 1-3: lovers in time, the final image of the hourglass is beautiful (cf. SPCM), leading to a surprisingly serious poetic last 2 lines that are almost modernistanza
· stanza 3-4: the further complexities of desire, tradition is collaged, nice comparison between loving and the book.
· stanza 5-8: the double dream motif returns with returns.
· stanza 9-11: places us in school days, pre-love I guess or rather its onset.
· stanza 11-14: the returns and unions are now divided up and summarising takes over, the final image is one of potential and return however via the blue objects (rural?).

John Ashbery “Years of Indiscretion”, 46

· discretion being a byword for Ashbery poetic title is typically misrepresentative and suggests the poem may be about poetry. Shoptaw notes stanza 1 is T.V., anything but discrete, everything merges into one.
· stanza 2: this stanza has the simple, bland diction of some of ST each word smallish and simply articulated like the “discrete” pebbles in a row.
· stanza 3: again discretion and indiscretion, the stanza is in 3 discrete parts:
1. the morals of time (l.1)
2. abstractions and absences leading to an indiscreet cancelling each other out (l.2-4)
3. the boots as a symbol of the random, this discrete unit is breached by dropping into stanza 4 (l.4-6)
· stanza 4: key phrase of the PMC, fables, they fool the old and the young but the middle age throbs between them. Ends in an indiscretion: vision as task, time merges. Important addition to the discourse on the sublime, “discretion” is a nice word to link up with “reticence”.

John Ashbery “Farm Implements and Rutabagas in a Landscape”, 47-48

· Shoptaw calls it an “animated sestina”, a misrepresentative Jacob van Ruysdaels painting “Farm Implements and Vegetables in a Landscape”:
“draws contemporary American life as an inscrutable assemblage of apparently random events, obeying arcane laws beyond the participant’s control or knowledge.” (104).
· characters have no idea that it’s the endwords make them scratch themselves etc. Popeye is the absentee landlord/overlord of the poem, collaging the comic strip “Popeye el Marino” in this poem exceptional action is the rule. Olive Oyle speaks in the language of a TV sitcom. Popeye always in absentia and yet the motivation of their actions, the end-words, are not but they don’t realise it.

John Ashbery “Sunrise in Suburbia”, 49-52

· Shoptaw notes how all the suburban landmarks in this poem have been left out. The predominant diction is of numerous means of creativity, oral, visual, plastic, which inter-connect with the feeling of motivated randomness we got in the end-words of “Rutabagas”. Here the motif is not lexically structural unit but is discourse between the subject and the PL of existence. The poem then is the process of living, not about the process it is the process. The title suggests both hope and banality and the narrative is typically misrepresentative as, say, opposed to “A Wave”, the setting is not suburban but rather a kind of paranoid pastoral of spells and runes.
· stanza 1: that there is a “tone” or continuity under chance and memory which is death, perhaps, but a life defining death.
· stanza 2: thus we have oscillations between warm and cold, near and far etc., a process so delicate that attention is paid to the suspension of inflection, the initiation not initiated therefore it is the inflection, a spell. The imagistic last part of last line actually summarises the poem here and poetry as whole in this collection:
-goal = aim, journey, sequence, unity
-barrier = misrepresentation, loss of faith, belated immanence, units
-climate = context, god, society, America
· stanza 3: reference to morsels, clutter, marks, the climate us cold and death-like here, breath becomes hard. The occult narrative continued with the pentagon and the fathoming, magic (sound), interpenetrating the event (occurrence).
· stanza 4: social aspect, included but also alienated “was no parking space”, one cannot rest there.
· stanza 5: the vicissitudes of this occult, hex-spell-weaving are mapped out in full here with an ongoing movement of flatness-dimension. The now is always disinterested, only retrospection can motivate it, this section contains the myriad devices of semi-automatic existence creation.
· stanza 6: reference to surrealist games, automatism, feeling through equipment being this mode of writing, existing.
· stanza 7: apt that is might conclude on a “nuance” for it is such delicacy that the process records, into the nuance comes the repeated promise of meaning (blue). this brightening is seen but cannot be penetrated or utilised.
· stanza 8(?): instead we have a dulled “aeolian” harp, 2 branches rasping, our divinations are habitually a way of dividing up space/time, but still the conflagration of desire animates.
· these sublime poems of desire add a second level between the practice of PL in say TCO, and this description of practice as practice in DDS.

John Ashbery “Definition of Blue”, 53-54

· Shoptaw notes the romantic individual is indistinguishable here from the establishment he opposes:
“Far from its home of personal lyric discourse, “Definition” hacks away at the establishment by subjecting the impersonal academic discourses of history and sociology to its own uses.” (102).
· repetition of the theme of many poems here, again it is the process, this time academic discourse, which matters.
· stanza 2: just as the path trails off as discourse begins to and erosion is used here I guess perhaps to juxtapose against aggressive progression.
· stanza 3: this would link in to the “new divisions” and this construction by accumulation vs. erosion.
· stanza 4: the blue is therefore the azure of aspiration and desire which our not possessing strangely does not really trouble us.

John Ashbery “Parergon”, 55-56

· title means a by-work. Narrative style of TCO especially and also “It was Raining in the Capital”, these have an articulated 3 part narrative.
· stanza 1: the ubiquitous “we”.
· stanza 2: the citation, used to introduce the other, often a prophet of the Aquarian mould in “It was...”, who speaks much as the poet does.
· stanza 3: speaker becomes a character, the stranger becomes a modified romantic hero, alienated yet here the people seem to understand him and that he understands them thus the gestures of Romanticism remain but they are now seen through also.
· good example of process then, here the process of poet and his people of Coleridge’s “stranger”.

John Ashbery “The Hod Carrier”, 57-59

· Shoptaw notes this as an interpolation of one poem into the margins of another, Steven’s “Hermitage at the Centre”.

John Ashbery “An Outing”, 60

· stanza 1-2: seems to be a prostitute gifted with ennui.
· stanza 3-4: the folks are on an aborted outing, held in indecisiveness; are they the visitors to the prostitute?
· stanza 5; they do go ending ins a end-word repetition of Denmark repetition of Koch and imagistic sectors, making this a conceptual Denmark. Very simple but effective.

John Ashbery “Some Words”, 61-65

· Cravan was a minor surrealist? The poem kind of fits in in its world weariness (see interviews), and the couplets recall Koch, a kind of melancholic meditation on life and disappointments.

John Ashbery “Young Man with Letter”, 66

· title kind of combines 2 concerns of previous collections, and the “rounds” then of stanza 1, both in a circular letter and I guess the sexual rounds.
· stanza 1: some nice images of the moment, especially the “click” image.
· stanza 2: an element of doubt as the speaker wonders if we are the ones changing, not the moment.
· stanza 3: the “neon” is another kind of prophet to add to the Aquarian and stranger.

John Ashbery “Clouds”, 67-69

· regular quatrains, this is another narrative in the style of “Parergon”.
· stanza 1: nice conflation here, I think the whole collection could be seen in terms of discretion and in (non) discretion as that here sleep comes down he goes up to merge.
· stanza 2-3: the forest seems a dreamscape borne out by the confusion of internal/external.
· stanza 4-5: note the importance of “mass” to this collection, here contrasted to the separate blocks and the “conducive other” of climate.
· stanza 7-9: rhetorical question, again another recurrent motif of flattening (or banded) it would seem both are symbols of mounting motivation and equivalence. Other 2 stanzas deal with progression of moments.
· stanza 10-12: her returns as a hunter (ongoing detective/quest) moving into a future beyond death.
· stanza 13-14: O’Hara subject of nowness, final images of straight horizontal and vertical lines, whilst “semele” who would see Jupiter’s beauty, cf. Moreau, squats as a “brown light” that has taken the God’s place.

John Ashbery “The Bungalows”, 70-72

· long, free verse lines, bungalows seem the very image of suburbia, lmc suburbia.
· stanza 1: the bungalows repetition of flattened surface, safe constructions: boxes, installedness, and recur as such throughout as the novel detail to perk up the automatic narrative of Ashbery belatedness etc. [-need a term to convey this], of course as soon as it is established it is counterposed to an image of flux, height and change.
· stanza 2: here the boxes become our desire for order which coincide with dreams of home.
· stanza 3: usage of the “great wave of the past” which is also the wave of equalling out.
· stanza 4: the bungalow presents the development on the apartment interiors of previous collections in that it can be inside and outside, the city here threatening to subsume it.
· stanza 5-6: direction to directionless, the issue of faith is explicitly raised here and then a river meanders away from it.
· stanza 7: everything is here:
-the program
-backward way of becoming
-chance, details
-construction (inherent motif)

John Ashbery “The Chateau Hardware”, 73

· Shoptaw notes the homotextual here.
· belongs more in ST as basic homotextual

John Ashbery “Sortes Vergilianae”, 74-77

· Shoptaw calls it “line measured”, find a detailed reading of the poem in MA thesis bibliography.
· p.74: the poem is actually very straight forward like most of those in this collection and again is more highlighting the practice of description, in this case of the earliest form of poetry making/divination. It is a clever use of ritual as the act is performative of community, we gather to witness the divination, and journeying, that is starting from a random point and moving on from there.
· p.75: the idea of the sortes as a picnic is equivalent to the idea of the interior of the dreaming mind as a bungalow. The images of grey fuzz etc. seem alternative means of game-playing, divination: sweepings, scrimmage, etchings. And again the “fishing” is another excellent contemporising of this ancient process.
· p.76: the aspect of magic is vital then for numerous reasons:
-magic = total motivation
-yet divination of this sort is random
-it equates art with prediction through the past (text) a prevision if you like or at least that’s what the text becomes
-it is community making based around the seer as vessel
-it is semi-automatic
-the sortes opens up the journey motif
· he thus takes the sortes literally later by promoting an ancient journey involving the significant city state.
· p.77: the end of the music (prediction) puts each sortie into a deconstructive perspective and this is the image critics get executed about, the microcosmic footnote (cf. Freud’s “Wolfman”) and the hors-texte fitting in with the ritual of expulsion. Again, ends on lyric images of night, stars, the sun. A central poem for the centre of practice/process in this collection.

John Ashbery “Fragment”, 78-94

· Shoptaw conceived along the lines of a Renaissance emblem book, along with Alex Katz’s illustrations (cf. Black Sparrow, 1969), patterned on Délie, Maurice Scève, a 16th C poet written in dizains. Ashbery notes give the poem an intriguing instability, neither fragment nor a whole, neither a stanza nor an unconnected poem in a sequence. Decided each time he sat down to do two, no more or less, therefore each page of Black Sparrow edition = a day’s work. (cf. Marianne Moore, whose names is on the first page of the manuscript.) Shoptaw sees this in the [strangely feminine] tradition of American abstraction from Dickinson to Moore, which Ashbery admires for the quality of restraint which also ties into the Scève poems which are about unrequited sexual love leading almost to suicide and the formal restraint of 10 decasyllabic lines. Also notes the influence of Mallarmé, Ashbery was translating Igitur in 1964. The title is a joke yet, as Ashbery notes. also show it is a fragment of the larger consciousness which created it, is both a love poem but also written at the time of his father’s death.
· Shoptaw summarises the structure thus:
-an address to and mediation on “you” (1-11)
-partial disclosures of the plot (12-29)
-reflections on the relation between the present and the past (30-36)
-parallels between private crisis and its aftermath and the origins of a civilisation (37-47)
-framing coda (48-50)
· with interest not being in death but in remembering and forgetting which happens in their wake:
“A burial in “Fragment” is a cover-up; words are spoken and never spoken of again...Rather than being an elegy for the father, “Fragment” has taken his place.” (114).
· the bereft wife/mother enters the poem in the third and second person as “she” is Délie (the beloved), a “you”, the speaker’s maternal confidant.
· PC: 115-117, a detailed reading of #1 + Scève emblems.
“If “Fragment” is, as Ashbery says, “a love poem”, it is the love story rather than the beloved which is emblazoned to pieces.” (117)
· the use of “you” makes the lover the reader. Bloom calls it “an elegy for the self of an imperfect solipsistanza ” Sees it as framed by reflections on its own nature as a sign; the word sign appearing in 1st and last dizain:
“Ashbery’s emblem is a spatial, synecdochal fragment and a temporal trace or promise, a Piercean index, of what it signifies, even though this referent may not (yet or any longer) existanza ” (122).
· this is a fragment but the whole of which these parts are a part, does not existanza Sees it as a refined, almost speechless style. The poem then, as Shoptaw notes, is not about constructing emblems to the lost beloved, but rather is that which takes the place of the lost beloved. This is apt and in keeping with that which I would want to say about the process bias of the collection.
· to mourn here is the construct a fragment of the father (lost), the mother (mourning) and the son whose relation to his father seems marked throughout by oedipal complications, if you like, of his relationship to his father. What is more, just as the poem can try to substitute for the lost beloved, it cannot substitute for the poetic consciousness as a whole so it is the vital point of meeting between the sustainable sublime of the elegiac form and the sublime loss at the heart of the post-subject.
· this should thus be used in the conclusion to reach out to elegy? SPCM is after going to be the poem of the subject.
· Close Reading: later date.


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