Tears of Franz Wright 1953-2015

Franz Wright died this week in Waltham, Massachusetts, two towns over from my town. Son of James Wright, noted earlier on this blog, Franz was a tortured soul who wrote poetry all his life.

In his pain he leaned hard into poetry, his father’s craft. He and James are the only father-and-son pair to have won Pulitzer Prizes for poetry. Franz battled alcoholism and drugs, was homeless, lived on the streets, was generally lost in the world much of his life. Sometimes I wonder if poetry cost Franz Wright more than it gave him.

In the end I believe that poetry gave Franz Wright a lot. I believe it was his lifeline. He went to Oberlin College then screamed through life with his poetry.

Franz Wright was a poor and broken soul who found power and peace in poetry. Later in his life he found power and peace in the shelter of the Christian Church. He converted to Roman Catholicism and found in graceful Christian teachings some solace for his anguish.

In Franz Wright’s poem, The Wheeling Motel, the poet is off in a typical corner of small town America.  There are “Wheeling Motels” all around this great and sprawling country. The Whitman poem noted in the poem is reprinted below. Peace, now, Franz Wright.

The Wheeling Motel by Franz Wright

The vast waters flow past its back yard.
You can purchase a six-pack in bars!
Tammy Wynette’s on the marquee

a block down. It’s twenty-five years ago:
you went to death, I to life, and
which was luckier God only knows.

There’s this line in an unpublished poem of yours.
The river is like that,
a blind familiar.

The wind will die down when I say so;
the leaden and lessening light on
the current.

Then the moon will rise
like the word reconciliation,
like Walt Whitman examining the tear on a dead face.


Tears by Walt Whitman

TEARS! tears! tears!
In the night, in solitude, tears;
On the white shore dripping, dripping, suck’d in by the sand;
Tears—not a star shining—all dark and desolate;
Moist tears from the eyes of a muffled head:
—O who is that ghost?—that form in the dark, with tears?
What shapeless lump is that, bent, crouch’d there on the sand?
Streaming tears—sobbing tears—throes, choked with wild cries;
O storm, embodied, rising, careering, with swift steps along the beach;
O wild and dismal night storm, with wind! O belching and desperate!
O shade, so sedate and decorous by day, with calm countenance and regulated pace;
But away, at night, as you fly, none looking—O then the unloosen’d ocean,
Of tears! tears! tears!

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