Monday, May 16, 2011

Muriel Rukeyser's "Elegy in Joy"

This weekend, I happened to read Muriel Rukeyser's "Poem" which begins "I lived in the first century of world wars" at a Peace Show fundraiser. When this poem came over the email from the Academy of American Poets (due props), I thought that I could have just as well read this one. Rukeyser was one of those poets whose fierce opposition to war and her progressive social politics was always articulated in a vision of "the love that gives us ourselves." In that way, she avoided the blood-lust of so much anti-war and anti-capitalist verse of the time (not to mention our time). Even if some of her lines wobble a bit, she seems to snap our attention back with a kind of mystic attention.

Elegy in Joy [excerpt]
by Muriel Rukeyser

We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer,
or the look, the lake in the eye that knows,
for the despair that flows down in widest rivers,
cloud of home; and also the green tree of grace,
all in the leaf, in the love that gives us ourselves.

The word of nourishment passes through the women,
soldiers and orchards rooted in constellations,
white towers, eyes of children:
saying in time of war What shall we feed?
I cannot say the end.

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.

This moment, this seed, this wave of the sea, this look, this instant of love.
Years over wars and an imagining of peace. Or the expiation journey
toward peace which is many wishes flaming together,
fierce pure life, the many-living home.
Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all
new techniques for the healing of the wound,
and the unknown world. One life, or the faring stars.

This poem is from Birds, Beasts, and Seas: Nature Poems, published by New Directions. Reprinted with permission. Click here to purchase book.

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