Winter 1944 • Vol. VI No. 1 PoetryJanuary 1, 1944 |

The Dream-Singing Elegy¹

Darkness, giving us dream's black unity. Images in procession start to flow among the river-currents down the years of judgment and past the cities to another world. There are flat places. After the waterfall arched like the torso of love, after the voice singing behind the waterfall, after the water lying like a lover on the heart, there is defeat. And moving through our spirit in the night memories of these places. Not ritual, not nostalgia, but our cries, the axe at the heart, continual rebirth, the crying of our raw desire, young. O many-memoried America! ★ In defeat there are no prophets and no magicians, only the look in the loved and tortured eyes when every fantasy restores, and day denies. The act of war debased to an act of treason in an age of treason. We were strong at the first. We resisted. We did not plan enough. We killed. But the enemy came like thunder in the wood, a storm over the treetops like a horse's head reared to a great galloping, and war tramp

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Growing out of Muriel Rukeyser’s experience during the Spanish Civil War, the elegy evokes both hope and skepticism about dreaming in a time of defeat. The title alludes to nineteenth-century customs practiced by starving Native Americans, who found hope in ecstatic dancing, anticipating reunions with their dead—customs which, as Rukeyser noted, “have connections with expression in the overrun countries of our own time.” “The Dream-singing Elegy” was later republished as the seventh in a cycle of ten poems (Elegies, 1949). A quotation from it appears in Doctor Atomic, John Adams’ 2005 opera about the Manhattan Project, sung by the skeptical Kitty Oppenheimer.

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Eyes of Night-Time

By Muriel Rukeyser

Darkness, giving us dream's black unity. Images in procession start to flow among the river-currents down the years of judgment and past the cities to another world. There are flat […]

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