Two poems

I’ve been enjoying all the poems that people have been sharing as part of National Poetry Month.  I’ve run across some old favorites, as well as some ones that are new to me.

A friend shared with me this poem from Alfred E. Knopf’s poem a day email:

A Brief for the Defense, by Jack Gilbert, from his new collection, REFUSING HEAVEN.

A Brief for the Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered caf├ęs and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.

This poem reminded me of a poem by Yehuda Amechai that I tacked onto my wall after September 11.

A man doesn’t have time in his life

A man doesn’t have time in his life
to have time for everything.
He doesn’t have seasons enough to have
a season for every purpose. Ecclesiastes
Was wrong about that.

A man needs to love and to hate at the same moment,
to laugh and cry with the same eyes,
with the same hands to throw stones and to gather them,
to make love in war and war in love.
And to hate and forgive and remember and forget,
to arrange and confuse, to eat and to digest
what history
takes years and years to do.

A man doesn’t have time.
When he loses he seeks, when he finds
he forgets, when he forgets he loves, when he loves
he begins to forget.

And his soul is seasoned, his soul
is very professional.
Only his body remains forever
an amateur. It tries and it misses,
gets muddled, doesn’t learn a thing,
drunk and blind in its pleasures
and its pains.

He will die as figs die in autumn,
Shriveled and full of himself and sweet,
the leaves growing dry on the ground,
the bare branches pointing to the place
where there’s time for everything.

From The Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai, translations by Chana
Bloch and Stephen Mitchell.

4 Responses to “Two poems”

  1. Mer Says:

    Those are both really lovely, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing them.

  2. Cecily Says:

    Ah, thank you. I needed some good poems to read before I begin the process of reviewing poetry submissions (I’m an editor at Philadelphia Stories, a local magazine).

  3. Scrivener Says:

    Oh, these are both amazing. Thank you.

  4. amy Says:

    Wow! And hooray for Chana Bloch/Stephen Mitchell! his soul/is very professional. It surely is.

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