Your Saturday Poem
This is one of my favorite poems. I first stumbled upon this poem in The New Yorker. Jack Gilbert is one of those poets who writes dangerous poems, the kind of poems that will leave a bruise or a sharp needle to the heart. This is one of those poems, a poem that resonates more and more as the years pass, that deepens as age and life bore in and the mysteries deepen. The poem is first in his 2005 collection, “Refusing Heaven,” a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. Available in paperback from your local bookstore.
A Brief For The Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of the world. To make injustice the only
measure 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 ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island; the waterfront
is three shuttered cafes and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back in is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.