The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures

The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures

John Updike

Language: English

Pages: 38


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Date of publication in ePub format: 2012.


As a present to John Updike on his fiftieth birthday, and as a treat for his readers, his first book, a collection of light verse originally published twenty-five years ago, is brought back into print, with an author’s foreword and some small revisions.

Many of these poems were written when the author was a young art student in England and a “Talk of the Town” reporter for The New Yorker, which published over forty of them. They deal with the quiddities of things, the oddities of science, quirks of American life (especially as reported in Life magazine during those smiling Eisenhower years), and moments of epiphany in literature and nature. A number—“Ex-Basketball Player,” “Superman,” “Mirror,” “Quilt”—have been frequently reprinted in anthologies. All show a sharp ear, a fond eye, and an active though not always light-hearted fancy.

Written mainly to amuse, Updike’s early verse was also, as his foreword states, “a way of dealing with the universe, an exercise of the Word.” Admirers who know him mostly through his fiction should be delighted to encounter what he calls “these old evidences of my own high spirits.”

The Carpentered Hen, in recent years a hard-to-get collector’s item, now again.

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and does not spare the coward backs and knees of youths who are not warlike. Manliness, not knowing the taint of defeat, flashes forth with unsullied glory, neither lifts nor lowers the axes at a whisper from the scatterbrained mob. Manliness, that throws open heaven to those undeserving of death, plots its course by a route denied to most, and on pinion soaring scorns the common crowd, the damp earth. There is, for faithful silence, too, sure reward. I will forbid the man who spreads

Once each day this broad mouth spews Love letters, bills, ads, pleas, and news. MIRROR NUTCRACKER His teeth are part of his shoulders because A     nut Is broken best by arms that serve as jaws. OTTOMAN Lessons in history: the Greeks Were once more civilized than Swedes. Iranians were, for several weeks, Invincible, as Medes. The mild Mongolians, on a spree, Beheaded half of Asia; and The Arabs, in their century, Subdued a world of sand. Just so, the cushioned stool we deign To

cable cars, Twin Peaks, the Spreckels habitat, The local ocean, sun, and stars— When fog falls, one admires that. Here homes are stacked in such a way That every picture window has An unmarred prospect of the Bay And, in its center, Alcatraz. RECITATIVE FOR SORELY TESTED PRODUCTS I was once a tire. To bolster sales My cunning maker filled me full of nails. My treads were shredded. I was made a flat By great machines designed to do just that. I was a typewriter. Harsh was my test.

to naught, They still are “crucial figures” in The “pageantry” of “Western thought.” ENGLISH TRAIN COMPARTMENT These faces make a chapel where worship comes easy: Homo enim naturaliter est animal sociale. The flutter of a Guardian, the riveted image of Combe-in-Teignhead, faded by decades of eyes, the sting of smoke, the coughs, the whispering lend flavor to piety’s honest bone. Half-sick, we suck our teeth, consult our thumbs, through brown-stained glass confront the barbered hills

exploited with my offerings the editorial breach I had made, and The New Yorker, perhaps bemused by the apparition of so eager a young practitioner of the dying art of light verse, accepted enough to make me feel that I had become a professional writer. The oldest poem in The Carpentered Hen is, if memory serves, “Why the Telephone Wires Dip and the Poles Are Cracked and Crooked,” written in high school, under the influence of science fiction. “The Population of Argentina” is one of many

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