The Friday Poem ‘What Kind of Times Are These’ by Adrienne Rich

It has been a week. Another week. A week that began with NFL players joining Colin Kaepernick‘s protest@work. If you are confused by the fog of publicity over the past week, let Charles Blow clarify the issue for you.

“…patriotism is particularly fraught for black people in this country because the history of the country’s treatment of them is fraught. It’s not that black people aren’t patriotic; it’s just that patriotism can be a paradox.”

“We have to accept that different Americans see pride and principle differently, but that makes none of them less American.”

The Friday Poem this week, ‘What Kind of Times Are These’ was written in 1995 by poet and activist, Adrienne Rich. It was one poem in a collection described by her publisher:

“Her explorations go to the heart of democracy and love, and the historical and present endangerment of both.”

“This parable-like poem raises difficult questions about the nature and dangers of leadership and the complicity of ordinary citizens in their government’s uses (and abuses) of power.”

It just seemed the right choice for this week@work. “our country moving closer to its own truth and dread..”

What Kind of Times Are These

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

 

Adrienne Rich
‘Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995’ (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1995)

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Listen to the poet read ‘What Kind of Times Are These’

 

The Friday Poem ‘To The Indifferent Women’ by Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman

On the eve of the ‘Women’s March’, the Friday Poem reprises ‘To The Indifferent Women’ by Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman. I originally posted the poem in July after the first woman in U.S. history accepted her party’s nomination for president.

Sometimes things don’t work out as planned.

Tomorrow, in Washington D.C. and cities around the country, women will join together in a nation that could not ratify an equal rights amendment, or elect the first woman president, and remind those elected that women’s rights are human rights.

“In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”

There is something going on here, as there was in 1911 when Ms. Perkins was writing for the cause of women’s rights.

One of the more stunning stories, in advance of the D.C. march, appears in today’s NY Times and profiles an unlikely activist contingent – ‘From Wall Street to National Mall: Women Overcome Fears to Attend March’.

“They are professionals in trading, public relations, marketing, deal-making, investing and the law. They keep punishing schedules, fear losing business by offending their clients and often feel that in an industry still overwhelmingly populated by men, the less attention drawn to their sex, the better.

But the inauguration of Mr. Trump has prompted a striking number of Wall Street women to overcome their worries about demonstrating in public.”

For those who will march and be questioned why, and for those still without weekend plans – a beautiful question from 1911.

“Do you believe the sorrow of the world
Does not concern you in your little homes?”

To The Indifferent Women

A Sestina

You who are happy in a thousand homes,
Or overworked therein, to a dumb peace;
Whose souls are wholly centered in the life
Of that small group you personally love;
Who told you that you need not know or care
About the sin and sorrow of the world?

Do you believe the sorrow of the world
Does not concern you in your little homes? —
That you are licensed to avoid the care
And toil for human progress, human peace,
And the enlargement of our power of love
Until it covers every field of life?

The one first duty of all human life
Is to promote the progress of the world
In righteousness, in wisdom, truth and love;
And you ignore it, hidden in your homes,
Content to keep them in uncertain peace,
Content to leave all else without your care.

Yet you are mothers! And a mother’s care
Is the first step toward friendly human life.
Life where all nations in untroubled peace
Unite to raise the standard of the world
And make the happiness we seek in homes
Spread everywhere in strong and fruitful love.

You are content to keep that mighty love
In its first steps forever; the crude care
Of animals for mate and young and homes,
Instead of pouring it abroad in life,
Its mighty current feeding all the world
Till every human child can grow in peace.

You cannot keep your small domestic peace
Your little pool of undeveloped love,
While the neglected, starved, unmothered world
Struggles and fights for lack of mother’s care,
And its tempestuous, bitter, broken life
Beats in upon you in your selfish homes.

We all may have our homes in joy and peace
When woman’s life, in its rich power of love
Is joined with man’s to care for all the world.

Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman ‘Suffrage Songs and Voices’ 1911

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Photo credit: Screen shot from Women’s March LA website