Celebrate National Poetry Day with John Ashbery’s O Fortuna

Thursday, October 4, 2018 - 08:00

Today, Thursday 4 October, is National Poetry Day – a day set aside to read, share and enjoy poetry, this year with the theme of ‘change’.

As we are the home of the National Poetry Library, we asked our librarian colleagues to choose a poem to feature on our blog, and they did not disappoint, responding with this intriguing work by the late John Ashbery (1927 – 2017).

“John Ashbery is often hailed as the greatest American poet of the second half of the 20th century,” writes National Poetry Library Librarian Chris McCabe.

At turns lyricist, trickster, cartoonist and art critic, his work surprises for its risk-taking and sheer strangeness.
Chris McCabe on the poetry of John Ashbery

“Given this year’s National Poetry Day theme of ‘change’, we’ve chosen to highlight this poem from our magazine archive. It plays around with the language of farewells – or is it the language of arrival? As with all of Ashbery’s work, only you, the reader, can decide.”

Please do read the poem and share it if it inspires you. Also find out more about our National Poetry Day activities and the National Poetry Library below.

O Fortuna

By John Ashbery

Good luck! Best wishes! The best of luck!
The very best! Godspeed! God bless you!
Peace be with you!
May your shadow never be less!
We can see through to the other side,
you see. It’s your problem, we know,
but I can’t help feeling a little envious.
What if darkness became unhinged right now?
Boomingly, swimmingly one remounts the current.
Here is where the shade was, the suggestion of flowers,
and peace, in another place.

Our competition is like tools of a certain order.
No one would have found them useful at first.
It wasn’t until a real emergency arose, that someone
had the sense to recognize for what it was.
All hell didn’t break loose, it was like a rising psalm
materializing like snow on an unseen mountain.
All that was underfoot was good, but lost.

From The Poetry Review Vol 94 No 1 (Spring 2004).
“O Fortuna” from Where I Shall Wander by John Ashbery © 2005. Reprinted by permission of George Borchardt, Inc., on behalf of the author.

Visit the National Poetry Library

The National Poetry Library is based on Level 5 of Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre and is open Tuesday – Sunday from 11am – 8pm. It also has extensive digital resources available via its website.

Join us for National Poetry Day Live

Poets including Anthony Anaxagorou, Hannah Lowe, Caroline Bird and Zaffar Kunial join us for an exciting evening of readings and more, starting from 5pm on Thursday 4 October. It is free to attend.