03.21.2017 07:45 AM

Roethke

It’s apparently International Poetry Day, or something like that. Having always loved poetry – and having always lacked the ability to write it well, myself – I decided I would share my favourite poem by my favourite poet with you.

He was a drunk, a philanderer, a dropout, a victim of mental illness, and – to me, way back when and now – a god. In A Dark Time is one of his greatest works, and I have been known to quote it at dinner parties and at inopportune moments.

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood —
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks — is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is —
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

4 Comments


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    Kevin says:

    You don’t have to write it, just be a conduit. If you threw a banquet, would you do the cooking yourself? Same thing. Ha!

    My God that man could write. “Which I is I?” puts the question beautifully.

    To me that poem describes someone realizing an addiction and deciding to deal with it. Tragic that he died so young.


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    Innocent III says:

    Thank you, Chief Magistrate. A brilliant selection. Here’s another little lyric guaranteed to please: http://www.bartleby.com/201/1.html
    Happy Poetry Day, everyone.


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    dave constable says:

    Oh, go ahead, write your own. Get a voice.
    Consider:

    I read The War Room and did note
    The Roethke lyric, dank and dark
    Then Eliot also, images bleak
    Both building on Walt Whitman’s bark.

    And so I urged my war room fans
    To tear themselves from stateside chains,
    And channel Atwood, Livesay, Cohen,
    Step up and utter boreal strains.


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      Kevin says:

      A ballad of reaching for peace and light. Nice.

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