(Poem #1589) Epitaph for the Race of Man: X
The broken dike, the levee washed away, The good fields flooded and the cattle drowned, Estranged and treacherous all the faithful ground, And nothing left but floating disarray Of tree and home uprooted, -- was this the day Man dropped upon his shadow without a sound And died, having laboured well and having found His burden heavier than a quilt of clay? No, no. I saw him when the sun had set In water, leaning on his single oar Above his garden faintly glimmering yet... There bulked the plough, here washed the updrifted weeds... And scull across his roof and make for shore, With twisted face and pocket full of seeds.
Part X of the sonnet sequence "Epitaph for the Race of Man". Published in the collection "Wine From These Grapes" (1934). Form: Petrarchan sonnet. Rhyme scheme: abba abba cdcede. [Commentary] Poetry can offer consolation in the darkest of times. War, famine and pestilence; flood, fire and drought -- poets have responded to terrible events with works of power and passion, and readers have found in these works new reserves of strength and determination. Different poets, of course, have different approaches. For example, Dylan Thomas' magnificent defiance in the face of death  contrasts dramatically with the quiet acceptance of his namesake R. S. Thomas , and they each have little in common with the heartfelt sorrow of W. H. Auden . Yet each of their poems speaks powerfully to something basic in human nature; our experience is the richer for having them put our feelings into words. Today's poem offers yet another response to tragedy: that even in the depths of despair, life (symbolized by the "pocket full of seeds") goes on. Flooded fields can be drained; trees replanted; homes rebuilt. It's true that we cannot bring back the lives that have been lost, but what we can do, we will. It is this that makes us human; it is this that makes us great. This is Millay's theme, and it is both heartbreakingly sad and profoundly optimistic. thomas.  Poem #38, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night -- Dylan Thomas  Poem #392, Good -- R. S. Thomas  Poem #256, Funeral Blues -- W. H. Auden [And finally] Poetry can console, but for those most affected by the terrible events of last week, mere words may not be enough. We urge readers of the Minstrels to contribute generously to various tsunami relief efforts; the following website has a comprehensive set of donation links: http://wetware.blogspot.com/2004/12/tsunami-relief-efforts.html Incidentally, Martin, Sitaram and myself all come from south India, and we each have family and friends there; fortunately, none of our near and dear were hurt in the cataclysm. We thank all those who wrote in to express their concern.