January 16, 2009

Poetry Friday: Unnoticed and Necessary

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite writers of all time. This poem has been passed around and I don't know if it's in one of her books I haven't yet read, but it's one I love.

She wrote another one, Variations on the Word Love which is also quite popular, but it's this one that touches me, somehow. There's such a vulnerability in sleep, and the way the poem draws one and immerses one into deeper and deeper layers reminds me of actually falling asleep, and in that depth, there is a vast intimacy. The final line clinches it for me -- and it also brings up the question of whether or not I really would ever want to be that person -- so necessary and unnoticed -- and selfless enough to be unnoticed.

Could you?

"Variations On The Word 'Sleep'"
I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center. I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

Poetry Friday today is hosted at The Blog With The Shockingly Clever Title. Keep a good thought for Karen today as she battles plumbing gremlins!


Janet said...

There is something lulling about it... Mysterious and very tender.

I wasn't expecting "unnecessary and unnoticed." I was expecting something more like "trusted." But there are times I could want to be that person.

Cloudscome said...

*sigh* what a lovely, tender, sweet poem.

the boat that would row you back"

is my favorite line.

Elaine Magliaro said...


I love this poem, too. After reading your post, I looked for the book of Atwood's poems, SELECTED POEMS II: POEMS SELECTED AND NEW 1976-1986, that I have--and found this poem. It was originally published in NOTES TOWARD A POEM THAT CAN NEVER BE WRITTEN.

I loved Atwood's book THE HANDMAID'S TALE.

Sara said...

Atwood says "I would like" to be that person, NOT I am that person...so right now, she might be noticed but not necessary.

Ow. That hurts just writing that.

This is beautiful, beautiful, but it haunts me.

TadMack said...

Oh, thanks, Elaine -- I hate putting a poem out there without knowing where it came from, but I tend to just jot things in my journal sometimes without attribution except for a name.

liquidambar said...

Love this. What a wonderful choice.

I like the juxtaposition of "unnoticed" and "necessary;" they seem almost contradictory but when you think about it, it makes sense. It's just delightfully unexpected.

There's also something compelling about the "grief at the center."

Fiddler said...

Wow--what awesome images in this poem. I love the line about sleep's "smooth dark wave" as it "slides over my head." Exactly describes what I feel when I'm really tired and finally fall asleep.

Thanks for posting it!

Yat-Yee said...

I would like to be the air that inhabits you for a moment only. Oh...

Mary Lee said...

I would love to know what the Puritan poet of Kelly F.'s love poem this week would make of this...and vice versa.

Michelle said...

What a beautiful poem. I'd not heard of it before.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Whoa. WHOA.

That is altogether new to me. And so .....so haunting, as Sara nailed it.