Plucking words in times of need

Early in his speech in Boston on Thursday, President Barack Obama summoned up a piece of poem.

"It was a beautiful day to be in Boston," he told the congregation in the cathedral, remembering Monday, before the bombs went off.

"A day," Obama went on, "that explains why a poet once wrote that this town is not just a capital, not just a place. Boston, he said, is the perfect state of grace."

The poet's line about the state of grace turned into a theme of the president's speech.

Difficult moments often prompt people to reach for poems or lines of poems the way you might pop a painkiller. A poetic turn of phrase can be a sedative or a pick-me-up, a consolation or an inspiration.

On Thursday morning, I opened my daily poetry email from the Library of Congress to find a poem from the Polish Nobel laureate Wislawa Szymborska. The poem, "The End and the Beginning," seemed chosen specifically to speak to the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings:

After every war

someone has to clean up.

Things won't

straighten themselves up, after all.

Someone has to push the rubble

to the side of the road,

so the corpse-filled wagons

can pass.

If you'd read that poem last week, it may have summoned images of Iraq or Afghanistan or Hiroshima. Read it this week, and it's hard not to think of Gatorade cups and bomb debris littering a street in Boston.

Szymborska's poem is about the way people get back to business after violence rips their ordinary world, about how the passage of time erases memories and restores hope.

Her poem brought to mind another poem, "Wait," by the American poet Galway Kinnell.

Wait, for now.

Distrust everything if you have to.

But trust the hours. Haven't they





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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