Howard Nemerov's "Writing"

Updated on October 6, 2017
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After I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962, poetry became my passion.

Howard Nemerov


Introduction: Writing in Nature

Howard Nemerov's "Writing" consists of two versagraphs; the first versagraph features five movements.

The second versagraph offers a philosophical summation of the first versagraph.

The speaker offers his deep appreciation for the act of writing, finding examples in nature that he can call "writing" which clearly is nothing of the kind.

The speaker's affection for writing as art leads him to equate the act of ice skaters, for example, to hand-writing. The scrapes on ice remind him of the scribbles on a page.

First Versagraph: "The cursive crawl, the squared-off characters"

First Movement: The Art of Delight

The speaker describes the visual appeal of chirography or penmanship. He admires the "cursive crawl, the squared-off characters," which "delight" him, even if he does not know the meaning of the lines.

For example, the speaker can appreciate the appearance of Chinese lettering even without knowing what the marks mean. He can also enjoy the "scoring" made by skaters on a pond who leave "their white / records in ice."

Second Movement: Miracles

When the observer is able to understand the scrawling, the shapes and figures become "miraculous." The products of the "pen's point" and "brush's tip" bind the world and spirit together through their "audacities / and delicate hesitations."

Third Movement: Style and Character

Acknowledging that the human hand with its "small bones of the wrist" is responsible for the chirographic beauty, the speaker equates that wrist with "great skeletons of stars," claiming that they balance "exactly." He asserts, "the point of style / is character."

Fourth Movement: Individuality and the Hand

The speaker contends that each hand that writes writes differently because "the universe induces / a different tremor in every hand."

The speaker offers as examples the widely contrasting "check-forger" and the Chinese "Emperor / Hui Tsung, who called his own calligraphy / the 'Slender Gold.'

Fifth Movement: Nerves Make the Man

The speaker concludes that nerves are ultimately responsible for the great chirographic variations: "A nervous man / writes nervously of a nervous world, and so on."

The world as well as humankind is a-jitter with this nervous energy that leads to art.

Second Versagraph: "Miraculous. It is as though the world"

The speaker concludes that it is all "Miraculous." He claims that it seems that the world itself is "a great writing."

Such a statement, of course, offers only the view of one individual; thus, the speaker permits himself to backtrack somewhat: "let us allow there is more to the world / than writing."

The speaker observes that he cannot equate the "continental faults" with the "convoluted fissure in the brain." Those two phenomena exist quite individually, one from the other. The world of miracles undoubtedly contains uniquely crafted patterns.

The skaters who leave their scratches across the face of the pond can remain out skating only so long and then must "soon go home."

And the scoring their blades leave behind will disappear after the ice melts, "remember[ing] nothing, neither wind nor wake." No matter how beautiful the writing or the source of it, time and nature will erase its presence sooner or later.

Interpretive Reading of Nemerov's "Writing"

© 2017 Linda Sue Grimes


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