All Cannot be Sorrow

This morning, I received this poem by American poet Jack Gilbert (d. 2012).  It speaks in so many ways to what I would like to say: that we have only this one time to embrace life in its fulness, which includes not only its pain and sorrow and injustice, but also our capacity for joy.

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 this 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 is truly worth

all the years of sorrow that are to come.

2 thoughts on “All Cannot be Sorrow”

  1. Paul: Beautiful. I especially liked the final image of the port at night. The poem brought to mind something from H.L. Mencken: “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Thanks, Andy

    Liked by 1 person

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