2012 National Book Award Winner,

David Ferry

Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations

University of Chicago Press

Bewilderment, by David FerryDavid Ferry


David Ferry’s new poems, in their grace and profundity, spiritual wisdom and utilitarianism, reach toward immortality, and may achieve it. These are the quiet, careful poems of the craft’s master, singing about the human condition as casually and ferociously as it is lived. In this new work, the poet’s influences are resurrected, and his own influence on future poetry is secured. He writes about our “furious clarity,” and he writes with it.

About the Book

To read David Ferry’s Bewilderment is to be reminded that poetry of the highest order can be made by the subtlest of means. The passionate nature and originality of Ferry’s prosodic daring works astonishing transformations that take your breath away. In poem after poem, his diction modulates beautifully between plainspoken high eloquence and colloquial vigor, making his distinctive speech one of the most interesting and ravishing achievements of the past half century. Ferry’s translations, meanwhile, are amazingly acclimated English poems. Once his voice takes hold of them they are as bred in the bone as all his other work. And the translations in this book are vitally related to the original poems around them.

About the Author

David Ferry was born in Orange, New Jersey in 1924. He is the author of six books of poems and the translator of Gilgamesh, the Odes and Epistles of Horace, and the Eclogues and Georgics of Virgil, and is at work on a translation of the Aeneid. He is the Sophie Chantal Hart Professor Emeritus of English at Wellesley College and also teaches at Suffolk University. In 2011, he was awarded the $100,000 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize for lifetime achievement. Other awards include the Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry from the Library of Congress, the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets, and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, and he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998.


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Two poems by David Ferry
Poetry Daily
> poems.com/poem.php?date=15598



There’s the one about the man who went into
A telephone booth on the street and called himself up,
And nobody answered, because he wasn’t home,
So how could he possibly have answered the phone?
The night went on and on and on and on.
The telephone rang and rang and nobody answered.

And there’s the one about the man who went
Into the telephone booth and called himself up,
And right away he answered, and so they had
A good long heart-to-heart far into the night.
The sides of the phone booth glittered and shone in the light
Of the streetlight light as the night went echoing on.

Out in the wild hills of suburban New Jersey,
Up there above South Orange and Maplewood,
The surface of a lonely pond iced over,
Under the avid breath of the winter wind,
And the snow drifted across it and settled down,
So at last you couldn’t tell that there was a pond.

Your Personal God

    from Horace, Epistles II.2 (lines 180–89)

Jewels, marble, ivory, paintings, beautiful Tuscan
Pottery, silver, Gaetulian robes dyed purple—
Many there are who’d love to have all of these things.
There are some who don’t care about them in the least.
Why one twin brother lives for nothing but pleasure,
And loves to fool around even more than Herod
Loves his abundant gardens of date-trees, while
The other twin brother works from morning to night
Improving his farm, ploughing and clearing the lands,
Pruning and planting, working his ass off, only
The genius knows, the personal god who knows
And controls the birth star of every person
There is in the world. Your personal god is the god
Who dies in a sense when your own breath gives out,
And yet lives on, after you die, to be
The personal god of somebody other than you;
Your personal god, whose countenance changes as
He looks at you, smiling sometimes, sometimes not.

“Narcissus” and “Your Personal God” from Bewilderment by David Ferry. © 2012 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.



Photo credit: Stephen Ferry