Redux: Such Is the Way with Monumental Things



Every week, the editors of The Paris Review lift the paywall on a selection of interviews, stories, poems, and more from the magazine’s archive. You can have these unlocked pieces delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday by signing up for the Redux newsletter.



This week, to celebrate his work as the guest poetry editor of the Fall issue, we bring you selections of work by Henri Cole: his 2014 Art of Poetry interview, in which he outlines what he requires from a good poem; “West Point Remembered,” from the Fall 1988 issue, Cole’s first appearance in our pages; and the poem “At the Grave of Elizabeth Bishop.”

Henri Cole, The Art of Poetry No. 98
Issue no. 209 (Summer 2014)

I think it would be rather narrow—and moralistic—to say that poetry must comfort us and point to what is good. I don’t think that is the function of art, though sometimes it is a happy result. In any case, a sentimental, moralizing poem is not what I want to write. I don’t want the reader to experience comfort—I want the opposite.



West Point Remembered
By Henri Cole
Issue no. 108 (Fall 1988)

Such is the way with monumental things:
to make us see and wonder.
The unreserved calm of the place
made us marvel at the world’s problems.
Across the post office lawn
cadets gathered in twos and threes,
each man with trousers pressed
and six gilded buttons riveted
in a field of grey. They greeted each
other with perfect Victorian courtesy,
and one with his head cocked in daydream,
cap pushed back at a boyish slant,
a yellow letter unfolded and waving
in his hand, asked himself,
as any one of us might,
“What do the words mean?”



At the Grave of Elizabeth Bishop
By Henri Cole
Issue no. 164 (Winter 2002–2003)

I, detaching myself from the human I, Henri,
without thick eyeglasses or rubberized white skin,
stretched out like a sinewy cat in the brown grass
to see what I felt, wrapping my tail around me,
hiding my eyes.
I slept. I waited. I sucked air,
instead of milk. I listened to pigeons murmuring.


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