American Life in Poetry: Column 754

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

We reprint poems by living Americans, about American life, but sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the many beautiful and moving poems written by American poets no longer with us. Robert Francis has been gone for thirty years but I turn to his poems again and again. Here's a favorite of mine from his Collected Poems: 1936-1976 from University of Massachusetts Press.

The Sound I Listened For

What I remember is the ebb and flow of sound
That summer morning as the mower came and went
And came again, crescendo and diminuendo,
And always when the sound was loudest how it ceased
A moment while he backed the horses for the turn,
The rapid clatter giving place to the slow click
And the mower's voice. That was the sound I listened for,
The voice did what the horses did. It shared the action
As sympathetic magic does or incantation.
The voice hauled and the horses hauled. The strength of one
Was in the other and in the strength was impatience.
Over and over as the mower made his rounds
I heard his voice and only once or twice he backed
And turned and went ahead and spoke no word at all.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©1985 by Robert Francis, "The Sound I Listened For," from Collected Poems: 1936-1976, (University of Massachusetts Press, 1985). Poem reprinted by permission of the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.