Poem for the Day: October 2nd, 2021

Song by Muriel Rukeyser

Make and be eaten, the poet says,
Lie in the arms of nightlong fire,
To celebrate the waking, wake.
Burn in the daylong light; and praise
Even the mother unappeased,
Even the fathers of desire.

Blind go the days, but joy will see
Agreements of music; they will wind
The shaking of your dance; no more
Will the ambiguous arm-waves spell
Confusion of the blessing given.

Only and finally declare
Among the purest shapes of grace
The waking of the face of fire,
The body of waking and the skill
To make your body such a shape
That all the eyes of hope shall stare.

That all the cries of fear shall know,
Staring in their bird-pierced song;
Lines of such penetration make
That shall bind our loves at last.
Then from the mountains of the lost,
All the fantasies shall wake,
Strong and real and speaking turn
Wherever flickers your unreal.

And my strong ghosts shall fade and pass
My love start fiery as grass
Wherever burn my fantasies,
Wherever burn my fantasies.

April 1955

Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980) paved the way for and mentored many of the twentieth-century’s greatest writers, among them Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich, and Anne Sexton, just to name a few. It is indeed a shame then that her own name has all but faded into obscurity, known only by a handful of milquetoast academics and the odd literature student lucky enough to come across her verse.

In both works, we see the personal melding with the political, illuminating the human costs of state-sponsored violence.

In addition to her poetry, Rukeyser was also a noted playwright, biographer, children’s book author, and liberal political activist. One can of a surety draw a direct line between Rukeyser’s poetics of resistance and anti-war sentiment in Theory of Flight (1935) all the way to Solmaz Sharif’s Look: Poems, which was composed using language found in a Defense Department dictionary. In both works, we see the personal melding with the political, illuminating the human costs of state-sponsored violence. In both works, lived experiences make the authors both participants and viewers in conflict(s) both interpersonal and global in scale.

For Further Reading

The Paris Review: Muriel Rukeyser, Mother of Everyone by Sam Huber (May 30th, 2018)

Muriel Rukeyser: A Living Archive (website)

Kenyon Review: On The Book of the Dead by Muriel Rukeyser by J.L. Wall

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