Cover image for Trappings : new poems
Trappings : new poems
Howard, Richard, 1929-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Turtle Point Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
viii, 81 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3558.O8826 T72 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



"Trappings reminds us how, for decades, Howard's is the gold standard for those who care about the shape sound and wit of a poem." - Boston Review

Author Notes

Richard Howard was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 13, 1929. He received a B.A. from Columbia University in 1951 and studied at the Sorbonne as a Fellow of the French Government in 1952-1953. He briefly worked as a lexicographer, but soon turned his attention to poetry and poetic criticism. His works include Trappings: New Poems; Like Most Revelations: New Poems; Selected Poems; No Traveler; Findings; Alone with America; and Quantities. He won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1969 for Untitled Subjects.

He is also a translator and published more than 150 translations from the French. He received the PEN Translation Prize in 1976 for his translation of E. M. Cioran's A Short History of Decay and the American Book Award for his 1983 translation of Charles Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal. In 1982, he was named a Chevalier of L'Ordre National du Mérite by the government of France. He teaches in the Writing Division of the School of the Arts, Columbia University.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Rural and even hickish, Budbill constructs his own loose, prosy poetic forms. Citified, urbane Howard adapts classic stanzas, especially sapphics and rhyme royal. Yet both are traditionalists in their new collections. Budbill turns from narratives about his fellow Vermonters to sincere parody of the legendary Chinese hermit-poet called, after the place where he lived, Han Shan, "Cold Mountain." Budbill first says he has found the hermit's hut on Judevine Mountain, with a pot of stew on the stove for droppers-in to eat, just like 2,000 years ago in China. The succeeding poems are mostly "by" Han Shan, now called Judevine Mountain, though he often sounds like a bucolic New England bard envious of celebrity-poets in the city. When the green-eyed monster is upon him, Judevine Mountain can be hilarious, as when he gripes "What good is my / humility / when I am / stuck / in this / obscurity?" Other, more Han-Shan-like poems appreciate solitude in nature, the consolations of art and poetry, the joys of friendship, and the bittersweetness of life's brevity. Whereas Budbill resorts to an Oriental tradition, Howard remains in the Western literary mainstream. He is a modern Robert Browning, a master of the dramatic monologue, whose "Nikolaus Mardruz to His Master Ferdinand, Count of Tyrol, 1565" deliciously responds to Browning's famous "My Last Duchess." Mardruz is the emissary whom the duke addresses in Browning's poem. Well aware of the dowry-greedy old art connoisseur's guile, he proposes a scheme to allow the count's daughter to inherit from the duke, not vice versa. In the five monologues and dialogues dubbed "Family Values," first the daughters of John Milton, then the models for three paintings of "Milton dictating Paradise Lost to his Daughters," and then the great Milton scholar Marjorie Nicolson speak their minds about the experience and the representations of that renowned secretarial labor. Elsewhere, Nadar and Balzac converse while the former daguerreotypes the novelist; a fifth-grader writes the school principal about the class field trip to New York; Muriel Rukeyser talks to Howard; and Howard talks to others and us. Howard's eleventh collection ranks among his best. --Ray Olson

Publisher's Weekly Review

This first collection in five years from the renowned translator (Gide, Baudelaire, Barthes, etc.), editor, critic and homme de lettres et bons mots, frolics among chatty, artsy figures sardonic enough to laugh at themselves without losing their urbane sense of control. As usual, Howard's consistentÄperhaps insistentÄattention to art and its milieu is compelling for the dramatic contexts he unfailingly provides; even poems not meant as monologues come off as such, so dominant is the rhetorical tone in which personality, style and whimsy playfully meet. His voices, whether appreciating Renaissance court-life, Canaletto or Muriel Rukeyser, are clearly related, each speaker adroit at allusion and cute word-play ("a manatee must emanate"). Such animated pairings are the plat du jour, inspiring mad confrontations between 19th-century models and artists (Balzac sitting for Nadar in "Avarice 1849: A Distraction"; "Eugene Delacroix: Moorish Conversation, 1832"), or a Tanning sculpture's parts: "She came to him in dreams, as he to her/ in waking. And that was how they would meet,/ ever wrong from the start, however right/ for the act." The volume's centerpiece is the sequence "Family Values," each of its five parts musing on a different depiction of Milton dictating Paradise Lost to his daughters, from the perspective of the daughters ("Only because I see my sisters hiding/ are they hidden too from the sightless seer/ who is our father"), sly, worried curators and professionals. Other discursions, like "Mrs. Eden in Town for the Day" or "Our Spring Trip," a letter from a fifth-grader to her principal, revel in suburbia, while a scattering of poems on gay life are poignantly immediate compared with the poet's more cagey cast of characters. A moveable feast. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One     Dorothea Tanning's Cousins synthetic fur over cotton stuffing, wood base, 60 x 25 x 21 inches, 1970 She came to him in dreams, as he to her in waking. And that was how they would meet, ever wrong from the start, however right                           for the act, melting together yet somehow sadly apart, orifices certainly unmatched to protuberances, although affording                           opportunity, it appeared, in the oddest places; no completion but the striving, the struggle, the melancholy abandonment of his                           strain, her stratagem: eventually, then, it came down to this immense tedium, another name for all our tenderness, solicitude.                           Ready and waiting, but the hope forlorn, the motive foregone: she tyrannically submissive to his compliant despotism, he yielding                          over and underneath to her surrender--her victory his peculiar triumph. As if they neither expected nor could resist, when it came,                          renunciation! Their embrace, or--better--their lenient enacting of what Milton himself calls intimate impulse , has reached that                          pitch of expertise when the thing seen becomes the unseen thing. With enemies like themselves (all cousins "descended from a common ancestor"),                       what lovers need friends? Nikolaus Mardruz to His Master Ferdinand, Count of Tyrol, 1565        My Lord recalls Ferrara? How walls rise out of water yet appear to recede     identically     into it, as if built in both directions: soaring and sinking ...        Such mirroring was my first dismay--                            my next, having crossed                            the moat, was making        out that, for all its grandeur, the great pile, observed close to, is close to a ruin!    (Even My Lord's most    unstinting dowry may not restore these wasted precincts to what      their deteriorating state demands.)                         Queasy it made me,                         glancing first down there      at swans in the moat apparently feeding on their own doubled image, then up    at the citadel,    so high--or so deep, and everywhere those carved effigies of      men and women, monsters among them                        crowding the ramparts                        and seeming at home     in the dingy water that somehow held them up as if for our surveillance--ours?    anyone's who looked!    All that pretention of marble display, the whole improbable      menagerie with but one purpose:                       having to be seen .                       Such was the matter      of Ferrara, and such the manner, when at last we met, of the Duke in greeting    My Lordship's Envoy:    life in fallen stone! Several hours were to elapse, in the keeping      of his lackeys, before the Envoy                     of My Lord the Count                     of Tyrol might see      or even be seen to by His Grace the Duke of Ferrara, though from such neglect    no deliberate    slight need be inferred: now that I have had an opportunity     --have had, indeed, the obligation--                     to fix on His Grace                     that perlustration     or power of scrutiny for which (I believe) My Lord holds his Envoy's service     in some favor still,     I see that the Duke, by his own lights or perhaps, more properly       said, by his own tenebrosity ,                          could offer some excuse                          for such cunctation ...       Appraising a set of cameos just brought from Cairo by a Jew in his trust,     His Grace had been rapt     in connoisseurship, that study which alone can distract him       from his wonted courtesy; he was                            affability                            itself, once his mind       could be deflected from mere objects . At last I presented (with those documents    which in some detail    describe and define the duties of both signators) the portrait       of your daughter the Countess,                          observing the while                          his countenance. No       fault was found with our contract, of which each article had been so correctly framed    (if I may say so)    as to ascertain a pre-nuptial alliance which must persuade        and please the most punctilious (and                                impecunious)                                of future husbands.        Principally, or (if I may be allowed the amendment) perhaps Ducally,     His Grace acknowledged     himself beguiled by Cranach's portrait of our young Countess, praising      the design, the hues, the glaze--the frame!                         and appeared averse,                         for a while, even      to letting the panel leave his hands! Examining those same hands, I was convinced    that no matter what    the result of our (at this point, promising) negotiations,       your daughter's likeness must now remain                       "for good," as we say,                       among Ferrara's       treasures, already one more trophy in His Grace's multifarious holdings ,    like those marble busts    lining the drawbridge, like those weed-stained statues grinning up at us        from the still moat, and--inside as well                        as out--those grotesque                        figures and faces        fastened to the walls. So be it!                                           Real bother (after all, one painting, for Cranach    -- and My Lord--need be    no great forfeiture) commenced only when the Duke himself led me     out of the audience-chamber and                    laboriously                    (he is no longer     a young man) to a secret penthouse high on the battlements where he can indulge    those despotic tastes    he denominates,      half smiling over the heartless words, " the relative consolations of semblance ."                   "Sir, suppose you draw                   that curtain," smiling      in earnest now, and so I sought-- but what appeared a piece of drapery proved    a painted deceit!     My embarrassment afforded a cue for audible laughter,       and only then His Grace, visibly                       relishing his trick,                       turned the thing around,       whereupon appeared, on the reverse, the late Duchess of Ferrara to the life!     Instanter the Duke     praised the portrait so readily provided by one Pandolf--       a monk by some profane article                      attached to the court,                      hence answerable       for taking likenesses as required in but a day's diligence, so it was claimed ...     Myself I find it     but a mountebank's proficiency--another chicane, like that       illusive curtain, a waxwork sort                     of nature called forth:                     cold legerdemain!        Though extranea such as the hares (copulating!), the doves, and a full-blown rose     were showily limned,     I could not discern aught to be loved in that countenance itself,     likely to rival, much less to excel                    the life illumined                    in Cranach's image       of our Countess, which His Grace had set beside the dead woman's presentment.... And took,    so evident was    the supremacy, no further pains to assert Fra Pandolf's skill.       One last hard look, whereupon the Duke                      resumed his discourse                      in an altered tone,     now some unintelligible rant of stooping --His Grace chooses "never to stoop"     when he makes reproof ...     My Lord will take this as but a figure: not only is the Duke       no longer young, his body is so                      queerly misshapen                      that even to speak       of "not stooping" seems absurdity: the creature is stooped, whether by cruel or    impartial cause--say    Time or the Tempter-- I shall not venture to hypothecate. Cause        or no cause, it would appear he marked                      some motive for his                      "reproof," a mortal        chastisement in fact inflicted on his poor Duchess, put away (I take it so)     for smiling--at whom?     Brother Pandolf? or some visitor to court during the sitting?      --too generally, if I construe                  the Duke's clue rightly,                  to survive the terms      of his ... severe protocol. My Lord, at the time it was delivered to me thus,     the admonition     if indeed it was any such thing, seemed no more of a menace       than the rest of his rodomontade;                      item , he pointed,                      as we toiled downstairs,       to that bronze Neptune by our old Claus (there must be at least six of them cluttering     the Summer Palace     at Innsbruck), claiming it was "cast in bronze for me." Nonsense, of course.       But upon reflexion, I suppose                          we had better take                          the old reprobate       at his unspeakable word ... Why, even assuming his boasts should be as plausible    as his avarice,    no "cause" for dismay: once ensconced here as the Duchess, your daughter      need no more apprehend the Duke's                         murderous temper                         than his matchless taste.      For I have devised a means whereby the dowry so flagrantly pursued by our    insolvent Duke ("no    just pretence of mine be disallowed" indeed!), instead of being       paid as he pleads in one globose sum,                          should drip into his                          coffers by degrees--       say, one fifth each year--then after five such years, the dowry itself to be doubled,    always assuming    that Her Grace enjoys her usual smiling health. The years are her        ally in such an arbitrament,                        and with confidence                        My Lord can assure       the new Duchess (assuming her Duke abides by these stipulations and his own    propensity for    accumulating "semblances") the long devotion (so long as      he lasts) of her last Duke ... Or more likely,                         if I guess aright                         your daughter's intent,      of that young lordling I might make so bold as to designate her next Duke, as well ...                             Ever determined in    My Lordship's service,    I remain his Envoy to Ferrara as to the world.                               Nikolaus Mardruz. Disclaimers The text of Bach's St. John Passion , performed tonight unabridged, is largely derived from the Gospels, portions of which are alleged (by some) to be antisemitic. Such passages may well disclose historical attitudes fastened (by Bach himself) to the Jews, but must not be taken as having (for that very reason) expressed convictions or even opinions of the Management or of the cast. * * * The Rape of the Sabine Women , which the artist painted in Rome, articulates Rubens's treatment of a favorite classical theme. Proud as we are to display this example of Flemish finesse, the policy of the Museum is not to be taken amiss: we oppose all forms of harassment, and just because we have     shown this canvas in no way endorses the actions committed therein. * * * Ensconced in the Upper Rotunda alongside a fossil musk-ox, the giant Tyrannosaurus (which the public has nicknamed "Rex"), though shown in the act of devouring its still-living prey implies no favor by public officials to zoophagous public displays; carnivorous Life-Styles are clearly inappropriate to a State which has already outlawed tobacco and may soon prohibit meat. Homage to Antonio Canaletto Venice spent what Venice earned        The operas for which he made designs in his father's shop had consequences;       he never got over the Bibienas'                                    groundless perspectives,                                    and until he died       such vistas would haunt him: however close to veritable palaces he came,       their porticoes and balustrades composed                                    a proscenium                                    of hysteria.       But who could count on theaters for pay? Workmen were always threatening to quit,      impresarios "embarrassed," castrati                                  and sopranos in                                  reciprocal fits--      what could a talent do but "solemnly excommunicate the stage" (his own words)       and set up shop in Rome? A year later                                  he was home again,                                  Roman lessons learned:       certifiable views of City Life mattered a good deal more than the Scena      all'angolo. Unvarying Venice                                  mattered most of all,                                  the abiding dream:      little canals (what else?) colonized by perfunctory dolls. First a sketch was made        (recorded by the maestro on the spot),                                      then redrawn by him                                      more decorously        indoors, where the product could be prepared: the sky painted in, sometimes even clouds,      across the canvas acres, inch by inch,                                    and then the contours                                    of buildings incised      into that sky-skin to provide guidance for eventual roofs and cornices,       hemicircles marking an arch, a dome                                   (all this done of course                                   by apprentices). At times he was obsessively precise and in exquisite detail would devise       the reigning Doge's coat of arms to fill                                    a space smaller than                                    a baby's thumbnail       on the ducal barge; but more likely San Marco would glow or gloom as it had       generations ago. Venice might change,                                   storeys be added,                                   campaniles fall,       but master-drawings in the studio perdured his pattern Serenissima        years on end, a topographical hoax,                                    though one sure to work                                    as long as he worked:        Grand Tourists continued to pay dear for proof that they had been duly discerning       guests of the carnival Republic by                                    acquiring views from                                    Canaletto's hand.       "His merit lyes in painting things which fall immediately under his ogle,"       McSwiny wrote to England. Why not go                                 to England as well                                 as to Rome? Respite       from the routine of Venetian vedute lured him a moment that endured ten years:       armed with letters to the Noble Lords, he                                   proved (what could he prove?)                                   a disappointment       to potential patrons who claimed they saw deterioration in his dirty Thames,       and rumors even started he was not                                   "the veritable                                   virtuoso, no       Canalet at all, but an impostor!" --easily foiled by his cool reportage:       a View of Whitehall scrupulous enough                                   to rout all skeptics.                                   He stayed on, well-paid       but never (as aristocrats assumed) to paint their houses, their horses, their dogs....       Nature he loathed, and next to nature, sport.                                    Having provided                                    plausible prospects       of Warwick Castle, Cambridge, Eton, Bath! he was heard to sigh, as longed-for Venice       loomed upon his homing horizon, how                                 glad he was, never                                 to have to portray       another tree. Another thirteen years' practice made perfect sense; he persisted.       Hester Thrale (become Piozzi) bought,                                  long after his death,                                  "seven Canalets,       to which his myriad imitators seem hardly more than a camera obscura      in the window of a London parlour." ...                                 Remembered, required!                                 in attestation:      "Your own Canalettos will have given a better idea of the gondola        than I can convey," a friend of Byron                                      wrote to Hallam,                                      and a few years on,        for Théophile Gautier (and not for us?) Venice had become "avec ses palais,        ses gondoles, la ville de Canaletto!"                                           On a last drawing                                           (made inside St. Mark's)        this busy little man, so early prized for reproducing whatever might fall      under his eye, proudly informs us: "Done                                  without spectacles.                                  A. Canaletto." Copyright © 1999 Richard Howard. All rights reserved.