The Simple Truth
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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1995
Written in a voice that moves between elegy and prayer, The Simple Truth contains thirty-three poems whose aim is to weave a complex tapestry of myth, history (both public and private), family, memory, and invention in a search for truths so basic and universal they often escape us all.
"I am a longtime admirer of Philip Levine's poetry, but until now I thought he could never surpass The Names of the Lost, a book I love deeply. But The Simple Truth deserves its title--I wonder if any American poet since Walt Whitman himself has written elegies this consistently magnificent. The controlled pathos of every poem in the volume is immense, and gives me a new sense of Levine." - Harold Bloom
Philip Levine was born in 1928 in Detroit and was formally educated there, in the public schools and at Wayne University (now Wayne State University). After a succession of industrial jobs, he left the city for good and lived in various parts of the country before settling in Fresno, California, where he taught at the state university until his retirement. For twelve autumns he served as poet in residence at New York University. He has received many awards for his books of poems, including the National Book Award in 1991 for What Work Is and the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 for The Simple Truth. In 2011 he was appointed Poet Laureate of the United States. He divides his time between Fresno, California, and Brooklyn, New York.
ATLANTIC: “Magpiety” and “Ode for Mrs. William Settle” BOULEVARD: “Ask for Nothing” COLORADO REVIEW: “Out by Dark” and “My Brother Abel, the Wounded” THE FORWARD: “My Father with Cigarette Twelve Years before the Nazis Could Break his Heart” GEORGIA REVIEW: “The Trade” HUDSON REVIEW: “Getting There,” “The Old Testament,” “In the Dark,” and “Blue and Blue” THE NATION: “Dreaming in Swedish,” “The Return,” and “Winter Words, Manhattan” (under the title “Ask
the history of the world; all you have to do is make Leon Trotsky my dear grandfather in the city of Detroit, a vendor instead of a victim. Let him remain Jewish, let him wear glasses, let him drink cold tea through his false teeth, let the dead rise, let Sr. Ruiz question the wind. MY MOTHER WITH PURSE THE SUMMER THEY MURDERED THE SPANISH POET Had she looked out the window she would have seen a quiet street, each house with a single maple or elm browning in the sun at
looked into the sky as though it were our only home. We drove on. Nothing moved, nothing stirred in the oven of this valley. What was there left to say? The sky was on fire, the air streamed into the open windows. We broke free beyond the car lots, the painted windows, the all-night bars, the places where the children gathered, and we just went on and on, as far as we could into a day that never ended. ASK FOR NOTHING Instead walk alone in the evening heading out of town toward
THREEPENNY REVIEW: “Soul,” “The Poem of Chalk,” and “Listen Carefully” Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Levine, Philip The simple truth : poems / by Philip Levine. p. cm. eISBN: 978-0-307-55973-9 I. Title. PS3562.E9S56 1994 94-14508 811′.54—dc20 Reprinted Four Times v3.1 FOR MY BROTHERS, WITH ME FROM THE START CONTENTS Cover Title Page Copyright Dedication I On the Meeting of García Lorca and Hart Crane Ode for Mrs. William Settle Lame
not even talk. IN THE DARK In the last light of a summer day facing the Canadian shore we watched from the island as night sifted into the river, blackening the still surface. An ore boat passed soundlessly trailing a tiny wake that folded in upon itself with a sigh, unless that sigh was hers or mine. In the darkness it’s hard to tell who is listening and who is speaking. St. Augustine claimed we made love in the dark— though he did not write “made love”— because we were ashamed to