Of The Empire by Mary Oliver
We will be known as a culture that feared death
and adored power, that tried to vanquish insecurity
for the few and cared little for the penury of the
many. We will be known as a culture that taught
and rewarded the amassing of things, that spoke
little if at all about the quality of life for
people (other people), for dogs, for rivers. All
the world, in our eyes, they will say, was a
commodity. And they will say that this structure
was held together politically, which it was, and
they will say also that our politics was no more
than an apparatus to accommodate the feelings of
the heart, and that the heart, in those days,
was small, and hard, and full of meanness.
© 2008 Mary Oliver. From Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press in 2008.
No one saw the world as clearly as did Mary Oliver, and no one loved it as fiercely as she did. She would hate what we’re continuing to do to our planet and to each other. What is wrong with a world in which people care more about lining their pockets with more money than they’ll ever need than they do about their fellow humans who are poor and hungry? What beats strangely in our hearts, that makes them so small, and hard, and full of meanness?
I won’t pretend to know the answers to these questions. I think blind optimism is worse than cruel indifference. It sustains objections to the worst forms of suffering with a simpleton’s simper and the decontextualized murmurings of a seasoned gaslighter. We are not without hope, but that hope must be doused with passion, and seasoned with care.
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