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Try as Hard as You Can Every Moment You're Given

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I got three books of poetry for my birthday this year, so I decided to share a poem from each one of them to help me get started blogging again. This poem is from a book my son gave me called The Poets Laureate Anthology, which was developed in association with the Library of Congress. My son works at the Library of Congress, and he knows I love poetry, so it was a good choice. In days to come I will pick a poem from each of the books my sister gave me.

I opened my new book at random and found the following poem by Rita Dove, who was Poet Laureate from 1993 to 1995. There is a lot of good stuff in this poem. I love the line: Don’t let a little pain stop you; try as hard as you can every minute you’re given or else sit down and shut up. I also like the idea of measuring a life in deeds.

See what you think.

This Life

My grandmother told me there’d be good days
to counter the dark ones,
with blue skies in the heart as far
as the soul could see. She said
you could measure a life in as many ways
as there were to bake a pound cake,
but you still needed real butter and eggs
for a good one—pound cake, that is,
but I knew what she meant. She was always
talking around corners like that;
she knew words carried their treasures
like a grape cluster around its own juice.
She loved words; she thought a book
was a monument to the glory of creation
and a library…well, sometimes
just trying to describe Jubilation
will get you a bit tongue, so let’s
leave it at that. But my grandmother
was nobody’s fool, and she’d tell anybody
smart enough to listen. Don’t let a little pain
stop you; try as hard as you can
every minute you’re given or else
sit down and shut up—though in her opinion,
keeping quiet in noisy times was a sin
against everything God and democracy
intended us for. I know she’d like
where I’m standing right now. She’d say
a man who could measure his life in deeds
was larger inside than the vessel that carried him;
she’d say he was a cluster of grapes.
My grandmother was only four feet ten
but when she entered a room, even the books
came to attention. Giants come in all sizes:
Sometimes a moment is a monument;
sometimes an institution breathes—
like a library. Like this halcyon day.

Rita Dove

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