I reckon lots of us are currently in need of encouragement to keep on keeping on. This poem, ‘Wait‘ by Galway Kinnell’, does it for me. I only discovered it recently but it’s already installed itself in my Emergency Lanterns anthology. Scroll down the linked page a bit to hear the poet reading it himself, and find the text underneath.
The poem was written for one of the poet’s students who was contemplating suicide. It shares with last week’s poem a quality of tenderness and an awareness of how difficult life can be. It’s simple and heartfelt and (to me anyway) hugely touching. It catches the way grief and despair inhere in everything—’personal events… hair… pain… buds… gloves’—when you are looking from the place of sorrow and hopelessness. Stanza one, particularly, reminds me of the bit in one of the Hitchhiker books when Arthur Dent is injured in a fall and, as he sits up and cautiously prods himself all over, discovers that everything seems to hurt. After some time he realises that it’s the hand he’s prodding with which is injured, not the bits he’s prodding.
You can find the poem in various versions on the interweb, but I went with this one because it includes that lovely image at the end of stanza two: ‘Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,/ most of all to hear,/ the flute of your whole existence’. The ‘flute’ (which is what comes and goes in different versions) expands on the ‘music’ imagery of the preceding lines but develops it so economically and so effortlessly, involving so many ideas: the reminder to see life as a whole, not judge it from one part; the value of hearing and thus bearing witness to yourself; how it is breath which produces both the unmelodious noises and the beautiful music; the fact that each of us is a unique instrument—here for one night only, but each adding something to the collective music of the world. Imagine being that student who received this poem…
I find if I try to follow this second stanza as an argument, I get lost; but if I stop trying to make head sense and simply float on the images I find it meltingly powerful in its simultaneous recognition of the universality of suffering and the value of simply keeping breathing through it knowing that this, too, shall pass.
So I’m encouraged to wait, more hopefully. To trust the hours.