Berceuse, by John Ashbery

Berceuse - John Ashbery

In preparation for The Harvard Advocate‘s upcoming 150th anniversary anthology, and in celebration of the launch of our brand new website, we’re reaching back into our archives for the previously-published work we’re most excited about. John Ashbery ’49, an Advocate member and an undisputed master of American poetry, frequently contributed to the magazine. His poem below, “Berceuse,” was included in the Advocate‘s December 1947 issue.

The Paradox of Serial: Authority and the Amateur

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image courtesy of

It might be said that a party reaches its critical mass when the rate of increase of the volume of guests surpasses the rate of decrease of the volume of refreshments. On one snowless December night, the moment arrived, fairytale-like, just before midnight. The last spoonful of salsa scooped, my coat buttoned, the hostess thanked, my exit was only halted by the call of one or two (gender-neutral) princes—“We have to discuss Serial!” Continue reading

From the Archives: Sparse Matrices

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Sparse Matrices are large data structure containing mostly zeroes and a few ones. They occur frequently as the solution to differential equations in engineering applications, where they prove troublesome because they waste space throughout computation. They also occur on page 42 of the Winter 2011 Blueprint issue of The Harvard Advocate, though unrecognizable from this definition. From the page, vibrant neons erupt into symmetric, organic forms. Computer simulations are grafted onto the sterile negative, flattening time and space in turn and leaving the array of images meaningless, authorless, incorporeal, yet alive. Continue reading

Questions for Granite

graniteOn the rock, grains glued in silica, I stick close to myself. A dried oak wanders outward from the mountain’s negative. Roots snake through cracks. Two stuck stones, starting & staying, have fallen into each other: locked ready to shake off. It was the glacier, Wisconsin, that did it, carving thick braids of sentiment out of quartz. Now it’s another’s move. My arms are ticking. Full of adrenaline and blood, it’s too much for skin to hold, the forearms tendons fingers cable out to grimace the wall and I pendulum over the sheer apex of New York, crossing a crux, splitting I or some part making it out to that face. The bent joint of rock. Exposed and hung out to dry. Sun pools on my back. Bullets of sweat vanish from my head’s crown. There’s nothing to the south of me. All those untouched oaks, sycamore, euphorbia—& underneath huckleberries drop from the bush into lily ponds full of machine-voiced frogs. There’s the dipping lush of earth that begs me to spill into. But nothing holds here. Don’t let me lie. If I could I’d be weatherbeat or in Athens, at the foot of the Parthenon praying. Here’s not enough to stay. Even balance ends, end. I can’t keep my back to it. Face what you see.

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Life at the Top


The pink and blue Ferris wheel costs a suggested donation of four dollars. A line forms only when we approach the empty, swirling machine: three pale bodies, SPF 70 insured today, guaranteed to wake up tomorrow with flecks of skin peeling off red noses. To find our faces in the crowd, look for one boy with glasses, and another in a black Ché cap. Next to them you will find me, with rounder glasses and a backward, paisley hat.

Last night the domed friend hosted a party for his start-up. He’s the intern. In a room of ten 30-something paunchy Indian men, we ate multiple Chipotle build-your-own-burritos while playing Cards Against Humanity. Several cards required explaining to the company CEO. Until 11pm, we were not the only attendees under twenty-one. There were two others, the CEO’s toddler twins, who tumbled around the party, sucking on closed primary-colored beer cans that might one day make a great #tbt. Continue reading

Berlin on Sunday

berlin on sunday

One of Billy Wilder’s earliest films, Menschen am Sonntag, or “People on Sunday,” captures the weekly respite afforded to Berliners after six days of work. Using Wilder’s screenplay, directors Curt and Robert Siodmak send viewers to the Weimar Republic’s laziest days via black-and-white silent images. Intertitles declare that the characters they are about to see—Erwin, a taxi driver; Annie, his wife and a model; Wolfgang, Erwin’s friend and wine seller; Christl the movie extra, and her best friend Brigitte, a record shop girl—are all real Berliners playing themselves. The film was shot only on successive Sundays in 1929 Berlin, so as to allow the “actors” to attend to their regular occupations during filming.

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