Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars)
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.
I lived in the first century of these wars.
–Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)
“Poem” (1968) from The Speed of Darkness. Copyright © 1968 by Muriel Rukeyser. Reprinted by permission of International Creative Management. Source: The Speed of Darkness (Vintage Books, 1968)
American Complicated With Integrity: Homage to Muriel
It is difficult to see in this harsh light, in the glare of
this machine place
with the ferocity of blandness, pollution, steel, trains and cars
with tired people almost well adjusted
to their lack of direction and
their routine; Kafka is in
his grave; Camus lets out another call as he falls; the river is
cold; the 385 dream songs are pieces of ice;
the Lewiston factories are making Marsden Hartley cumbersome and
outraged again; once more he celebrates
the splash of the uplifted Atlantic wave and the terror and songs of
Hart Crane; Homage to those shaken seers
on Main Street; the cars
ride by, the energy crisis, the identity crisis, the failure of
communication crisis; how can you forget
the concentration camps
and all that went with them? But look at Muriel I say to my students,
look at Muriel Rukeyser,
collect her large volume of poems, she has protected, with those
activists we have overcome, the Song goes on;
her poems have collected our hope and power, to walk with
her and them makes us see bold incorrigible
indivisible Whitman ahead.
—John Tagliabue (1923-2006)
this poem copyright 1979, first appeared in Harper’s Magazine
collected in The Great Day: Poems, 1962-1983 (1984) copyright John Tagliabue
Alembic Press, Plainfield, Indiana