An Offering to the Betrayed World

We wrestle with words, stringing beads of experience onto the thread of story. We look at tree branches casting dappled sunlight across a yard and craft beautiful sentences on the nature of wonder. We find eternal moments in bedtime stories and turn skinned knees into words of prayer. It is lovely, edifying work, we think, to notice and remember these things.

But…when we see the news, hear of tragedies, deaths, disease, famine, war, we are haunted by the inconsequence of our words, our simple lives. We wonder if what we’re doing–catching stories, finding beauty among the mundane–is too small and selfish to be worthwhile. We question our passion for words and sentences. What good is a poem or a story, a photograph or a blog, when there are people dying in the world?

Why do writers write?

Perhaps there is no better reason than this:
 
 

1.
They take them out in the morning
to the stone courtyard
and put them against the wall

five men
two of them very young
the others middle-aged
nothing more
can be said about them

2.
when the platoon
level their guns
everything suddenly appears
in the garish light
of obviousness

the yellow wall
the cold blue
the black wire on the wall
instead of a horizon

that is the moment
when the five senses rebel
they would gladly escape
like rats from a sinking ship

before the bullet reaches its destination
the eye will perceive the flight of the projectile
the ear record the steely rustle

the nostrils will be filled with biting smoke
a petal of blood will brush the palate
the touch will shrink and then slacken
now they lie on the ground
covered up to their eyes with shadow
the platoon walks away
their buttonstraps
and steel helmets
are more alive
than those lying beside the wall

3.
I did not learn this today
I knew it before yesterday

so why have I been writing
unimportant poems on flowers
what did the five talk of
the night before the execution
of prophetic dreams
of an escapade in a brothel
of automobile parts
of a sea voyage
of how when he had spades
he ought not to have opened
of how vodka is best
after wine you get a headache
of girls
of fruits
of life
thus one can use in poetry
names of Greek shepherds
one can attempt to catch the colour of morning sky
write of love
and also
once again
in dead earnest
offer to the betrayed world
a rose

— “Five Men” by Zbigniew Herbert, translated by Czeslaw Milosz

2 Thoughts.

  1. Yes. It’s a hard struggle with words when so much is wrong with the world, but this is the truth. All the while, God is making beauty, and we are privileged to join Him and offer a rose. Thank you for this.

    • “All the while, God is making beauty” — I love this, Tresta. Yes, even when the world is grim and tragic, He is working among the ruins. Let us count each rose as a blessing.

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