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 cafés 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.
Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven
Jack Gilbert (February 18, 1925 – November 13, 2012) gave a rare and delightful interview with the Paris Review, published in 2005, at the age of 80. The interview featured the below–previously unpublished–poem, “The Great Debate” by Gilbert. From the Paris Review, “Jack Gilbert, The Art of Poetry No. 91.”
Interviewed by Sarah Fay.
Who would want to be thinking day and night?
the young man said, eating his chicken
in the beautiful cool shade. Me, I said
before I could stop myself. Heard how it sounded
but knew what would happen if I qualified it.
Me, I said again, but he was already talking
about how a doctor had cured his knee with magic.