Alden Nowlan

An Unquenchable Desire to Know and Describe

David Whyte's introduction (from The Three Marriages) to the following poem by Alden Nowlan "...a literary guessing game in which he looks at the way many authors who are considered authorities in their areas actually had no direct experience of the subject. They looked all the more closely at their subject exactly because they were unfamiliar with it. Any familiarity was made through what seemed like an unbridgeable distance. What they had was an unquenchable desire to know and describe."

The Seasick Sailor and Others
by Alden Nowlan, from Selected Poems 

The awkward young sailor who is always seasick
Is the one who will write about ships.
The young man whose soldiery consists in the delivery
Of candy and cigarettes to the front
Is the one who will write about war.
The man who will never learn to drive a car
And keeps going home to his mother
Is the one who will write about the road.

Stranger still, hardly anyone else will write so well
About the sea or war on the road. And then there is the woman
who has scarcely spoken to man except her brother
and who works in a room no larger than a closet,
she will write as well as anyone who has ever lived
about vast open spaces and the desires of the flesh:
and that other woman who will live with her sister and
rarely leaves her village, she will excel
in portraying men and women in society:
and that woman, in some ways the most wonderful of
them all,
who is afraid to go outdoors, who hides when someone
she will write great poems about the universe inside her.