One of our brilliant Segullah editors shared a poem with our staff recently that had us all grieving for the sorrow of the world, but also brought out our collective fierce resolve to “risk delight” in the face of such sorrow.  Here is Brittney’s story and the poem. 

Today, a woman I love very much is dying. I wish you could know her. Truly, she has the most beautiful soul. This evening, I walked the streets of my small, northern town and could barely breathe for grief.  I know you know the feeling. Yesterday, one of you (us) buried a child; kissed a marriage goodbye; wept before sunrise; wept through the night, lost the house; lost a job; lost the way.  If not one of us, then someone we know. There are never six degrees of separation in sorrow.  Truth: the lone and dreary world can be downright lone and dreary sometimes, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not gonna lie, I’ve cried. And cried. And cried.  I’ll cry some more before it’s all done. Dripping mascara, puffy face. Sometimes this is what it means to say, “I love you.” I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Because I do love her, and because we both love words, I’ve taken to sending her poems. I don’t write poems (the very thought of it scares me stiff), but I’m profoundly thankful that there are those who do, who can articulate the landscape of the heart. A few nights ago, I came upon a poem I’d never read before. “Sorrow everywhere,” its first line reads, so of course I read it. I read it again and again and again. Risking the maudlin, I am tempted to say that it changed me somehow, like, forever. I’ll say simply that I sent it, that in the morning there was this response: This one made me well up. Well up: such a sensation, such fullness, and then beautiful tears.

Truth: I am often moved by language. Studying chemistry last week, I nearly cried at a description of polar covalent bonding. A very simple concept, but the language was so lovely, I tell you. It really was. And so I’m not ashamed to say that the poem filled me too, and like my friend, I shed tears. The language, of course, has perfect pitch. But it’s the truth of it that is the poem’s heart.  Sorrow, yes, everywhere.  And yet, in spite of it, no, perhaps because of it: also joy.

I’m not saying a poem will heal what hurts. It doesn’t make cancer less cruel or the heartwreck of divorce less savage. Goodness, that’s what time’s for, time and the timeless atonement of Jesus Christ. But give this a read, and tell me what you think. Tell me that last image—the stillness of water, the sound of oars (that small, insistent hope)—doesn’t make you well up in a good way. Tell me it doesn’t make you cry.
Tell me, too, what other lines (or whole other poems) you love.


A Brief for the Defense

by Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.


  1. Sue M

    April 28, 2012


  2. annegb

    April 28, 2012

    Wow. I am going to find out more about that guy. I’m sorry about your friend; as I age, I lose more and more of the people I love.

    I love some poetry, but I don’t “get” poetry. I came late to the poetry table.

    But Walt Whitman wrote “And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.” I’m having a friend read it at my funeral. If she doesn’t go before me.

    I wonder how he knew that.

  3. Kerri

    April 28, 2012

    Weeping here…not sweet and pretty tears, but chest-wracking sobs with water running down my face. Truth sometimes hits me like this. Choosing delight in pain…I was listening to Mozart’s Requiem last night thinking that some of my most profoundly terrible and beautiful moments came after the death of my brother, when I’d hear a song and remember, put the terror and grief right in my face, and I would weep like this, and I thought it was unendurable but still somehow fulfilling. And now I see those moments of pain as a gift, to know that I can love with that much abandon, so fully, and its still ok to love like that and that grief hasn’t killed me and that there’s still beauty in a run with the sun coming up over the mountains or in a perfect strawberry. Or in a poem.

    I’m so so sorry for the losing of your friend. So very sorry.

  4. Michelle

    April 29, 2012

    Wow. This opposition thing is so…so…

    He said it. And so did you, lady. Thanks. (And I’m so, so sorry. The only way to take the grief out of death is to take the love out of life. There it is again. Opposition.)

    Thank God for the Atonement. I don’t know how people do this opposition/life thing without it.

  5. Kellie aka Selwyn

    April 29, 2012

    That poem still kicks me in the chest every time I read it.

    I don’t ‘get’ a lot of poetry, but every now and then a piece yells, croons or punches me and I’m in love. Many of my fave pieces I’ve found through and in Segullah!

    My favourite Australian poems are Clancy of the Overflow, by AB “Banjo” Patterson, and ‘My Country’, by Dorothea McKellar. “Stop all the clocks” by WH Auden.

    Beautiful words are a balm, drug and comfort to me, particularly when life is awful.

  6. Michelle L.

    April 29, 2012

    thank you Lisa, thank you Brittney.

    I’m reading and rereading. thank you.

  7. Michelle L.

    April 29, 2012

    ‘To make injustice the only
    measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.’

    love that thought

  8. Stephanie

    April 29, 2012


  9. Sage

    April 29, 2012

    Michelle, that’s the line that got me too. I struggle with feeling enjoyment knowing of so much sorrow. I often try to lift myself out of guilt for being happy by asking what it serves for me to refrain from feeling excited about life.

    Seeing the beauty and joy in life is a way to praise and thank our Creator for the magnificence of tigers, the brightness of each new day.

    I loved this poem too. Thanks for your poetic introduction, Lisa.

  10. Krista

    April 29, 2012

    Thank you for your post. Jack Gilbert has stopped me in my tracks before, I think because I’m moved by the way he approaches grief the way only poets can sometimes. I’ll share this one by Szymborska. I find I return to it again and again when the unspeakable gets the best of me.


    Under a Certain Little Star

    by Wislawa Szymborska Translated by Joanna Trzeciak

    My apologies to chance for calling it necessity.
    My apologies to necessity in case I’m mistaken.
    Don’t be angry, happiness, that I take you for my own.
    May the dead forgive me that their memory’s but a flicker.
    My apologies to time for the quantity of world overlooked per second.
    My apologies to an old love for treating a new one as the first.
    Forgive me, far-off wars, for carrying my flowers home.
    Forgive me, open wounds, for pricking my finger.
    My apologies for the minuet record, to those calling out from the abyss.
    My apologies to those in train stations for sleeping soundly at five in the morning.
    Pardon me, hounded hope, for laughing sometimes.
    Pardon me, deserts, for not rushing in with a spoonful of water.
    And you, O hawk, the same bird for years in the same cage,
    staring, motionless, always at the same spot,
    absolve me even if you happen to be stuffed.
    My apologies to the tree felled for four table legs.
    My apologies to large questions for small answers.
    Truth, do not pay me too much attention.
    Solemnity, be magnanimous toward me.
    Bear with me, O mystery of being, for pulling threads from your veil.
    Soul, don’t blame me that I’ve got you so seldom.
    My apologies to everything that I can’t be everywhere.
    My apologies to all for not knowing how to be every man and woman.
    I know that as long as I live nothing can excuse me,
    since I am my own obstacle.
    Do not hold it against me, O speech, that I borrow weighty words,
    and then labor to make them light.

  11. brittney

    April 30, 2012

    thank you, all, for sharing your hearts and the lovely lines and poems you’ve posted. maybe poetry always accompanies grief. in one way or another.

  12. Donna

    May 3, 2012

    The poem, written by Carol Lynn Pearson in 1976, is entitled “To a Child Gone.”

    I thought I was ahead of you in line.
    You would take your turn
    After I took mine.
    Like we did before
    I guess you don’t need new shoes
    For starting heaven,
    Or a light left on against the dark
    The way I always did.
    But I’m so used to parenting.
    I wanted just to be there—
    To do whatever needed to be done.
    But you went first.
    And now, my little one,
    Suddenly you are my senior.
    Morning, I know, will come.
    But, bring close your light—
    This time it is I who fear the night.

  13. Jennie

    May 3, 2012

    Thank you everyone for the poems. Such answers to prayers.

  14. Melody

    May 8, 2012

    A poem will heal what hurts.

    God bless us. Every one.

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