“Cherishing What Isn’t” by Jack Gilbert

Ah, you three women whom I have loved in this
long life, along with the few others.
And the four I may have loved, or stopped short
of loving. I wander through these woods
making songs of you. Some of regret, some
of longing, and a terrible one of death.
I carry the privacy of your bodies
and hearts in me. The shameful ardor
and the shameless intimacy, the secret kinds
of happiness and the walled-up childhoods.
I carol loudly of you among trees emptied
of winter and rejoice quietly in summer.
A score of women if you count love both large
and small, real ones that were brief
and those that lasted. Gentle love and some
almost like an animal with its prey.
What is left is what’s alive in me. The failing
of your beauty and its remaining.
You are like countries in which my love
took place. Like a bell in the trees
that makes your music in each wind that moves.
A music composed of what you have forgotten.
That will end with my ending.

“Cherishing What Isn’t” by Jack Gilbert, from The Dance Most of All. © Alfred A Knopf, 2010.

5 thoughts on ““Cherishing What Isn’t” by Jack Gilbert

    1. As most of the world, I was late to Gilbert’s work. Understandable since his books were few and far between, but regrettable in that I wish I had more years to appreciate it. So beautiful and meditative without the pomp and arrogance.
      (Samuel Menashe too. Every word packed with purpose and impact. And a master of brevity.)


  1. Reading the poem and the comments makes me want to read more of him.

    You’ve shared a bit (and so did he) that he loved a few women.
    For fun, one could even view this as one woman – either with many sides, or one who morphed over the course of their relationship. I know that’s not his intent, but it is written in such a way that even someone like me can play with the metaphor a bit.


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