Meaning and Life
There are hours, black, troublesome hours,
when the urgency of being a man
eludes the grasp of my attendant soul,
hours darkened by moonless nights
and uneasiness and bitter wine,
hours when being human in a world
where one moment follows another
in strict accordance with what is past
and what is still to come weighs me down
and makes me long for an anatomy
not fed by blood or held together by sinew and bone.
Is it enough to be someone, anyone, to be hurried,
half awake through the ups and downs of a life veiled
with meals of fish and bread and tea, with noisy rooms,
with misplaced books, with maps and haircuts and love;
to be, anxious, always haunted by the fear
that somehow we have missed the life we deserve?
If you ask me to tell you what it all means,
I might say that the gods drop messages
in the pockets of your coats hanging
forgotten in the back of your closet,
I might tell you how in my youth
when the summer became a shadow
suspended between the cloth of the evening
and the night air, I stopped along a road
near my house and asked: is this enough?
I read books of the dead deep into the night.
Who are these ghosts that hover in the light
just out of my reach, who speak of the influence
of archers and arrows, of twins and scorpions,
who talk of sailors, of drums and temples,
of distant lands where the air is pungent with spice
and the nights are hot and passionate and joyous,
of lost gold, or of men downed far from their homes?
Who are these ghosts who came before us and believed
that we would care about what they thought,
what they felt, and who they loved,
who found meaning and symbols for their spirits
in the quiet depths of ancient blue seas,
in the bright constancy of the dog star,
and in a storm moving away from them at dusk?
Who were these men who wore lockets
around their necks that contained nothing more
than a lover’s lock of hair or the bone of a saint?
Who are these ghosts who have survived
the shipwreck of being born and braved
stormy seas to find beautiful, barbarous islands.
Who are these men who thought enough of us
to set down more than the vanities of their day,
more than a chorus of chosen voices
praising the compensations of this short life?
How is it you still believe in the childhood
that is past, and in a hope that is childish,
how is it you still believe in the joy of being loved
but not in the labor of love given with joy?
Forget the self you took so much trouble over;
it will not last, it is not who you are.
Let your emptiness fall about you;
it is nothing, the wind will blow it away.
In you there is something else, something solid,
something definite rising up to meet you
when you need it most, when meaning is lost
and the life you depended on is uncertain.
When the darkness comes the spaces open up.
When loss and anxiety and restlessness
overtake you, look around you and take heart.
Look how the light at dusk is uncertain,
like a new lover, look how the stars appear,
one by one, illuminating the heavens.
What you wanted is so much smaller
than what you are equal to. Lift up your arms,
this night is the shadow of all creation.