ACCEPTANCE SPEECH FOR THE
NOBEL PRIZE FOR LITERATURE
On the plane above the North Atlantic I watched great fields of clouds sown and harvested by the wind. Later, I traveled through a city as women on gray streets
turned their faces from a wild wheel of
snow. I am, as always, startled and sus-
tained by these extravagant gestures of
And I stand before you startled. You have
chosen one so little known or published,
reviewed but once in a smug, cursory paragraph. One read by only a handful.
But your logic is honorable and I accept
The money is particularly welcome. I
would like a fraction of it in dimes and
quarters. Some small part will go to the
panhandlers of my country: those dressed
for the weather and those who are not,
those climbing a sober ladder of hours in
front of convenience stores and those
sliding into the darkness between planets.
Other winners, George Seferis, Octavio Paz
have passed on. It is too late to break bread
with them and tell them how much they
gave me. Perhaps Derek Walcott or Toni
Morrison will spend an hour with me now
that I am in their number. Maybe not.
You know by now, members of the Committee, that you’ve exposed yourselves to
ridicule by choosing me. A compelling argument rages in objection on six continents. Innumerable candidates are called greater and more deserving. It has been said that Daniel Marlin demeans the Nobel Prize.
You will, I predict, survive these insults.
(I cannot deny that your judgment, on occasion, has been dangerously ﬂawed. I am thus greatly relieved not to be chosen for the Peace Prize and listed in 2 point World Almanac type in the same column as Henry Kissinger, that baritone of carnage.)
Finally, it is the custom here to reﬂect on literature and on humanity, the irony of one and the blind insistence of the other, a book’s witness upon chaos and the soul’s lucid ritual, the poem’s wrist wound with the selfsame thread of mourning and gratitude, tenderness and rage.
I believe the day is inexhaustible even as human roads are shadowed by death from exhaustion.
I believe love is our only resurgence So many never get the chance.
I believe alertness is the heart’s keel, its irreducible stone, as the industries of distraction and control gather to crush it.
I forget all this so easily, vanity tempts me and the effortless habits of condescension.
Which is part of the reason I come to the poem.
The rest I do not understand.
What is Poetry
Introduction / Gallery / Heart of Ardor / Rabbit Series / Obituaries / Nobel Prize