Wednesday, February 13, 2013

the reticence of the world

Long Afternoons

by Adam Zagajewski

Those were the long afternoons when poetry left me.
The river flowed patiently, nudging lazy boats to sea.
Long afternoons, the coast of ivory.
Shadows lounged in the streets, haughty manikins in shopfronts
stared at me with bold and hostile eyes.

Professors left their schools with vacant faces,
as if the Iliad had finally done them in.
Evening papers brought disturbing news,
but nothing happened, no one hurried.
There was no one in the windows, you weren’t there;
even nuns seemed ashamed of their lives.

Those were the long afternoons when poetry vanished
and I was left with the city’s opaque demon,
like a poor traveler stranded outside the Gare du Nord
with his bulging suitcase wrapped in twine
and September’s black rain falling.

Oh, tell me how to cure myself of irony, the gaze
that sees but doesn’t penetrate; tell me how to cure myself
of silence.

Should we talk about the times poetry has left us? If it hasn't yet, it will. I want to be comforting and say, it will come back, but we all know that can't be said with any certainty. When poetry is with you, how will you treat it? Of course poetry is ridiculous and those of us who write it become, over time, off-kilter. The Iliad will eventually do us all in. Meanwhile, reticence. There's a poem from Jean Valentine's New and Collected (on the recommended shelf above) that keeps playing in my head:

I came to you

by Jean Valentine

I came to you
Lord, because of
the fucking reticence
of this world
no, not the world, not reticence, oh
   Lord Come
   Lord Come
We were sad on the ground
   Lord Come
We were sad on the ground.

I love this poem because of the correction - so that the reader knows how things can be and not be at once and that it's how we experience the world, its reticence, that's the thing. There's this disgust - the fucking reticence of the world. And I'm agreeing, god yes, how true. And then, she brushes that off, with a sort of self-disgust, frustration, an inward dive: oh, she says. Oh. (In my mind I go to the prayer of St. Francis: grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console). There is a call, a call from now and into the future: Lord Come. And then the past tense, 'we were sad on the ground.' 

When I become frustrated by the stinginess and the reticence of this world (by which I mean the deliberate reticence rather than just reticence), I ask myself, how have I been reticent? In what ways stingy? How to be generous? When I'm aware of seeing so much reticence in others - it's a reminder to myself that this is usually because of my own sadness, or disappointment, or fear. The way out - be generous.


"Be generous.
Be grateful. Confess when you're not."


"Who am I,
standing in the midst of this

Sometimes I get stuck in all the thought-traffic. I forget to be generous. I forget that there are those who have been sad on the ground, I forget those for whom poetry has vanished or is such a fine thread it cuts into the skin.

The blueberries - are a reference to a post from a couple of days feed any sorrows.


  1. Rumi is so bang on! It's wonderful how you use his voice to bring into perspective a wider lens in which to view yourselves out into the world from within. Artist are such kindred spirits , yet even we need to learn to avoid the mire we see before us as illusion.

  2. Thank you, Anonymous. And yes - thank goodness for the kindred spirits we have in our fellow writers and artists.

  3. oh my - how well I know of the feelings you speak and the almost daily thought-traffic. It is to your postings I am so often given improved insight. I just read Anne Lamott's book HELP, THANKS, WOW..not poetry, but speaks to this similar "place" we sometimes find ourselves. I appreciate your openness with sharing thoughts, Shawna, and how you FIND and remind us of the poetry that surrounds us. You are so very generous . You have sent out much good energy into the world. Thanks.

  4. Edna - I recently read the Lamott book too - still digesting it. Thank YOU for your generous words!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...