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About this poet

In 1924, David Ferry was born in Orange, New Jersey. He completed his education at Amherst College and Harvard University, and served as a Sergeant in the United States Army Air Force from 1943 to 1946.

His books of poetry and translation include Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press, 2012);The Georgics of Virgil (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006); His Epistles of Horace: A Translation (2001); Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press, 1999); The Eclogues of Virgil (1999); The Odes of Horace: A Translation (1998); Dwelling Places: Poems and Translations (1993); Gilgamesh: A New Rendering in English Verse (1992); Strangers: A Book of Poems (1983); On the Way to the Island (1960); and The Limits of Mortality: An Essay on Wordsworth's Major Poems (1959).

Ferry was the recipient of the 2012 National Book Award for Bewilderment. Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, the Bingham Poetry Prize from Boston Book Review, the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry and was a finalist for The New Yorker Book Award and the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award.

Ferry's other awards include the Sixtieth Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets, the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, the Teasdale Prize for Poetry, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, the Ingram Merrill Award, and the William Arrowsmith Translation Prize from AGNI magazine. In 1998 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He holds the title of Sophie Chantal Hart Professor Emeritus of English at Wellesley College and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Soldier

David Ferry, 1924
Saturday afternoon. The barracks is almost empty.
The soldiers are almost all on overnight pass.
There is only me, writing this letter to you,
And one other soldier, down at the end of the room,
And a spider, that hangs by the thread of his guts,
His tenacious and delicate guts, Swift's spider,
All self-regard, or else all privacy.
The dust drifts in the sunlight around him, as currents
Lie in lazy, drifting schools in the vast sea.
In his little sea the spider lowers himself
Out of his depth. He is his own diving bell,
Though he cannot see well. He observes no fish,
And sees no wonderful things. His unseeing guts
Are his only hold on the world outside himself.
I love you, and miss you, and I find you hard to imagine.
Down at the end of the room, the other soldier
Is getting ready, I guess, to go out on pass.
He is shining his boots. He sits on the edge of his bunk,
Private, submissive, and heedful of himself,
And, bending over himself, he is his own nest.
The slightest sound he makes is of his being.
He is his mother, and nest, wife, brother, and father.
His boots are bright already, yet still he rubs
And rubs till, brighter still, they are his mirror, 
And in this mirror he observes, I guess, 
His own submissiveness. He is far from home.

From Of No Country I Know by David Ferry, published by The University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 1999 by David Ferry. Reprinted by permission of David Ferry. All rights reserved.

David Ferry

David Ferry

Poet and translator, David Ferry, is the recipient of the National Book Award, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize, and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, among other honors

by this poet

poem
By the last few times we saw her it was clear
That things were different. When you tried to help her
Get out of the car or get from the car to the door
Or across the apartment house hall to the elevator
There was a new sense of heaviness
Or of inertia in the body. It wasn't
That she was less willing to be helped