"ELEGY FOR A HIGH PLAINS HUNTER"
Published in Arts and Letters (c.1989)
Literary critic, Ruth Padel, has noted that traditional elegies such as Auden’s classic, “In Memory of W.B. Yates,” Celan’s “Fugue of Death,” and Whitman’s standard, “O Captain! My Captain!” tend to mirror three stages of loss: a lament of grief and sorrow, admirative praise of the dead, and finally, consolation. Though Welch expresses these emotions and more throughout this sweeping elegy for his father, their order of appearance as well as the forms they take, are anything but traditional. Welch celebrates the life of his father in epic fashion, with 13 distinct sections, some of which portray corporeal vignettes such as Dutch gutting a deer with the knife “keening in his hand,” while others offer ethereal, dreamscape sequences where Dutch’s ghost lingers in mystical air, “forming a metaphysical question.” While these installments could effortlessly stand alone as individual poems, the nonlinear collective forms an uncanny narrative of life and love and loss. The poet marries Dutch’s mastery of rustic, rural worlds where “the cranes crossed” above the “fine light tree” with his son’s own “small town” of “prosody.” Using his clever tools of composition, Welch applies descriptors such as “textbook of silence” to pay homage to his father’s blunt tools that provided “the common meal across the uncommon table.” Welch praises his father simply by seeking to understand him, by learning “the life there was in death.” Familiar motifs including the unstoppable passage of time “cry out in the colorful dark” and barrel forth like “wind coming through the fence.” Allusions to clocks, moon cycles, and constantly changing seasons all dramatically conclude with Dutch’s final moments, when “he fought damn hard / on the table.”
Published with the subject's photo, this thirteen-part poem covers Dutch's passion for hunting over the course of seven pages.