100th Volume Retrospective: Choruses by John Hollander

John Hollander was an eminent poet, scholar, and critic. He has written numerous poetry collections, the first of which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. He is also known for his 1981 book Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse.


by John Hollander


(The crumbling days and the hard cold nights
Are flickering, veiling a hollow sky
Which they are forbidden to see;
It was made to mark the passage of time)

The night has come; the darkness hides in death,
And night is motionless, but for the stars
That run about like rats in the their own empty places,
Dashing towards a calm and blackened sea
Until, pursued by dawn, they jump the cliffs,
Falling down and down and down to other worlds.

At night we cannot even breathe together;
A weight is cold upon us; trodden by stars,
We live alone and cold among ourselves, like sands.
Yet time is built upon the stones of night
Spiraling, and pointing always outwards,
Upon the star-kept-nights, it leans its slant-mad course.

The tower has started to rise above the rocks;
It drags towards the doom that is completion
Along its twisted road of work and sleep
And work again. We are pulled along the roadbed
Paved with gravel, mud, and dry-crushed sky;
Stones are pulled behind us; stones are words
And words cannot relate time’s gyral passing.

But deep in the sky, a shaft of stone divides
The hours like a bell, and carries the rising
Sun along a spiraled path across
The gap that lies between despair and morning,
Before the work begins, when little talk
Drops like sandy pebbles from our mouths
And spills across the pink and yellow daylight.

Away and alone, above the windy hills,
Driving us upwards towards some desolation
That makes the burning sand fall through itself
And disappear beneath the shifting world,
A topless tower carries us through time.


The fiery sand is dying with the sun:
But ashes of sand are cold, and night holds darkness
Within a stone-smooth cup of ebony.
Although the sky dreams of a final drink,
The end is always cold and deep and dry.

A star is sick and waning somewhere; cries
Of strained impatience with half-finished things
Re-echo from the chilly hills about
The sleeping city. Overhead a cold
And dust-pink cloud hangs downward from the dusk
And fingers the city, gropes for something dark
In all this gentle greyness. A muffled bell
Is clinking heavily behind the cliffs;
The air has caught a sick and heavy smell
By living in this breathless sky; cool rain
Or rising rivers, landslides, towers, the things
That live at all, that can disrupt the pattern,
Are imminent in the boldness of the rocks,
The restlessness of the hour.

Night is breaking deep into the city,
Stealing past the feeble wall of sunset,
Throwing burglar’s gunnysack of darkness
Over the sand and stone and windless sky.

from Vol. 27 (1947)