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Advice to a Prophet -- Richard Wilbur

Guest poem sent in by Sashidhar Dandamudi
(Poem #1195) Advice to a Prophet
 When you come, as you soon must, to the streets of our city,
 Mad-eyed from stating the obvious,
 Not proclaiming our fall but begging us
 In God's name to have self-pity,

 Spare us all word of the weapons, their force and range,
 The long numbers that rocket the mind;
 Our slow, unreckoning hearts will be left behind,
 Unable to fear what is too strange.

 Nor shall you scare us with talk of the death of the race.
 How should we dream of this place without us?--
 The sun mere fire, the leaves untroubled about us,
 A stone look on the stone's face?

 Speak of the world's own change. Though we cannot conceive
 Of an undreamt thing, we know to our cost
 How the dreamt cloud crumbles, the vines are blackened by frost,
 How the view alters.  We could believe,

 If you told us so, that the white-tailed deer will slip
 Into perfect shade, grown perfectly shy,
 The lark avoid the reaches of our eye,
 The jack-pine lose its knuckled grip

 On the cold ledge, and every torrent burn
 As Xanthus once, its gliding trout
 Stunned in a twinkling.  What should we be without
 The dolphin's arc, the dove's return,

 These things in which we have seen ourselves and spoken?
 Ask us, prophet, how we shall call
 Our natures forth when that live tongue is all
 Dispelled, that glass obscured or broken

 In which we have said the rose of our love and the clean
 Horse of our courage, in which beheld
 The singing locust of the soul unshelled,
 And all we mean or wish to mean.

 Ask us, ask us whether with the worldless rose
 Our hearts shall fail us; come demanding
 Whether there shall be lofty or long standing
 When the bronze annals of the oak-tree close.
-- Richard Wilbur
Over the past few days, we have seen quite a few poems dealing with themes
of war: pain, irony, death. This is another fine poem to the collection.
The language is fresh (live tongue is all/Dispelled, that glass obscured or
broken ; The singing locust of the soul unshelled) and the voice of the
poet takes the prophetic ring.

This poem also took me back to the 'sonnets' of Vikram Seth's Golden Gate
and this speech in that book given by a Catholic priest, against the
nuclear weapons and Cold War.

And the poem says all of the 'two-cents' I have to say about war.

And the poet had to this to say:

"Wilbur: Yes. I believe that what I was trying to do in that poem was to
provide - myself, of course - with a way of feeling the enormity of
nuclear war, should it come. The approach of that poem, which comes at
such a war through its likely effect on the creatures who surround us, is
a very "thingy" one. It made it possible for me to feel something beside a
kind of abstract horror, a puzzlement, at the thought of nuclear war; and
it may so serve other people. I hope so."

Peace!
Sashi

Links:

The Academy of American Poets
http://www.poets.org/poets/poets.cfm?45442B7C000C04050F

Two older Wilbur poems on Minstrels:
Poem #322
Poem #1116

42 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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