Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
— Jane Kenyon, from "Let Evening Come"
Grief, then acceptance of grief.
I'm in my early 70s. A half-century from now, will "Newtown" evoke for those now older than 6 the same sharp grief that "Dallas" still evokes in my generation?
I'm certain it will.
On Nov. 22, 1963, in the waning of the old year, the unfolding news of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's assassination came to the nation at first as garbled, uncertain. Then it came in a growing flood of ever more horrendous details.
The media assault has increased a hundredfold since then.
Going back and forth between our televisions and computers, on Dec. 14, 2012, I watched helplessly as the number of the dead — the children! — mounted. My only grandson was 1-year-old. I couldn't stop his face and my children's childhood faces from being transposed onto the faces of the children of Newtown.
A year after Newtown we say "Newtown" in the same way we said "Dallas" then.
And similarities continue: the shock of the unexpected, the helpless anger and wish for revenge, the similar merciless, senseless imposition of an evil act of calculated will upon the fabric of an ordinary day. Confronted with the irrational, given no immediate enemy to blame, once again we cast about.
What can I do?
The world has changed. Who am I now?
After great pain a formal feeling comes —
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs
— Emily Dickinson, from "After Great Pain …"
In 1963, guided by Jackie Kennedy with her understanding of symbolism, we were allowed to share, publicly, the Kennedys' personal grief.
In Newtown, it has been the same. The world has been invited in — paper snowflakes from Japan, all those stuffed toy animals. Newtown's fathers and mothers and other grief-stricken relatives and friends have been the bereaved standing at the door. The neighbor, wanting and needing to do something, brings the casserole. In bringing themselves to recognize the need of the public, the bereaved are somehow brought out of themselves.
… do you think you can shut grief in?
What — from us? We who have perhaps
nothing to lose? Share with us
share with us …
— William Carlos Williams, from "Tract"
In 1963, the slogan from President Kennedy's Inauguration speech was everywhere — "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." Nationally, the Kennedy legacy, in many ways fulfilled by President Lyndon Johnson, led to great gains in civil rights and much other legislation.
After Newtown, Connecticut lobbying groups and legislators have already shown our country the way to enact gun control and mental health legislation.
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied.
Who told me time would ease me of my pain.
— Edna St. Vincent Millet, from "Time Does Not ...."
What is most stark is the reminder that day by day we can blunt grief, dull it, so fill our time that grief stays in the shadows. But the hard truth is that something this sharp, this vivid has, yes, taken on a life of its own.
Fifty years from Dallas, when I force myself to stare at the abyss, at the shattered head of Jack Kennedy in his wife's hands, and I wander those subsequent days of national mourning, the tears still come.
And now, this week, the faces of the Newtown children are before us all. We cannot turn away from them.
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
— W.H. Auden, from "Funeral Blues"
We shall let our religions comfort us. Many shall find hope believing in an afterlife. We shall learn to exist with personal and state (in Connecticut we are all nearby) and national and international grief.
Yet a great purpose of life and breath is for each one of us personally to confront the suffering of others and ourselves. No one gets out of here alive.
In the waning of each year, after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, in the richness of our empathy, down all the decades to come, we shall cry for Newtown.
Dick Allen is the Connecticut State Poet Laureate. His ninth poetry collection, "This Shadowy Place," won the national 2013 New Criterion Poetry Prize and will be published by St. Augustine's Press in early 2014.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun