LYRIC.CO Sean Hewitt “Clock”

A close warm evening opened by rain/ and me (caught out) leaning on a cedar. // A heron walks its white zed / along the bank and out into the water, // and just here a small beetle, sheen / of coal-black, pulls itself into the pink bed // of the rhododendron flower. Then, once / and once more, a foxbarks / and, though I love you and I know / there is no such thing as held time, // this tree seems suddenly like a stillness,/ a circle of quiet air, a place to stand // now that I have had to leave / and cannot think where I might go next.

from TONGUES OF FIRE (Cape Poetry 2020)

FRAME OF REFERENCE Analogically causation might be said, by contrast [to the autism of Hegel’s God] to create the finite other not as a self-othering, but through the interplay of likeness and unlikeness it releases the created other into its own being for itself, a being which is also in relation to God, as ultimate origin of all relations in communication between creation and Godself. WILLIAM DESMOND The Voiding of Being (The Catholic University of America Press, 2020), p. 94.

US citizens gaze into the abyss as President Trump leads them into collective suicide by pandemic. That’s the headline this morning. Kamala Harris represents a future worth fighting — and voting — for. Story buried in the culture pages of today’s paper.

I turn to one of the outstanding debut collections. Is Sean Hewett really that good? His poetry is pushing me to think harder about the lyric, a form of poetry unmentionable in polite society yet surprisingly popular. Let’s look at “Clock.”

It has the generic lyric shape as explored in these pages. Call it the lyric chiasm: outer to inner/lower to higher. (We borrow this from Augustine.) Many questions are finessed in the process of reading it, and not because they are hidden as presumptions of the form, though they do seem to be such. Some will react to these gaps in reason. Warmed over Heaney anyone? UNFAIR!

The naive — CAUGHT OUT — narrator. Exposed to the “otherness” of fellow creatures. Vividly sketched to the life. That heron, that beetle! Those weird fox barks in the dark, FROM the dark.

Calling. And the lyric turns from the internal equivocities to the intimations of the abyss of the human heart. Aspect change: the mode jumps from description to concept. There is no such thing as held time. The firmata opening the abyss even wider, deeper, lower. Time in this lyric open to being held.

And the final image of held time, the very cedar the poet leans on. (This has the neatness of a Cavalier lyric.) Structurally the change of aspect reveals the secret of lyric, analogy. Description — the initial mode— draws on univocal likeness. That heron— to the life! Etcetera. But now the gaps of difference show the inner twist towards otherness of indescribable dark difference— the figure of analogy. And it supports a figure of nothing: a stillness, a circle, a place.

What would we do without Heidegger’s antimetaphysics! Romanticism reborn in nihilistic times! That’s one way to put it. And believe me that’s what will occur to many readers. Default nihilism.

No. A more generous way is suggested by the FRAME OF REFERENCE. The release of the created (not merely fictive) other into its own time. “I cannot think …” Hewitt’s finesse of time (with a courteous bow to Eliot)— “Now that I have had to leave”— shakes the deterministic lyric to its foundations in the analogical space. The form of the lyric emerges as analogical consciousness.

Isn’t that something! Sean Hewitt made that for our consideration. Good on him!

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

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