As our planet once again shutters on the brink of world war, remember Muriel Rukeyser, remember John Tagliabue

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


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