Praise the Rain

Praise the Rain

Praise the rain; the seagull dive
The curl of plant, the raven talk—
Praise the hurt, the house slack
The stand of trees, the dignity—
Praise the dark, the moon cradle
The sky fall, the bear sleep—
Praise the mist, the warrior name
The earth eclipse, the fired leap—
Praise the backwards, upward sky
The baby cry, the spirit food—
Praise canoe, the fish rush
The hole for frog, the upside-down—
Praise the day, the cloud cup
The mind flat, forget it all—

Praise crazy. Praise sad.
Praise the path on which we’re led.
Praise the roads on earth and water.
Praise the eater and the eaten.
Praise beginnings; praise the end.
Praise the song and praise the singer.

Praise the rain; it brings more rain.
Praise the rain; it brings more rain.

Joy Harjo, from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2015.

I love this poem by US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. I have been using it for a while now with my medical student writing groups, as a way of beginning to talk about experiences and phenomena which might not appear overtly appealing at first sight. I ask them, can you think of things that you encounter which might seem distasteful? Oh, plenty, they say. Do you think you might be able to find ways of praising them?

I tell them the story of being driven round Suffolk by Michael Laskey and enjoying him insisting ‘We should be going out there and praising everything, Anthony, praising! That’s our job as poets, to praise!’ I say, let’s not start with what Anne Lamott calls the big ticket items, cancer, Alzheimer’s, cot death, incontinence. Start with bad coffee. Start with Monday mornings. Start with rain.

Then I show them this, by the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski.

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Adam Zagajewski, translated by Clare Cavanagh

It’s a test for me, this poem, I say to them. June’s long days and drops of rosé wine, yes. But refugees going nowhere? Executioners singing joyfully? After the summer we have had, that is a bit much. Isn’t it? Is it all part of the same whole, I ask them? Are we to look at everything as an opportunity for praise, for grace, for beauty? And what if we can’t see the world in that way? What if our past history and life experiences have hard-wired us to be just a little suspicious of messages which sound like ‘It’s all going to work out fine’? For many of us, it hasn’t, and didn’t.

Well, you start with the gray feather a thrush lost. You start with the gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns. That concert where the music flared. Can you praise those and hold them in the light, just for one minute? You’ll be surprised with what your imagination shows you.

 

5 Comments

  1. Your posts bring me such joy and I am happy that you have been able to return to sharing poems and your thoughts with us. This post has acted as a lens through which I can examine a personal trouble and see it differently. Instead of the pain of an impossible situation I can see the totality of it and celebrate the whole experience it has given me. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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