Sunday, December 19, 2010

A December poem

This time of year I often find myself thinking about one of my favorite poems, a bleakly anti-war poem by the great William Carlos Williams:

These

are the desolate, dark weeks
when nature in its barrenness
equals the stupidity of man.

The year plunges into night
and the heart plunges
lower than night

to an empty, windswept place
without sun, stars or moon
but a peculiar light as of thought

that spins a dark fire--
whirling upon itself until,
in the cold, it kindles

to make a man aware of nothing
that he knows, not loneliness
itself--Not a ghost but

would be embraced--emptiness,
despair--(They
whine and whistle) among

the flashes and booms of war;
houses of whose rooms
the cold is greater than can be thought,

the people gone that we loved,
the beds lying empty, the couches
damp, the chairs unused--

Hide it away somewhere
out of the mind, let it get roots
and grow, unrelated to jealous

ears and eyes--for itself.
In this mine they come to dig--all.
Is this the counterfoil to sweetest

music? The source of poetry that
seeing the clock stopped, says,
The clock has stopped

that ticked yesterday so well?
and hears the sound of lakewater
splashing--that is now stone.


This was a poem I first came across in a high school creative writing class, and it's been a favorite ever since. The images--an empty windswept place; the whine and whistle of war; a peculiar light that spins a dark fire; the hidden truth that grows roots; the counterfoil to sweetest music; the lake that's now stone--they force themselves into my stories...probably even more than I'm consciously aware.

Once upon a time, I posted copies of this poem (alternating with copies of Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Apostrophe to Man") around the halls of my college to protest some sort of military action. Pretty weak as a protest, I admit, but it felt good to do something...

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