Thursday, December 01, 2005

Clarity, continued: Two poems; AIDS Awareness Day

The last first . . .

On this AIDS Awareness Day, you could do much much worse than going out and purchasing Spirit of Africa, a collection of songs performed by African artists, well-known and not-so-well-known, from throughout the continent. As NPR reported this morning, sub-Saharan Africa, with 10% of the world's population, has about 60% of the world's people who are HIV-positive. Proceeds from the sales of this CD will go to the Mercury Phoenix Trust's various African-based charities devoted to education, treatment, and support for AIDS victims and their families.

And the music? Not only is it an excellent sampler of contemporary African musical styles, much of it, given the cause for which this music has been enlisted, is amazingly uplifting and celebratory of the human spirit. That sounds like ad copy, I know, but there's no other way to describe it.

And now the poems: Wallace Stevens' "The Snow Man" and Tom Chandler's "Ten Degrees." Both of these are about coldness and clarity of understanding. I would be surprised to learn that Chandler did not have Stevens' poem in mind as he wrote his own poem, but what I like about it is that it ends up in a different place: less philosophical, perhaps, but no less worthy of our attention for all that.

Many thanks, by the way, to The Writer's Almanac for introducing me to Chandler's poem two weeks ago--and which, by the way, broadcast today an excellent Stevens poem, "The Well-Dressed Man with a Beard."

"The Snow Man"

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sould of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

"Ten Degrees"

How beautiful the sun as it skims
across the air in the hush of ten degrees,
disc of palest yellow hope along a sky

of circumstance; how beautifully we watch it fall,
the random tern, forgotten mole,
the infant tree inside rough winter bark.

How beautiful this frost, female fingers
tracing down the glass, how beautiful
this world too cold to criticize itself;

how beautiful Earth's creatures are, happy
and forever safe from the only perfect tragedy,
which is of course to never have been born.

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DaniC said...

beautiful poetry! This is a wonderful site.

John B. said...

Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words.