Poem twins, part 7: Happy men

poems are on back of bistro chair



by Raymond Carver


So early it’s still almost dark out.

I’m near the window with coffee,

and the usual early morning stuff

that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend

walking up the road

to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,

and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.

They are so happy

they aren’t saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take

each other’s arm.

It’s early in the morning,

and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.

The sky is taking on light,

though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute

death and ambition, even love,

doesn’t enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on

unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,

any early morning talk about it.




From “Vacillation”

by W.B. Yeats


My fiftieth year had come and gone,

I sat, a solitary man,

In a crowded London shop,

An open book and empty cup

On the marble table-top.


While on the shop and street I gazed

My body of a sudden blazed;

And twenty minutes more or less

It seemed, so great my happiness,

That I was blessed and could bless.




Not going to say much about these twin poems because the happiness they describe is a delicate thing, not to be over-handled. Or as Raymond Carver puts,


Happiness. It comes on

unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,

any early morning talk about it.


Classic Carver there, not so much suppressing emotion as avoiding direct talk about it. A manly man, feeling the feels.


Both Yeats in the “Vacillations” excerpt and Carver in “Happiness” are solitary men. Yeats sits alone, presumably downhearted, in a crowded London shop—even his cup is empty—and Carver stands by himself at dawn, watching the two paperboys on the other side of the window. Neither man is seeking bliss. Like moments of grace (and maybe it is grace), happiness lands upon them without warning. Suddenly they feel connected to the people they stand apart from. It’s a visceral emotion. My body of a sudden blazed, writes Yeats. Carver goes at it sideways, as per usual, and projects himself into the bodies of the boys:

They are so happy

they aren’t saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take

each other’s arm.


Ahhhh these poems just make me love life so much!


I left the poems in the early morning hours (early morning for me, that is, sometime before 8:30 a.m.) in an outdoor café.


Ray Carver (1938-1988) is not known primarily as a poet, although he published several books of poetry in his short life. Considered the reviver of the short story form, he’s a fiction writer admired for his spare style and peerless dialogue.


He was born in Oregon and raised in Washington. His dad worked in a sawmill, his mother worked various other blue-collar jobs.


At 19 he married his 16-year old pregnant girlfriend, a young woman at a prep school whose mother never forgave him for interrupting the upward course of her life. The couple had two children and worked odd jobs to keep afloat, he as a janitor, flower-picker, gas station attendant, library assistant, she as a waitress and office assistant.


They moved to California where he enrolled in school and found a mentor in novelist John Gardner (of Grendel fame), and began publishing his short stories. He was given a fellowship to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, but didn’t complete his MFA in part because he felt out of place among the upper-middle-class students.


Eventually he landed a white-collar job as a textbook editor, and wrote in his spare time. He started teaching, and developed a drinking problem (no connection). He wasn’t able to quit drinking till 1977. Two years later he moved in with poet and writer Tess Gallagher. He and his first wife divorced in 1982. He married Tess in 1988 and died six weeks later of lung cancer.



Born in Dublin in 1865 to a Protestant family, William Butler Yeats spent much of his childhood in London. Nonetheless, Yeats supported Irish independence. He loved and collected Irish folklore, was a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival, and helped found Dublin’s Abbey Theater. He was the first Irishman to win the Nobel Prize, and served for six years as an Irish senator.


For much of his life Yeats was obsessed with Maud Gonne, an Irish revolutionary and famous beauty. He proposed to her four times over many years. Like Pip’s love for Estella, Scarlett’s for Ashley, Yeats’ unrequited love for the six-foot tall, red-haired Gonne shaped his life. She drew Yeats into her political causes and awakened his nationalistic feelings. He wrote a play for her to star in. He even, after Maud’s final rejection, proposed to her daughter. With her permission. (She had other boundary issues with mating and mothering—she had sex on her infant son’s grave in the hope of conceiving his reincarnation.)


At age 52 Yeats married for the first time to a woman half his age. Theirs was a happy marriage but not a monogamous one, at least on his part. He died in Paris in 1939.



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