May 9, 2002

Promises of Leniency and Forgiveness

by Charles Simic

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Promises of Leniency and Forgiveness," by Charles Simic from Unending Blues (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich).

Promises of Leniency and Forgivenss

Orphanage in the rain,
Empty opera house with its lights dimmed,
Thieves' market closed for the day,
O evening sky with your cloudy tableaus!

Incurable romantics marrying eternal grumblers.
Life haunted by its more beautiful sister-life-
Always, always…we had nothing
But the way with words. Someone rising to

After a funeral, or in the naked arms of a woman
Who has her head averted because she's crying,
And doesn't know why. Some hairline fracture of
the soul
Because of these razor-backed hills, bare trees and

Sea-blackened rocks inscrutable as card
One spoke then of the structure of the inquirer
Of blues in my bread, of great works and little
Above the clouds the firm No went on pacing.

The woman had a tiny smile and an open
Since now it had started to rain in a whisper,
The kind of rain that must have whispered in
some other life
Of which we know nothing anymore except

That someone kept watching it come down softly,
Already soot-colored to make them think of
Serious children at play, and of balls of lint in a
dark dark corner
Like wigs, fright wigs for the infinite.

It's the birthday of J[ames] M[ichael] Barrie, born in Kirrimuir, Scotland (1860). Barrie wrote many other books, but remains best-known for his creation Peter Pan. When Peter Pan was first staged in 1904, Peter Pan told the Darling children that if they truly believed they could fly, they would be able to fly. Parents began to contact Barrie to tell him that their children had been injured when they'd tried to jump out of trees and off the roofs of buildings. Immediately Barrie changed the script to say that children could fly only if they had been sprinkled first with "fairy dust."

It's the birthday of Jose Ortega y Gasset, born in Madrid (1883). His politics were leftist-he went into exile during the Spanish Civil War-but his cultural leanings were conservative. In The Revolt of the Masses (1930) he warned that the ordinary, badly-educated people of any democracy would forget that civilization was not a natural state of affairs, and would destroy it in their search for pleasure.

It's the birthday of Mona Van Duyn born in Waterloo, Iowa (1921). In 1990 her collection Near Changes won the Pulitzer Prize.

It's the birthday of Charles Simic, born in Belgrade, in the former Yugoslavia (1938). He's published more than sixty books of poetry here and in Europe, and won the Pulitzer Prize for The World Doesn't End (1992), a book of prose poems. He says listening to the blues was a major influence on him, and said that he understood the music when he heard it because it was in a minor key. "Music in the Balkans is in a minor key. My father was not a person given to prejudice. He was not a person who would say, 'I don't like Norwegians.' But he did make one distinction. He divided the world into people who could hear the minor key and people who could not. That was the real objection he had against Germans. Not so much that they came and bombed us, but the fact that they couldn't appreciate the wonderful Macedonian songs and all the Muslim songs which were in the minor key."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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