1138 Twenty-Second Avenue, East Eugene, Oregon
Dear John:

Don't blame me: you asked for it when you expressed the willingness to receive a letter and not merely an addendum to one of your biographer's letters. Perhaps I should have written you long ago, and I know I would have sought you out when we were in Columbia, save for a strong feeling on my part that somebody ought to leave the celebrities alone, especially when they are poets. Of course, one of the sweetest things about you is that you don't even kbow ​ that you are a celebrity--or don't let anybody else know that you know if you do know. Yet I have had the feeling that I ought not to deprive you of the part of your time that might better be devoted to another song--perhaps now to the one that both Mona and Lucile hoped you would complete.

But as I say, you asked for it, and hence the deluge.

What do you make of the dictum that Yeats the painter wrote to Yeats (his son) the poet: That which can be understood is not poetry? Do you see wisdom in the other man's observation: It is almost always disastrous not to be a poet? Both these observations are subtle, it seems to me, and deserve a second going over. Note that Yeats does not offer the fuzzyman's theory: That which cannot be understood is poetry. Such a statement would cover some of our modern American obscurantists, I think, but it is not what Yeats was thinking. What do you think?

I quit poetry entirely at about the time when you turned from lyricism to epics. My decision was based on what was for me a sound premise--that my life could not sustain poetry. When I was much younger than you I suffered the loss which you have suffered only yesterday. It was and still remains inexplicable to me. Not being able to sustain poetry, however, I could manage rhetoric of a sort. (By rhetoric I trust you to know that I mean not fustian or bombast or any other of the modern degradations of the term. In the strictest sense, I mean what Aristotle meant. Or if I could paraphrase Yeats from above, I would say that which can be misunderstood is not rhetoric.

In our discourses this summer I mentioned the Abbe Bremond and his Poesie Pure. He conceived poetry to be prayer--or akin to prayer; I no longer remember precisely his closing phrases. And I have often thought the notion to be worth more than at first glance appears. But of course poetry is all things to some men, and some things to all men. I'm reminded that a great and good friend of mine, who once experienced a loss more tragic even than your^s or mine, explained to me that in the depth of his personal disaster he gained almost equal relief by prayer and by profanity. In the wheat fields of Kansas I remember having heard profanity that was--that could have been prayer; and I think an all-wise God would so interpret it--the prayer of a damned soul ashamed or afraid to pray and yet seeking a profound (and poetic?) expression. Have you hver heard an Irishman swear? I don't mean an ordinary American shanty Irishman, but an old County Cork Irishman, who knew the music as well as the words? I heard one such (he was a section boss on the Iron Mountain railroad) read the pedigree and the future of a workman who dropped a crow bar on his foot. It was music. It was poetry, it was oratory, it may even have been prayer. Do you follow me? Am I completely out of tune?

I should mention before I leave that Martin Schmitt, whom you will remember from your previous visit with us, is eager to know when you are coming back. He is doing a television series and wants to ask you to narrate one of them if there is any possibility of your doing it. When do you plan to come again?

We are moved in now and well enough to entertain guests--especially understanding guests like yourself. And so anytime the notion strikes you, come along. Stewart says to tell you that he has two beds in his room, and you may have your choice. Or if you want both, he will sleep on the floor and let you have both.

The house is really quite comfortable. In structure it is the nearest thing in town to the one we had in Columbia; but Lucile says it is a much nicer house. She is busy in the woman's way of prettying it up: I am trying to stay out of the way.

Do let us know that you plan to come see us.

Cordially, as ever,