Robert Hass, one of the contemporary poets who rewires my brain every five years or so (when he parts with enough poems to make a collection), darts like a bird from the problem of suffering (one flower) to the gift of beauty (a different flower), and back again here.
Suppose, he writes, "before they said silver or moonlight or wet grass, each poet had to agree to be responsible for the innocence of all the suffering on earth"--a noble idea, and one that might silence some of our navel-gazing warblers. But he undercuts this ethical injunction by comparing such a proposition to grammar-school arithmetic. We know, we feel it, it's proved upon our pulses that there is so much beauty, and so much suffering in the world--we can barely find our way to the end of a sentence.
It's a danger to make suffering into poetry--"You hear pain singing in the nerves of things; it is not a song"--because so much suffering isn't ours to use. What to do with our suffering, what to do with the beauty that arrests us, that makes it possible to go on?
"Spring Drawing 2" by Robert Hass
A man says lilacs against white houses, two sparrows, one streaked, in a
thinning birch, and can't find his way to a sentence.
In order to be respectable, Thorstein Veblen said, desperate in Palo
Alto, a thing must be wasteful, i.e., "a selective adaptation of forms to
the end of conspicuous waste."
So we try to throw nothing away, as Keith, making dinner for us as his
grandmother had done in Jamaica, left nothing; the kitchen was as clean
at the end as when he started; even the shrimp shells and carrot fronds
were part of the process,
and he said, when we tried to admire him, "Listen, I should send you
into the chickenyard to look for a rusty nail to add to the soup for iron."
The first temptation of Sakyamuni was desire, but he saw that it led to
fulfillment and then to desire, so that one was easy.
Because I have pruned it badly in successive years, the climbing rose
has sent out, among the pale pink floribunda, a few wild white roses
from the rootstalk.
Suppose, before they said silver or moonlight or wet grass, each poet
had to agree to be responsible for the innocence of all the suffering on
because they learned in arithmetic, during the long school days, that if
there was anything left over,
you had to carry it. The wild rose looks weightless, the floribunda are
heavy with the richness and sadness of Europe
as they imitate the dying, petal by petal, of the people who bred them.
You hear pain singing in the nerves of things; it is not a song.
The gazelle's head turned; three jackals are eating his entrails and he
What a wonderful piece of writing. Thank you.
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