On a recent interview you were talking about how we find happiness in a world full of violence and staggering losses, random and intended harm. A few years back I was at an awards ceremony at the Los Angeles Book Fair. The poet who was chosen to receive an award was someone whose work I didn't know; Jack Gilbert. He was unable to attend and so they had pre-recorded him reading one of his pieces.
The question of how can we remain hopeful and aware in the face of sorrow, whether political or personal, is one that I have wrestled with, but not gone far enough it turns out. This poem answered that question so powerfully that I found myself gasping for breath with understanding and well, weeping openly...something I'm skilled at!
I wanted to send it your way.
Your program rounds out my week and my thinking.
A BRIEF FOR THE DEFENSE
from Refusing Heaven---Jack Gilbert
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babiesare not starving someplace, they are starvingsomewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.But we enjoy our lives because that's what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would notbe made so fine. The Bengal tiger would notbe fashioned so miraculously well. The poor womenat the fountain are laughing together betweenthe suffering they have known and the awfulnessin their future, smiling and laughing while somebodyin the village is very sick. There is laughterevery day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfactionwe lessen the importance of their deprivation.We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must havethe stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.
To make injustice the onlymeasure 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 shipanchored late at night in the tiny portlooking over to the sleeping island: the waterfrontis three shuttered cafes and one naked light burning.To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboatcomes slowly out and then goes back is truly worthall the years of sorrow that are to come.
(apologies to Mr.Gilbert. I couldn't get my formatting to work right!)
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