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In California During the Gulf War -- Denise Levertov

Guest poem sent in by Mark Cummins
(Poem #1184) In California During the Gulf War
 Among the blight-killed eucalypts, among
 trees and bushes rusted by Christmas frosts,
 the yards and hillsides exhausted by five years of drought,

 certain airy white blossoms punctually
 reappeared, and dense clusters of pale pink, dark pink--
 a delicate abundance. They seemed

 like guests arriving joyfully on the accustomed
 festival day, unaware of the year's events, not perceiving
 the sackcloth others were wearing.

 To some of us, the dejected landscape consorted well
 with our shame and bitterness. Skies ever-blue,
 daily sunshine, disgusted us like smile-buttons.

 Yet the blossoms, clinging to thin branches
 more lightly than birds alert for flight,
 lifted the sunken heart

 even against its will.
                       But not
 as symbols of hope: they were flimsy
 as our resistance to the crimes committed

 --again, again--in our name; and yes, they return,
 year after

  year, and yes, they briefly shone with serene joy
 over against the dark glare

 of evil days. They are, and their presence
 is quietness ineffable--and the bombings are, were,
 no doubt will be; that quiet, that huge cacophany

 simultaneous. No promise was being accorded, the blossoms
 were not doves, there was no rainbow. And when it was claimed
 the war had ended, it had not ended.
-- Denise Levertov
           from Evening Train

With news all the news at the moment, I was reminded of this poem by Denise
Levertov.

I first read it as an unseen poem in an exam, and even while I was
frantically trying to scribble something about its technical makeup, the
poem struck me a wonderfully subtle account of war and protest and how the
world carries on in spite of both.  In light of all the talk of war with
Iraq it is once more very topical.

Mark.

[Martin adds]

I cannot help but compare this (favourably, of course) to Andrew Motion's
"Causa Belli" [Poem #1143]. A little subtlety goes a long, long way,
especially in poetry.

For another great poem along the same lines, see Frost's "Range Finding"
[Poem #1036]

57 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Vidur said...

simply exquisite.

i have always marveled at the pink and white cherry blossoms, and winter
in the bay area winter, appreciating fully what a privilege it is in a
country where most people are buried in snow. and although i enjoy the
blue skies, bright sunshine and beautiful cherry blossoms, and
constantly worry about the war these days, i would never have arrived at
this beautiful metaphor. levertov is truly gifted.

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