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April 17, 2007


Here, from perhaps a similar circumstance, is perhaps a different response. I wish for you that you draw some hope, or comfort, from it.

with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on the stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is

- W. S. Merwin

Best -

Actually, perhaps not such a different response.

Sorry for the serial post.

Thanks -

Of course Auden later said something like "that's a lie -we must die anyway", and amended the poem to read, "We must love one another and die". Then he decided the whole thing had to go and excluded it from his canon. I guess that sort of thing is easier when one has genius to burn.

Before Disaster

Evening traffic homeward burns
Swift and even on the turns,
Drifting weight in triple rows,
Fixed relation and repose.
This one edges out and by,
Inch by inch with steady eye.
But should error be increased,
Mass and moment are released;
Matter loosens, flooding blind,
Levels drivers to its kind.
Ranks of nations thus descend,
Watchful, to a stormy end.
By a moment's calm beguiled,
I have got a wife and child.
Fool and scoundrel guide the State.
Peace is whore to Greed and Hate.
Nowhere may I turn to flee:
Action is security.
Treading change with savage heel,
We must live or die by steel.

Yvor Winters

from "love, death, and the changing of the seasons", Marilyn Hacker, 1986

Five-thirty, little one, already light
outside. From Spanish Harlem, sun spills through
the seamless windows of my Gauloise blue
bedroom, where you're sleeping, with what freight
of dreams. Blue boat, blue boat, I'll navigate
and pilot, this dawn-watch. There's someone who
is dying, darling, and that's always true
though skin on skin we would obliterate
the fact, and mouth on mouth alive have come
to something like the equilibrium
of a light skiff on not-quite-tidal waves.
And aren't we, when we are on dry land
(with shaky sea legs) walking hand in hand
(often enough) reading the lines on graves?

I was going to make the same comment as rilkefan about Auden's later thinking about "September 1, 1939" - that the last line should have read: "We must love one another AND die." I don't know about Auden's writing process, but have always assumed that that poem must originally have been written very fast.

A commenter at the New York Times, responding to Nicholas Kristof's latest op ed piece about Darfur, put up the following poem, which struck me immediately as relevant not just to Darfur but to a lot of what is happening on our troubled planet right now:

Seamus Heaney
Doubletake (from The Cure at Troy)

Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home

History says, Don’t hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up,
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
if there’s fire on the mountain
or lightning and storm
and a god speaks from the sky.

That means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.

I can offer you the consolation (or is it consolation?) that as you age, these horrors become less horrific. I was terrified by the Cuban Missile Crisis, overwhelmed by the assassination of JFK, outraged by the senselessness of Vietnam, grieved by the assassinations of MLK and RFK, and infuriated by the political crimes of Watergate. But now, after all these years, I reacted to 9/11 with a sad shake of my head and the question, "What did you expect? Acquiesce to the injustice of the Middle East for all these years and this kind of thing becomes inevitable." My reaction to the VT murders was "What do you expect? Give people guns, and they'll shoot each other. It's as simple and as obvious as night following day."

This is not cynicism, and it's certainly not lack of caring. It's a world-weary recognition of the stupidity of our policies. But each time, I retain some small hope that people will learn from the catastrophe. After 9/11, I hoped that people would decide that it's time to impose a peace upon the Israelis and Palestinians. But no, they choose revenge instead of a solution. After the murders at VT, I hope that people will decide that maybe it's time to start limiting the number of guns in our society. After the disaster in Iraq, I am hoping that people decide that it's time to take some constructive steps in the Middle East. Even at my age, hope springs eternal.

thank you for your wisdom and insight in this time of insanity.

One small recommandation : go see the German film, Other People's Lives (am not totally sure how the title was translated). The film is very difficult, but offers its own bleak hope, and vision of ordinary heroism for our times.

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