Today’s poem is a little lengthy, but it is worth the read. “A Brave and Startling Truth” was written by one of America’s favorite sages, Maya Angelou (1928-2014). She wrote the poem to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations (1995), but when I saw an excerpt of the poem used in an Earth Day activity, I thought why not share the whole poem today.
After reading the poem, be sure to go to Earth Stanzas and write your own Earth Day poem. The activity comes complete with prompts and model poems.
A Brave and Startling Truth
We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth
And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms
When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn and scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil
When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze
When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse
When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets
Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world
When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
About the images: I had a bit of Photoshop fun with today’s images. Each photo subject is a gift from the earth. I will eventually share the original images. Until then, do you have any idea what they are? No? Well, I’m pretty sure you can [generally] guess this one:
Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness. –Mary Oliver, from “Snowy Night,” What Do We Know
I’m taking a very short break from grading because it’s time for #ThursdayTreeLove, and I can’t resist sharing one of the snow pics I snapped with my iPhone earlier this week. It’s a simple snapshot, but it captures a naked tree and our first snow of the season.
Snow is rare in the Deep South, so many of us get excited whenever it comes our way. In this photo, the snow had just begun to fall and the temperature hadn’t [yet] dropped enough for the snow to stick.
I do not like being cold, so I stood just outside my office building and videotaped the snow for a few seconds. [Video below]. It was so relaxing to take a break and watch the snow fall.
I am joining Parul Thakur for #ThursdayTreeLove every second and fourth Thursday of the month. If you would like to play along, post a picture of a tree on your blog and link it back to her latest #treelove post.
“The Things That Consume Me”
It is the fire that consumes me;
It is an inexplicable love,
It is the rain that calms me;
It is a melody from above.
It is the wind that humbles me;
It is everywhere and nowhere,
It is the sand that fuels me;
It is the artistry of nature.
I’m consumed by what I am,
I’m calmed by a riotous noise,
I’m humbled through arrogance,
I’m fueled by what is in poise.
I’ve much cherished the mystifying,
I’ve heard the unreal symphonies,
I’ve been moved by the inevitable,
And I’ve hailed the epiphanies.
can we speak in flowers.
it will be much easier for me to understand.
soft in the fire
nayyirah waheed, poems from salt.
About the image: The pansies above were captured last spring during one of my photo walks. I gave the “flowers” (poems included) to sisters and friends for Women’s History Month. Since most have received them, I’m sharing them here for #WordlessWednesday. You need flowers too.
I mentioned in my post a couple of days ago that my student Courtney sent two postcards, and the second arrived before the first. I received the first postcard today!
It appropriately detailed (as much as can be squeezed onto a postcard) her early musings about her life in France. And it features one of my favorite French artists, Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse.
If you’ve been following my blog for at least a few years, you might remember my sharing the work of 16 little Matisses that imitate his collage style.
La Chute d’Icare [The Fall of Icarus], from Matisse’s “cut-outs” period of his late career, illustrates the tale of Icarus, the son of Daedalus who ignored his father’s warning and with wax wings flew too close to the sun. Matisse masterfully captured Icarus’ fall through the sky to the sea.
Courtney might know I have a ‘thing” for Greek mythology (re)interpreted in art and literature. Here are a few Icarus poems worth reading:
- William Carlos Williams’ “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” and W. H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts,” both written in “response” to Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel’s “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”
- Edward Field–“Icarus”
- Anne Sexton reading “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph”
- Saeed Jones–Daedalus, After Icarus
I think I’ll write a poem this weekend that recasts the story of Icarus in my own way. I already have a title, “Fly, Baby, Fly.” I’ll include it in my reply to Court.
Right around the time the season changed from summer to autumn last year, I stumbled upon a haiku collection while perusing a colleague’s bookshelf. I hadn’t read haiku in years! I borrowed her book and enjoyed the haiku for a few days before giving in and ordering my own copy of the book. The book is entitled The Essential Haiku: the Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa, edited and translated by Robert Hass.
The haiku masters offered the perfect moments to sip tea and reflect on changes in the natural world as the seasons transform from one to another. They served as a welcome substitute for time that would have been spent outdoors (and perhaps with my camera) because the weather was often icky last autumn and winter.
After I had my fill of the haiku masters, I moved on to Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku, a book I must blog about at another time.
As you can guess, I was pretty haiku obsessed. I read them to my son. I tried to get him to write haiku with me. He ran in the opposite direction–screaming, arms flailing (slight exaggeration). Aha! But eventually I found a way to “capture” him (along with his 15 classmates).
Last April–building on the lessons on metaphor, simile, and image I’d taught the children in second and third grade–I taught a brief lesson on the haiku form, read a few to the (then) fourth graders, and allowed my son to transform a longer poem he wrote for National Poetry Month last year into a haiku to demonstrate for the class how a three-line poem can tell the same story and present the same image as a much longer poem.
The children were tasked with writing about something in nature, the change of seasons or an animal. They “mastered” the form easily and loved writing their haiku. Since nine-year-olds are still eager to please, they vied for my attention to read their haiku. They didn’t have time to read their poems to the class, but I took their poems, typed them, and created a display for the university library. (FYI–The school is situated on the university campus). In May, during the last week of school, the entire class gathered in the library with their teacher, Mrs. Johnson, and a few other parents and had a poetry reading followed by a class picnic at “Unity Pond” on campus.
Many months after I’d intended, I’m sharing their haiku. [Click an image for a closer look]
The lesson and writing took about 30 minutes. They did a great job. Don’t you think?
Even though haiku is a lot more complex than it seems, it is a good form to teach to children. They won’t catch all the subtle nuances of language and imagery, but they get the basics in terms of the traditional structure and themes of haiku. I am looking forward to my next adventure with my son’s class. I don’t know how or when, but I’m sure we’ll have some literary adventures this school year!