Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Poem of the Day

Despair is one of the great obstacles imposed on us by our culture. It is a hallmark of evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, and it has cast a pall over the American psyche. These religionists see no way forward for humanity—apart from a savior, see no hope of ending war—apart from a savior, see no end to poverty—apart from a savior, and dare not trust their own senses—for want of a savior.

We have empowered these people. We are preached their counsel from the halls of Congress. We hear their beliefs echoed by the military. We pay for their paranoia through the war machine. We are pulled by the philosophical undercurrent on the editorial pages. And we see the manifestation of their beliefs in the destruction of the environment, of societal bonds and of a decent hope for human progress.

This sort of despair (a word that has other meanings, to be sure) is subtle yet pervasive and colors the thought of too many—even those who think of themselves as "progressive." It truly sets 21st century Americans apart—not just from the West but from the East, not just from Africa but from Latin America. The worst of it is that it is self-reinforcing. How did we go so collectively mad?

In any case, despair comes in many forms but sometimes—


In a square on a bench
There's a man who calls when you pass.
He wears spectacles and an old gray suit
He smokes a little cigar. He is seated
And calls you when you pass
Or he simply motions to you.
You must not look at him
You must not listen to him
You must pass by.
Act as if you didn't see him
As if you didn't hear him.
You must pass on and quicken your step.
If you look at him
If you listen to him
He will motion to you and nothing and no one
Can keep you from going to sit by him.
Then he will look at you and smile
And you will suffer grievously
And the man will continue to smile
And you will smile the very same smile
The more you smile the more you'll suffer
The more you suffer the more you'll smile
And you stay there
Seated, fixed
Smiling on the bench.
Children play right by you
Passers-by pass
Birds fly away
Leaving one tree
For another
And you stay there
On the bench
And you know—you know
that never again will you play
Like these children
You know that never again will you pass
Like these passers-by
That never again will you fly away
Leaving one tree for another
Like these birds.

     —Jacques Prévert, Paroles

A Simply Appalling translation of—


Dans un square sur un banc
Il y a un homme qui vous appelle quand on passe
Il a des binocles un vieux costume gris
Il fume un petit ninas il est assis
Et il vous appelle quand on passe
Ou simplement il vous fait signe
Il ne faut pas le regarder
Il ne faut pas l'écouter
Il faut passer
Faire comme si on ne le voyait pas
Comme si on ne l'entendait pas
Il faut passer et presser le pas
Si vous le regardez
Si vous l'écoutez
Il vous fait signe et rien personne
Ne peut vous empêcher d'aller vous asseoir près de lui
Alors il vous regarde et sourit
Et vous souffrez atrocement
Et l'homme continue de sourire
Et vous souriez du même sourire
Plus vous souriez plus vous souffrez
Plus vous souffrez plus vous souriez
Et vous restez là
Assis figé
Souriant sur le banc
Des enfants jouent tout près de vous
Des passants passent
Des oiseaux s'envolent
Quittant un arbre
Pour un autre
Et vous restez là
Sur le banc
Et vous savez vous savez
Que jamais plus vous ne jouerez
Comme ces enfants
Vous savez que jamais plus vous ne passerez
Comme ces passants
Que jamais plus vous ne vous envolerez
Quittant un arbre pour un autre
Comme ces oiseaux.

There are a number of good readings on YouTube. My preference is here.

Related post
Poem of the Day (5/6/07)

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