Photo © Ian Coristine/
 You are here:  Back Issues      Archive

David Lyttle’s Poetry

The old pump3
© David Lyttle
Mouse 3
© David Lyttle
Sinking Trash 2
© David Lyttle

Before it was outlawed, I rowed out to sink trash in the St. Lawrence River. This was easier than digging holes in George Dempster’s field, and burying it. Wild animals would dig it up, and scatter it all over the place.


When hush 2

© David Lyttle

NOTES: When, the Hush of Being?

This poem is divided into three sections. The first section runs from the beginning to the painted turtles. The theme of this section is the tension between the two sides of nature, the Beauty and the Ferocity. The Beauty is exemplified by the two loons (the 'white room' may remind one of a padded cell), the glorious sunrise, the whirligigs, the silver minnows, the hawk circling on benign winds, the blue heron, etc.; the Ferocity, by my aging, the distant city, the creosoted dock, the horseflies, the huge carp surging, the mice with bulging eyes, the heron's long neck knotted with prey, the water-snakes, the dead sunfish, etc.

The second section ~of "the poem, running, from 'I gaze/ the other way' to drifting away/in the morning mist,' I will come back to later.

In the third section of the poem the most vivid lines are: "I take off my clothes/and lie naked in the sun-/l lie suspended in the dazzling nest/of my decaying limbs-l could not have arrived at this metaphor rationally, and I am not absolutely sure how to interpret it. There is no doubt that it is a highly charged sexual symbol, and there is no doubt that its interpretation will vary from person to person. It seems to be a whole nest of complex allusions, licit, illicit, and certainly vital. It could be a crucifixion motif of sadism or masochism like the Christian cross, the core of the powerful self-contained dynamic of that myth; it could simply symbolize sun-bathing; or it could be a symbol of the mystical fusion of the individual nested in nature. The 'dazzle' itself may be seen as a mingling of the sunshine of youth and the phosphorescent shine of old age; and this is the interpretation I most consciously intended.

To return to the second section which I interjected between the first and second stanzas after they had been written as one poem. I remain fascinated by these lines from some uncompleted poem I found when I was rummaging through my box of spare parts. I wasn't sure what they meant, but I inserted them into the "hush of Being" as the second section. But still, I'm not sure exactly what their role in the poem is, but they seem to mark a pause between the first and last sections of the poem which deal with the hard, concrete, sensuous vividness of the real world. There is no motion in these lines; they seem to be a distancing, a momentary awareness of timelessness in contrast to the fierceness of time and space in the other sections. But I still ask myself, What symbolically, for example, are 'the green wastes of old stillness-and the 'white scattered trees'? And are the bitterns like ushers at the portal to an otherworldly dimension?

At the end of the poem, in the Coda, I ask: Where is my ultimate home, 'the home of my home?' Is it otherworldly? As an agnostic, I do not know but I am not afraid to admit (in spite of the lack of empirical evidence; in defense against the absurdity of death; for the sake of closure; and just for the fun of it) that I have an instinct that I was never born and that I shall never die. This instinct or intuition or instinct is always an expectation, but what it portends I do not know, perhaps nothing. It may express simply the wishful thinking of an animal's will to live.

But this intuition of immortality fulfills my innate desire for order and closure more than the empirical assumption that this conscious subject who I am, 'this here /uniqueness that I am/this dear spot/this focus of light-years' is the "absurd" result of a seven billion year old chance combination of inanimate objects and measurable elements. The scientific hypothesis about the origin of life may indeed be "true" in the objective mode of knowing, but it is not "real" in the subjective mode, the mode in which all value, beauty, and meaning originate and reside, which makes living worth living. Science (logic) cannot originate meaning; it describes only how, not why? "It is only in subjectivity that we may know existence, not in objectivity"

By David Lyttle

David Lyttle was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1924 and grew up in Chicago. He came to the River in the 1920s and as he says,  “has been here every summer expect for one in the fifties, when I was working for an advanced degree.”

He lives on the mainland west of Gananoque at “Greyrock”, (near the Gananoque Golf Course). The cottage is 111 years old. David also owns two tiny islands known as the Spectacles. In 1938 he built a small hut on one of the islets which stands today.

David received a Masters of Fine Art from the University of Iowa in 1958 and a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Pennsylvania in 1967. He taught for five years at West Virginia University, two years at the University of Cincinnati, and then as he says, “he moved to Syracuse University as a professor of American Literature in 1974 where he could be, near the River. Today he is an Emeritus Professor at Syracuse University.

He has written numerous literary philosophic essays in peer-reviewed journals.  One of his scholarly interests is the life and work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. . He is also accomplished  in the field of philosophic literacy criticism with scholarly papers published in Studies in Religion in Early American Literature.  He published several books of poetry including  No Other Time in 1959, Down Near the Back Road in 1981 and Blue Boat: Selected and Revised Poems published in 2007. This winter he is publishing a second volume which will include these selections.

Posted in: Poetry
Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.


Deming Holleran
Comment by: Deming Holleran ( )
Left at: 7:09 AM Thursday, December 15, 2011
What a delight to read David's poetry -- makes me want to meet him next summer, as well as respond to Susie's request that I submit some of mine to T.I. Life! Thanks for including poetry in this issue & happy holidays to all.
Nancy Kanniainen
Comment by: Nancy Kanniainen ( )
Left at: 2:55 PM Thursday, December 15, 2011
Poetry has often been inaccessible to me. It is the words behind the words on the paper. David's notes provide some insight, and illustrate the complexity an author abbreviates to the page. So I enjoy poetry by letting the words wash over me and cherishing the phrase or image that resonates.
Thank you David for seeing the mystical in the world around you and sharing it.
Linda Sherman Albers
Comment by: Linda Sherman Albers ( )
Left at: 11:32 PM Thursday, December 15, 2011
Brings back wonderful memories of my trip to Greyrock over 30 years ago! I have always admired my Uncle David and Aunt Eulene, and share their love of adventure. The poetry is magical and I'm honored to be part of such a creative and special family.
Comment by: Claudio ( )
Left at: 7:44 PM Monday, March 19, 2012
I found a copy of No Other Time back in the late-70's at a flea market in Montauk N.Y. I was just a teen at the time, but I was immediately enthralled. It became a steady companion in the years of angst, and accompanied me on to the next millenium.

As (many years later) the internet made things more within one's grasp, I found another (signed by David for a Cecil S.) copy with a dust jacket for sale... so I bought it. As a bonus, hidden in the back cover was a pamphlet (price: 20cents!), called The Re-Entry and Other Poems, from 1964. A quarter of a century later, I was reading new material, that as old as I was.

Now, from finding this site, I discovered I have yet to find the 1981 and 2007 publications. My hunt has begun again - if only to read (savour) new lines like those above from The Old Pump... "white moths drift under the long pink anatomy of clouds".

Thank you Mr. Lyttle.