{poetry friday – one}

What is required of us is the recognition of frontiers between the centuries.

And to take heart: to cross over.

Those who are killed in the place between out of ignorance, those who wander like cattle and are shot,

those who are shot and are left in the stone fields between the histories – these men may be pitied as the victims of accidents are pitied but their deaths do not signify.

They are neither buried nor otherwise remembered but lie in the dead grass in the dry thorn of the worn light. Their years have no monuments.

There are many such in the sand here – many who did not perceive, who thought the time went on, the years went forward, the history was continuous – who thought tomorrow was the same nation as today.

There are many who came to the frontiers between the times and did not know them – who looked for the sentry-box at the stone bridge, for the barricade in the pines and the declaration in two languages – the warning and the opportunity to turn.

They are dead there in the down light, in the sheep’s barren.

What is required of us is the recognition with no sign, with no word, with the roads raveled out into ruts and the ruts into dust and the dust stirred by the wind – the roads from behind us ending in the dust.

What is required of us is the recognition of the frontiers where the road ends.

We are very far.

We are past the place where the light lifts and farther on than the relinquishment of leaves – farther even than the persistence in the east of the green color. Beyond are the confused tracks,
the guns, the watchers.

What is required of us, Companions, is the recognition of the frontiers across this history, and to take heart:

to cross over –

To persist and to cross over and survive

But to survive
To cross over.

“The Geography of Our Time”
Archibald Macleish

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9 Responses to “{poetry friday – one}”

  1. Smashed Says:

    Thanks. Beautiful. Challenging. De Rigeur.

  2. plover Says:

    I don’t think I’ve read anything by MacLeish before. Reminds me a little of Wilfred Owen – more the language than the style. Was this written around WWI? Or at least between the wars?

    Possible typo: Should “by lie in the dead grass” be “but lie in the dead grass”?

    I do like it. Thanks for posting this.

  3. Res Publica Says:

    I don’t know when this particular poem was written. It’s from a collection of his work published in 1948. Macleish did serve in the First World War, He was also the Librarian of Congress, a lawyer, and an editor at Fortune magazine.

    (and thanks for catching the typo)

  4. Res Publica Says:

    I should add that I am unsure of the location of the line and stanza breaks for this poem. I came across this in the readings section of the old Unitarian Hymnal, “Hymns for the Celebration of Life”, where it is arranged as a responsive reading. I was unable to find this poem online, and although I have several books that include some of Macleish’s poems, I was again unable to find this one. Apparently, it’s not one of his more famous works. I doubt it made as much sense in the middle of the 20th century, in the high heartland of Pax Americana. Unfortunately, I think we better understand “the confused tracks, the guns, the watchers”.

  5. sirbarrett Says:

    That was beaut. Roads are the traces of history and that’s why it is hard to find where they end because history just keeps repeating itself, and branching out and overlapping. Maybe we’ll get somewhere some day…but that’s assuming we aren’t somewhere now. I’m not sure what people being shot is supposed to mean anyway, unless you glorify it but maybe that’s what he’s telling us about “crossing over”? The gulf of misunderstanding between generations? Like we owe something to our warring grandfathers for hating and killing each other? Je ne sais pas. Very thought provoking though.

  6. mitz Says:

    that was lovely my dear.

  7. Brando Says:

    Very nice, Res, very nice.

  8. Smashed Says:

    I think he means that one must move with the times, and, especially, confront the challenges that each time presents. To live in the past is a kind of suicide.

  9. Michael Bains Says:

    I read this over the weekend and it kinda helped get me pumped up for Glenda’s Post for Peace blogival. Seriously Res, this poem is so utterly perfect for the occasion.

    … to take heart: to cross over.

    RAmen

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