November 30, 2007

Poetry Friday: Shades of Gray

Youth and age. Big and Small. Black and White. Heavy and Light. The opposing ends of any given spectrum become obvious to us early on, as the difference between on and off, yes and no, stop and go are introduced to us before preschool.

It's less easy to understand when we encounter shades of gray, things that don't belong so sharply divided. It's having my eyes opened to degrees of right and wrong that so made the fiction of Chris Crutcher so impactive for me. And so my poems today are from both edges of the spectrum in multiple ways. The first poem I memorized in high school (and I don't think I entirely understood it at the time), the other I first discovered scrawled on a white board in a classroom, and it's struck me with such thoughtfulness that I wrote it for years on other white boards in empty classrooms, hoping that it encouraged someone else to think as I had.

The Veteran

When I was young and bold and strong,
Oh, right was right, and wrong was wrong!
My plume on high, my flag unfurled,
I rode away to right the world.
"Come out, you dogs, and fight!" said I,
And wept there was but once to die.

But I am old; and good and bad
Are woven in a crazy plaid.
I sit and say, "The world is so;
And he is wise who lets it go.
A battle lost, a battle won-
The difference is small, my son."

Inertia rides and riddles me;
The which is called Philosophy.

- Dorothy Parker

In Men Whom Men Condemn As Ill

In men whom men condemn as ill,
I find so much of goodness still.
In men whom men pronounce divine
I see so much of sin and blot
I hesitate to draw a line
Between the two
Where God has not.

- Joaquin Miller, 1837-1913

It's all a matter of balance and perspective, isn't it? In life as in art: balance and perspective...

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Two Writing Teachers. Enjoy your weekend.


Liz Garton Scanlon said...

Oh, I really love these both so much. Good and bad woven in a crazy plaid... Sometimes I yearn for the days when things felt more black and white than they do now...

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

I like these too. It bothers me when people act as if all of evil is embodied in one person or one group of people.

Andromeda Jazmon said...

I am discovering that one of the great things about getting up to a "certain age" is you start to grow some sense. Grey can be good!

jama said...

Thanks for these. I'll be reflecting on them today. I love that you wrote the second poem on other white boards.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

Really nice combo of poems. I agree with cloudscome - it's a good thing to attain some perspective on things and realize nothing is so black-and-white.

Also, the photo is brilliant.


sheila said...

I love love love that photo! SUCH a good choice.

cheers / sheila

Sara said...

Ditto on the photo. You must really search and search for the perfect one.

Why does it not surprise me that you're a stealth poetry spreader?

Elaine Magliaro said...

Great Poetry Friday selections!

I'm with Cloudscome. I have even gone past that "certain age." One does gain a different perspective through age and experience. I think some of us don't give up battling. I learned over the years which issues were important enough to confront and which issues to ignore.

John Mutford said...

I'm not usually into advice poems (for lack of a better term), but your delivery helped me like them: the great photo, the whiteboard anecdote, and the theme especially.

Vivian Mahoney said...

"A battle lost, a battle won-
the difference is small, my son."


I love the second poem.

You must have a huge collection of poetry you've saved over the years. Very cool.

Anonymous said...

I love the crazy plaid part, too - it's so wonderful. Excellent theme-based post, TadMack!