William Bronk

Died Feb. 22 some time at night, apparently peacefully.

The Smile on the Face of a Kouros

This boy, of course, was dead, whatever that
might mean. And nobly dead. I think we should feel
he was nobly dead. He fell in battle, perhaps,
and this carved stone remembers him
not as he may have looked, but as if to define
the naked virtue the stone describes as his.
One foot is forward, the eyes look out, the arms
drop downward past the narrow waist to hands
hanging in burdenless fullness by the heavy flanks.
The boy was dead, and the stone smiles in his death
lightening the lips with the pleasure of something achieved:
an end. To come to an end. To come to death
as an end. And coming, bring there intact, the full
weight of his strength and virtue, the prize with which
his empty hands are full. None of it lost,
safe home, and smile at the end achieved.
Now death, of which nothing as yet - or ever - is known,
leaves us alone to think as we want of it,
and accepts our choice, shaping the life to the death.
Do we want an end? It gives us; and takes what we give
and keeps it; and has, this way, in life itself,
a kind of treasure house of comely form
achieved and left with death to stay and be
forever beautiful and whole, as if
to want too much the perfect, unbroken form
were the same as wanting death, as choosing death
for an end. There are other ways; we know the way
to make the other choice for death: unformed
or broken, less than whole, puzzled, we live
in a formless world. Endless, we hope for no end.
I tell you death, expect no smile of pride
from me. I bring you nothing in my empty hands.

William Bronk
(Life Supports: New and Collected Poems, page 66; orig. pub. in The Empty Hands, 1969)

William Bronk's 81st birthday party was a great success (I attended the 80th), I was told (by Sherry Kearns). I phoned Bill that night and he sounded at once more than happy and suffering from his usual severe emphysema as well as a sudden fluctuation in his diabetic's sugar level (due to, as he admitted, his having been "bad"--having eaten and drunk things he shouldn't have), so we got off the phone quickly. His cousin had a nice visit with him the next day. And the morning later, Dan O'Leary, a painter friend who has been looking after Bill daily--bringing him the paper, fresh milk, poking around the house for him or whatever--at first couldn't find him and then, following the lengthy tube from Bill's oxygen tank, discovered his body lying on a couch face up and arms crossed over his chest. Bill had been dead for a while and so must have died perhaps around midnight or so. Bill had left standing instructions to have his body cremated as soon as possible, and so Dan had that done immediately. There will be a gathering/service some time in April, once the ground is soft enough for digging (the ashes to be buried in the family plot). Besides this, a two-day symposium on Bill's work, planned for this November at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, will have an added significance.

Burt Kimmelman
February 24, 1999

William Bronk's Passing

Although one saw him but rarely, there was a strong sense of bond between us as two who had begun together back at the close of the 40s, in Cid Corman's Origin. We had a mutual friend, a little older than I was -- as was Bill as well --Samuel French Morse, a friend also of Cid Corman's, by way of Gordon Cairnie's transforming Grolier Book Shop in Cambridge. I was trying to start a little magazine and Bill had sent me some poems (at Sam's suggestion), which were printed in Origin, when the magazine I intended fell apart. Much has been said about William Bronk's relation to Wallace Stevens. There is certainly an active sense of parallel, particular in the pace, the reflective rhetoric, and in the use of pronouns. But Stevens is a much lighter poet, if that's the word, letting thought be both way in and way out, a play of mind rather than its adamant conviction. It was not surprising when Stevens converted at last to Catholicism. Bronk's Protestant determination never changed. I recall those early poems had often a humor, neither droll nor necessarily relieving. It was a humor of situation, that one was in this world indeed, just so. Bill thought about it all his extraordinary life. In that he was very like Emily Dickinson, seemingly alone yet compact with existence, flooded with insistent intelligence and proposal. One notices how particularly his poems return, loop, rather, about their factors of statement. "Here" is the only place he ever was. Our first meeting was at a reading I'd had in New York, and he came up to introduce himself just after, but really to tell me with a look of real consternation, that he would never have imagined I'd read my poems as I did, stuttering, seeming almost in pain -- why? I had no answer. He read his own thoughtfully, firmly, considering. When, a few years ago, he was unable to attend a festival we were both to be at, a tape of his reading was provided , and so I sat with others listening to that dependable, quiet voice speak through the lines of an age old human wondering. Why indeed, I thought -- it was a good question. Back home, I called him to tell him all had gone well, and we mused a bit on life, on what it had been to be poets. As he said, one had never thought of it as a "career" or as any such. One did it simply. Charles Olson valued him quite probably more than any other of his contemporaries -- it was the measure of intelligence he constituted, the address of his means to the given world. Finally, there was no one else quite like him, so large in his singleness, so separate yet enclosing. One will not see his like again.

Robert Creeley
Buffalo, N.Y.
February 25, 1999

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