Saturday, November 22, 2014

By the waters . . .

Wood ducks under the willow, with their colorful reflections in the stream.

Tonight's poem is by another favorite poet, Philip Levine 
and was in The New Yorker that just came.

Two women and a small girl—
perhaps three or four years old—resting
in the shade of the fir trees.

From far off the roar of the world
coming back one more time.
First a few words tossed back

and forth between awakening men
and then the machines
talking to themselves in the language

they share with the heavenly bodies—
planets, dust motes, distant solar systems—
that know what needs to be

done and do it. So long ago,
you think, those days, so unlike these,
blessed by favorable winds

and forgotten in the anthems
we hummed on the long walk home
from work or the childish fables

we tried to believe. No one notices
the small girl and her caretakers
are gone and no one huddles

in the shade of the fir trees.
The air, brilliant and calm, stays
to witness, the single cloud lost

between heaven and here stays,
the mountains look down and keep
their distance, somewhere far off

the sea goes on working for itself.
By the waters of the Llobregat
no one sits down to weep for the children

of the world, by the Ebro, the Tagus,
the Guadalquivir, by the waters
of the world no one sits down and weeps.

Philip Levine
The New Yorker, November 24, 2014, pages 90-91.

The Llobregat is the second longest river in Catalonia, Spain. Its name could have originated in an ancient Latin word meaning 'dark', 'sorrowful' or 'muddy'. All the rivers named in this poem are in Spain, which reminded me of the Spanish Civil War, and of the brutal air raid on Guernica. I have been hanging out with this poem all day now, and I understand its invitation to weep for the children of the world. But there is much I do not understand; I am still working on it.

And then there is Psalm 137, not a happy story.

The Psalms, 137
(The Mourning of the Exiles in Babylon)

1 By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down, yea, we wept,
when we remembered Zion.

2 We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

3 For there they that carried us away captive 
required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, 
saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

4 How shall we sing the LORD's song 
in a strange land?

5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand forget her cunning.

6 If I do not remember thee,
let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

7 Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom
in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it,
even to the foundation thereof.

8 O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.

9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth
thy little ones against the stones.

Published by The American Bible Society

This is terrible, I had only remembered the beautiful language in the beginning. 

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