Wednesday, September 2, 2009

What Really Matters

Sometimes in this complicated, technological world we need perspective. It is easy to lose the way barraged as we all are with so much noise and too much information. What matters? What counts? The Nova Scotia poet, Alden Nowlan answers this question beautifully. He moves me about as much as any poet these days. He died in the Spring of 1983 but not before he left us the great gift in his poetry. I promise not to push too much of my favorite things off on you—but this poem I couldn’t resist. It is my prayer that it will lift your spirit as it always does mine.

Great Things Have Happened

"We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, ‘Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
In my time.’ But, of course, we were all lying.
The truth is the moon landing didn’t mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once
had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I’m sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.

‘Is that all?’ I hear somebody ask.

Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in
Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you’ve never visited
before, when the bread doesn’t quite taste the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,
except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.”

Quoted from Alden Nowlan, Selected Poems
(Concord, Ontario: Anansi Press, 1996) p.145

1 comment:

  1. Roger, Thanks for sharing this poem. I love it; certainly helps us put life/things in perspective.