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To My Son

ISSUE:  Summer 1942

NOW the blackout of frontiers Between home and gehenna Kills the light in the eyes That would speak to you, throttles The word in the throat, estranges Us from ourselves. Our soiled pledges Have become a bundle of lies for the ragpicker’s sorting When the bombers are still, and the bottles broken.

How shall we talk

To you who must learn the language

Spelled on the fields in famine, in blood on the sidewalk?

Child (can I say?)

When the night roars, remember

The songs we sang, lapped in the warmth and bright

Of the nursery:

Malbrough s’en va t’en guerre

Ne salt quand reviendra.

Farewell and good-bye to you, Spanish ladies,

Farewell and good-bye to you, ladies of Spain.

Memory stifles thought.

The lamp makes a stain on the floor.

Youth is the time to dance. No more:

We have lost your music.

The iron that rings the brain, The leaden weight in the hollow Breast where the heart should beat, Remain.

I cannot hide you now,

Or shelter you ever,

Or give you a guide through hell.

You are ignorant, you are unarmed, and behind your

Scornful smile I see you are deeply afraid.

History threatens you at each street-corner,

The seas are sewed up, and the colors fade

On every map you studied early and well.

The driven exile discovers

Midway in an obscure wood

What does not bloom for the fool:

The flower whose root is despair.

You, in an obscure room in a masterless school,

Must find the faith that cements

The promises public events and private blunders left broken. Are you alone?

This I would tell you, this I would have you remember, Who felt your heartbeat, boy, before you had breath to cry with.

This is the tragic matrix of all joy.

You must wrestle alone

In the naked night, like the Jew

Compelling the unkind angel.

If you fight in the dark

With your self till you force a confronting,

You will be blessed in the morning.

You will be blessed recalling The question you asked as a child: How can I change myself When I have nothing to change
My self with? Then I smiled,

And told you: your will.

Now I know it is love

Of the impossible

That shapes the dove and the lion,

I tell you it is love

Of the impossible

That brings the soul to its own.

Though I can hardly reach you and never prove

What the event will teach you,

I, who am helpless to move

You from the road you choose,

Or alter the face you will meet there,

Leave you these words with my love.


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