Poem introduction

This next poem was written at the invitation of a poet friend, John Wood, for the initial issue of an annual devoted to photography. What it has to do with is the relationship of photography to our celebrity cult. The poem's called 'Icons'.

Icons

Icons

They are one answer to the human need
For a second life, and they exist for us
In the secular heaven of photography,
Safe in emulsion's cloud

Through which we glimpse them, knowing them as we know
The angels, by report and parched surmise.
Like Milton's seraphim who veil their gaze
Against the beams of God,

Often we see them handsomely asquint
When captured by a bursting photoflash,
Or dazzling and bedazzled on that beach
Where currently they sun;

And yet perhaps they seem most brilliant when,
Putting away all glamour, they appear
In their old clothes at home, with dog and child,
Projecting toward the lens

From a couch not unlike our own, a smile
Sublimely confident of mattering.
They smile, too, when we spot their avatars
Upon the actual street,

Sharing with us the little joke that we
Have known them in a different dimension:
But since they strike us then as subtly changed -
Pale, short, a trifle older -

It is not hard to yield them back to dream,
From which their images imutably
Bestow a flourish on our muted lives,
Even though death betray them.

Still, there are fewer sightings year by year
Of the trenchcoat carried niftily over the shoulder,
The innocent sultry look, the heaved guitar,
The charming pillbox hat,

And fewer of their dreamers left to grieve
As all those glossy selves, transcendent still,
Slip unaccountably into the morgues
And archives of this world.


from Collected Poems 1943-2004 (Waywiser, 2005), copyright © Richard Wilbur 2005, used by permission of the author and the publisher

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