States of Mind III: Those Who Stay, Umberto Boccioni, 1911
‘States of Mind III: Those Who Stay’ by Umberto Boccioni, 1911. Photo credit: Umberto Boccioni / WikiArt

A poet can make beauty out of the ugliest things on earth.

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The German poet-philosopher who went by the name “Novalis” wrote, “Poetry heals the wound inflicted by reason.” A strikingly beautiful and profound observation.

But what would he say about those wounds that cannot be healed by anything? The fatal ones.

Predatory human beings have been inflicting fatal injuries on each other for hundreds of thousands of years, and now they — or shall I say, we? — are destroying the earth itself. And poetry cannot heal it.  

But poetry can trap, with words, the rapacious acts in progress, as shown below by Gerald Jonas. Somehow, the beauty in that revelation offers solace. Maybe that’s because, if you can see this process in a clearer light, you realize you might be able to stop it

Jonas is a senior editor at WhoWhatWhy and a writer whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and The New York Times, as well as other journals large and small.  

WhoWhatWhy Introduction written by Milicent Cranor.



Apex predator or prey, upright or four-footed      

To blunt urgent need you ripped quick meat from bone    

ransacked ripe swampland and flowerless forest     

hid your unhatched young from alien thunder     

       before the epic fall

      After daylight failed    

emboldened by an absence, more agile appetites      

found footing in the burial ash, obeyed new urgencies

to drive dumb clay toward ever more exacting needs: 

irrepressible flights of song, vaster Edens to undo. 

Related: Meditation on the Fear and Fact of Death

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