Lew Welch: “Hermit Poems”

Lew Welch was one more tragic figure of the Beat Generation poets. His poems were honed and persuasive little images, as in his “Hermit Poems” series, of which “The image, as in a Hexagram” is an example.

The image, as in a Hexagram

The hermit locks his door against the blizzard.
He keeps the cabin warm.

All winter long he sorts out all he has.
What was well started shall be finished.
What was not, should be thrown away.

In spring he emerges with one garment
and a single book.

The cabin is very clean.

Except for that, you’d never guess
anyone lived there.

When Welch read this poem in Santa Barbara in 1967 he added, after the first line, “as in the I Ching.” He mentions in the introduction to the series that a poem is a score for voice and that he never reads a poem the same way each time.

A wonderful audio collection (no text) of Welch introducing and reading his “Hermit Poems” (and other poems) is held at the website of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing. URL: http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Welch.html