The poet Mona Van Duyn is another favourite. This is one of hers I hadn’t known previously — I actually was looking for another poem when I came across it. Being a sucker for bees (my first name, as many readers know, means ‘the bee’; my family might even go so far as to say I think it means the QUEEN bee…), I had to include it in this month’s line-up.
Van Duyn wrote all her life, even met her husband — another poet, at the time — at a writer’s workshop. Her poetry is deceptively quiet. It will sneak up on you. 🙂 She writes about everyday life: marriage (her poem ‘Late Loving’ is the one I was trying to find a copy of online), loneliness, friendship, aging. I think of her as very Buddhist, although I have no idea what — if any — spiritual tradition she followed.
Here’s her poem ‘A Time of Bees’:
A Time of Bees
Love is never strong enough to find the words befitting it.
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie…
Today I tried to eat my lunch beneath a TV set blazing with the latest tragic news from Boston. From Watertown. From hatred.
No one knows why the bombers in Boston chose to murder innocent victims. The home-made bombs certainly haven’t stirred support for Chechnya, or helped to allay American fears of Muslim terrorism. They were acts of hatred, created in hatred, and they will be met, I’m certain, with more hatred. Because so many people in this world believe that compassion is a weakness, and that hate is the only ‘just’ response to evil.
It isn’t, of course. But it’s hard to hear the quiet pleas for restraint, for compassion, above the howls of righteous anger, the keening of loss, the bewildered horror. So today’s poem is one I’ve long loved, timely once again as hate ignites, and political posturing strong-arms genuine attempts at dialogue. It remains the most scathing indictment I know of expedient & reactionary hatred.
Here’s W.H. Auden’s ‘September 1, 1939’:
September 1, 1939
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.
Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
And the international wrong.
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
Today is Poem In Your Pocket Day. Just a big FYI. 🙂 It also was Poetry for Peace Day at a local community college. I was lucky enough to be a reader, along w/ several talented student poets and a couple of stellar colleagues. My friend Allen — a long-time social activist — organised it.
Each of us read a poem, most of us our own. But there were also poems to put in your pocket — after all, it is Poem In Your Pocket Day. And this was one I had forgotten, by a man I respect & admire deeply. His objectives sometimes are at odds with my own, but he has never wavered in his faith, or in his mission to save lives. All lives. Poetry was his language long before protest, and remains one of his most lasting legacies.
Here is Daniel Berrigan’s ‘Prayer for the Morning Headlines’:
PRAYER FOR THE MORNING HEADLINES
MERCIFULLY GRANT PEACE IN OUR DAYS. THROUGH YOUR HELP MAY WE BE FREED FROM PRESENT DISTRESS. HAVE MERCY ON WOMEN AND CHILDREN, HOMELESS IN FOUL WEATHER, RANTING LIKE BEES AMONG GUTTED BARNS AND STILES. HAVE MERCY ON THOSE (LIKE US) CLINGING ONE TO ANOTHER UNDER FIRE. HAVE MERCY ON THE DEAD, BEFOULED, TRODDEN LIKE SNOW IN HEDGES AND THICKETS. HAVE MERCY, DEAD MAN, WHOSE GRANDIOSE GENTLE HOPE DIED ON THE WING, WHOSE BODY STOOD LIKE A TREE BETWEEN STRIKE AND FALL, STOOD LIKE A CRIPPLE ON HIS WOODEN CRUTCH. WE CRY: HALT! WE CRY: PASSWORD! DISHONORED HEART, REMEMBER AND REMIND, THE OPEN SESAME: FROM THERE TO HERE, FROM INNOCENCE TO US: HIROSHIMA DRESDEN GUERNICA SELMA SHARPEVILLE COVENTRY DACHAU VIETNAM AFGHANISTAN IRAQ. INTO OUR HISTORY, PASS! SEED HOPE. FLOWER PEACE.
Poetry always helps me with grief. With rage at injustice, with loss. With all the sorrows — as well as joys — of human existence. Today’s poem is for the many victims rippling out from the horrific centre of the Boston Marathon bombings. It’s a poem by a poet who absolutely understood ugly hate, as well as war and loss.It’s also a poem of hope.
Here’s an excerpt from Stanley Kunitz’s ‘Night Letter’:
Night Letter (an excerpt)
Violence shakes my dreams; I am so cold,
Chilled by the persecuting wind abroad,
The oratory of the rodent’s tooth,
The slaughter of the blue-eyed open towns,
And principle disgraced, and art denied.
My dear, is it too late for peace, too late
For men to gather at the wells to drink
The sweet water; too late for fellowship
and laughter at the forge; too late for us
To say, “Let us be good to one another”?
The lamps go singly out; the valley sleeps;
I tend the last light shining on the farms
And keep for you the thought of love alive,
As scholars dungeoned in an ignorant age
Tended the embers of the Trojan fire.
Cities shall suffer siege and some shall fall,
But man’s not taken. What the deep heart means,
Its message of the big, round, childish hand,
Its wonder, its simple lonely cry,
The bloodied envelope addressed to you,
Is history, that wide and mortal pang