Poem, concret, sobre la peste

English original, then versions en Français y en Español.

Matter of fact plague poem

Alpine lake (from AF photo) plus Yve, watercolor-drawing by William Eaton, 2020I feel for the sick and the dying, for the families of the dead
Feel for the homeless, for the jailed and the people waiting in nursing homes
Feel for all the hospital workers, and the people providing food
For the 1 in 5 children who, the Times says, are not getting enough to eat
The millions of unemployed, and the millions more overworked or working without inadequate protection from disease

And I do not want the stores to reopen or the traffic to come back
(As it already is; the noise and pollution in its wake)
I, oh this little I, can live without restaurants and cafés
(Or what, before the pandemic, was left of café life: people talking loudly into phones)
I think I can even live without being able to travel, limited to my apartment and neighborhood
(Though this would be more of a challenge)

We have had more than enough of consumer capitalism
(And the environment seems to share in this opinion)
We can imagine that absent something like consumer capitalism
The Earth cannot support 7.8 billion human beings
And, though death comes with life, we do not wish for people to die
And certainly not of plague or starvation

We understand, too, that what this or that I wants or feels matters little
(Or not at all, outside our own hearts and living quarters)
And “we” means you, too, you billionaires and high-ranking officials
(And however much larger your homes may be – and hearts not necessarily smaller)
We’re all being driven and channeled by forces much larger than any of us
(And this no matter whether we want there to be a God or gods, or not)
The demands of capital, the demands of capital, the demands of capital
(With which we comply and usually quite unawares)

I feel for the sick and the dying, for the families of the dead
Feel for the homeless, for the jailed and the people waiting in nursing homes
Feel for all the hospital workers, and the people providing food
For the 1 in 5 children who, the Times says, are not getting enough to eat
The millions of unemployed, and the millions more overworked or working without inadequate protection from disease

Français

Poème, concret, sur la peste

J’imagine la douleur des malades et des mourants, des familles des morts
Imagine la douleur des sans-abri, des détenus et des personnes en attente dans les maisons de retraite
Imagine les difficultés de tous les travailleurs de l’hôpital et des gens qui fournissent la nourriture
Imagine la vie de tous les nombreux enfants, dans le monde entier, qui n’ont pas assez à manger
Les millions de chômeurs et les millions d’autres personnes surchargées de travail ou qui travaillent sans protection adéquate contre les maladies

Et je ne veux pas que les magasins rouvrent ou que le trafic revienne
(Comme c’est déjà le cas, et le bruit et la pollution viennent dans son sillage)
Moi, oh ce petit moi, saurais vivre sans restaurants et cafés
(Ou ce qui, avant la pandémie, restait de la vie des cafés : les gens avec leur téléphone)
Je pense que je peux même vivre sans pouvoir voyager, limité à mon appart et à mon quartier
(Bien que cela serait un plus grand défi)

Nous en avons plus qu’assez du capitalisme de consommation
(Et l’environnement semble partager cet avis)
On peut imaginer que sans quelque chose comme le capitalisme de consommation
La Terre ne peut pas supporter 7,8 milliards d’êtres humains
Et, bien que la mort vienne avec la vie, nous ne souhaitons pas que les gens meurent
Et certainement pas de la peste ou de la famine

Nous comprenons aussi que ce qu’un je ou un autre veux ou ressens n’a qu’une faible d’importance
(Ou pas d’importance du tout, en dehors de nos propres cœurs et de nos chez nous)
Et ce « nous », c’est vous aussi, milliardaires et hauts fonctionnaires
(Et même si vos maisons sont plus grandes – et vos cœurs pas nécessairement plus petits)
Nous sommes tous dirigés et canalisés par des forces bien plus grandes que nous
(Et cela, que nous voulions ou non qu’il y ait un Dieu ou des dieux)
Les exigences du capital, les exigences du capital, les exigences du capital
(Auxquelles nous nous conformons et généralement sans nous rendre compte de ce que nous faisons)

J’imagine la douleur des malades et des mourants, des familles des morts
Imagine la douleur des sans-abri, des détenus et des personnes en attente dans les maisons de retraite
Imagine les difficultés de tous les travailleurs de l’hôpital et des gens qui fournissent la nourriture
Imagine la vie de tous les nombreux enfants, dans le monde entier, qui n’ont pas assez à manger
Les millions de chômeurs et les millions d’autres personnes surchargées de travail ou qui travaillent sans protection adéquate contre les maladies

Español

Poema, concreto, sobre la peste

Puedo sentir por los enfermos y los moribundos, por las familias de los muertos
Sentir por los sin techo, por los encarcelados y la gente que espera en los asilos
Sentir por todos los trabajadores del hospital, y las personas que proporcionan alimentos
Para los muchos niños, en todo el mundo, que no tienen suficiente comida
Los millones de desempleados, y los millones más que trabajan en exceso o sin la protección adecuada contra las enfermedades

Y no quiero que las tiendas vuelvan a abrir o que el tráfico regrese
(Como ya lo es; el ruido y la contaminación en su estela)
Yo, oh este pequeño yo, puedo vivir sin restaurantes y cafés
(O lo que, antes de la pandemia, quedaba de la vida en los cafés: gente con sus teléfonos)
Creo que incluso puedo vivir sin poder viajar, limitado a mi apartamento y mi vecindario
(Aunque esto sería más bien un desafío)

Ya hemos tenido más que suficiente de capitalismo consumista
(Y el medio ambiente parece compartir esta opinión)
Podemos imaginar que en ausencia de algo como el capitalismo consumista
La Tierra no puede soportar 7.800 millones de seres humanos
Y, aunque la muerte viene con la vida, no deseamos que la gente muera
Y ciertamente no de la peste o la hambruna

También entendemos que lo que esto o ese yo quiero o siento importa poco
(O no importa en absoluto, fuera de nuestros propios corazones y viviendas)
Y “nosotros” se refiere a ustedes, también, multimillonarios y oficiales de alto rango
(Y por mucho más grandes que sean sus casas – y sus corazones no necesariamente más pequeños)
Todos estamos siendo conducidos y canalizados por fuerzas mucho más grandes que cualquiera de nosotros
(Y esto no importa si queremos que haya un Dios o dioses, o no)
Las demandas del capital, las demandas del capital, las demandas del capital
(Con el cual cumplimos y normalmente sin darnos cuenta de lo que estamos haciendo)

Puedo sentir por los enfermos y los moribundos, por las familias de los muertos
Sentir por los sin techo, por los encarcelados y la gente que espera en los asilos.
Sentir por todos los trabajadores del hospital, y las personas que proporcionan alimentos
Para los muchos niños, en todo el mundo, que no tienen suficiente comida
Los millones de desempleados, y los millones más que trabajan en exceso o sin la protección adecuada contra las enfermedades

— Poem(s) and drawing-painting by William Eaton

∩ Oddly enough, one of the inspirations for this poem was a discussion of the alternation of pronouns and of “subject-position” in Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. This by Helen Vendler in her Poems, Poets, Poetry (Bedford Books, 1997). This book also includes Allen Ginsberg’s wonderful Sunflower Sutra, which must have been wandering happily in the back of my mind somewhere.

I might also here note any number of news stories about how the pandemic has been “good for the environment,” as the saying goes. E.g. the photo above of an unlucky sturgeon actually coming into New York harbor or these two news stories:

Other matter of fact poems posted on Montaigbakhtinian—

from Four Views of Tintern Abbey by Frederick Calbert (1815)I note that “matter of fact poetry” may be more common than we, or I, realize. Alejandra Canela, a young Mexican poet, has introduced me to the term poesía ensayista: essayistic poetry.

Recently I was reading outloud Wordsworth’s Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, and the first sentence of the second stanza sounded rather “matter of fact” (in my own reading and discounting the “poetic” rhetoric). To press my point I here offer this sentence in prose format:

These beauteous forms [of the banks of the River Wye], through a long absence, have not been to me as is a landscape to a blind man’s eye: but oft, in lonely rooms, and ’mid the din of towns and cities, I have owed to them, in hours of weariness, sensations sweet, felt in the blood, and felt along the heart; and passing even into my purer mind with tranquil restoration:—feelings too of unremembered pleasure: such, perhaps, as have no slight or trivial influence on that best portion of a good man’s life, his little, nameless, unremembered, acts of kindness and of love.

Or there are the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, “Burnt Norton” (again presented here in a prose format, with some commas added, in order to make a point):

Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present, all time is unredeemable. What might have been is an abstraction remaining a perpetual possibility only in a world of speculation. What might have been and what has been point to one end, which is always present.

The image above right, for which I thank the British Library, is from Four Views of Tintern Abbey by Frederick Calbert (1815).

Finally, I note this New York Times story (which appeared a few days after this poem was first published): Beating a pandemic slump shouldn’t mean sacrificing the planet, European leaders warn. From the story:

With the global paralysis induced by the coronavirus, levels of pollution and carbon emission are dropping — leaving bluer skies, visible mountains, splendid wildflowers. Even Venice’s famously murky canals are running clear.

But nature’s revival has come at enormous cost, with Europe’s economy projected to decline 7.4 percent this year. . . .

The European Union began the year promoting a plan for a rapid transformation of the economy toward a carbon-neutral future — “the Green Deal” — which Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the bloc’s executive arm, has declared should be “the motor for the recovery.” She has important support from President Emmanuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.

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