BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE
Sit for an hour in any national airport and you’ll see how each of us differs from others in a million ways, and of course that includes not only our physical appearances but our perceptions and opinions. Here’s a poem by Ada Limón, who lives in Kentucky, about difference and the difficulty of resolution.
What It Looks Like To Us and the Words We Use
Today is the anniversary of W. H. Auden’s death (Sept. 29, 1973). In this poem, Auden refers to several paintings by the Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel. Hopefully the images I downloaded will come out clear enough. Even without the paintings, the poem is remarkable.
Musee des Beaux Arts
About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
|(Herman Melville, died Sept. 28, 1891)|
Doubtless one leading reason why the world declines honoring us whalemen, is this: they think that, at best, our vocation amounts to a butchering sort of business, and that when actively engaged therein, we are surrounded by all manner of defilements. Butchers we are, that is true. But butchers also, and butchers of the bloodiest badge have been all Martial Commanders whom the world invariably delights to honor.