Monday, October 14, 2013

Tuesday Poem

I have been reading this poem with my Year 13 class, and like it so much that I thought I would post it here. Earlier this year, we read "The Things They Carried", Tim O'Brien's powerful novel about the Vietnam War.

What Were They Like?

1) Did the people of Viet Nam
        use lanterns of stone?
2) Did they hold ceremonies
        to reverence the opening of buds?
3) Were they inclined to quiet laughter?
4) Did they use bone and ivory,
        jade and silver, for ornament?
5) Had they an epic poem?
6) Did they distinguish between speech and singing?

1) Sir, their light hearts turned to stone.
        It is not remembered whether in gardens
        stone lanterns illumined pleasant ways.
2) Perhaps they gatherered once to delight in blossom,
        but after the children were killed
        there were no more buds.
3) Sir, laughter is bitter to the burned mouth.
4) A dream ago, perhaps. Ornament is for joy.
        All the bones were charred.
5) It is not remembered. Remember,
        most were peasants; their life
        was in rice and bamboo.
        When peaceful clouds were reflected in the paddies
        and the water buffalo stepped surely along terraces,
        maybe fathers told their sons old tales.
        When bombs smashed those mirrors
        there was time only to scream.
6) There is an echo yet
        of their speech which was like a song.
        It was reported their singing resembled
        the flight of moths in moonlight.
        Who can say? It is silent now.

Denise Levertov


 Images: here and here


  1. Replies
    1. Umm. No.
      These parallels were part of many of the discussions we had earlier in the year. My class of lovely, intelligent, thoughtful 18-yr olds had some very interesting comments to make. (The group includes one US citizen).

  2. Beautiful - and heartbreakingly true. Thank you. And I love the description of your class - perhaps there is hope for the future. I would love to think that some day we will not feel compelled to keep making the same violent mistakes.

    1. Thank you, EC. My students constantly affirm for me that there IS hope for the future. I don't often get to teach the younger ones, but it is so good to watch them grow during their 3 senior years.
      Isn't this a great poem? and "heartbreakingly true" is a perfect description for it.

      Have a lovely Wednesday :0

  3. A most beautiful poem indeed with such lovely images woven between the pain and struggle of it all. Such another unfortunate time in the life of so many still struggling with it all. I know it's so important to teach the young and future generation hopefully for a better future. Learn from our errors and learn for all people to come together peacefully. Oddly enough we in America just celebrated mostly on the calendar and with no mail service Federal Holiday of Columbus Day and yet so many young folks have no idea what the holiday is for! So sad.

    1. It's a lovely piece of writing, isn't it? But you're right - there is so much pain in it. One of the assessments in this course is for a Visual Essay, and my beautiful blonde Texan girl has produced the most stunning piece of work around The Things They Carried which would break your heart.



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