"a look as of music"

The exuberant first section (I want to say movement) of Muriel Rukeyser's poem "Käthe Kollwitz." One of those pieces of wordcraft between whose lines I have to stop and close my eyes because my bones are aching, or my soul — some part of me I haven't identified yet.

n.b. Faust, in case you don't know, is a mythical German figure who made a pact with the devil in order to gain knowledge of all things.

Held between wars
my lifetime
                     among wars, the big hands of the world of death
my lifetime
listens to yours.

The faces of the sufferers
in the street, in dailiness,
their lives showing
through their bodies
a look as of music
the revolutionary look
that says I am in the world
to change the world
my lifetime
is to love to endure to suffer the music
to set its portrait
up as a sheet of the world
the most moving the most alive
Easter and bone
and Faust walking among flowers of the world
and the child alive within the living woman, music of man,
and death holding my lifetime between great hands
the hands of enduring life
that suffers the gifts and madness of full life, on earth, in our time,
and through my life, through my eyes, through my arms and hands
may give the face of this music in portrait waiting for
the unknown person
held in the two hands, you.

- Muriel Rukeyser
from "Käthe Kollwitz"

Poetry Friday roundup at A Year of Reading


Maya Ganesan 1/02/2009 10:56 PM  

Oh, pretty! I love the part about "my lifetime is to love to endure to suffer the music to set its portrait up as a sheet of the world".

Thank you so much for sharing this, cuil!

Noel De Vries 1/03/2009 6:59 AM  


"their lives showing through their bodies"

"suffer the music"

Reminds me of Chesterton's Ethics of Elfland.

mermaid 1/03/2009 7:38 AM  

beautiful. i read the play Doctor Faustus. It was one of my favorite plays to read in high schoool.

syd vicious 1/04/2009 11:23 AM  

I've never read this one before but I like it.

Priya 1/04/2009 11:29 AM  

Beautiful poem!

odessa 1/06/2009 7:33 PM  

beautiful! and you're right, it does read like a very powerful music, building and building towards the end.

cuileann 1/07/2009 10:31 PM  

Maya - You are very welcome.

Noel - I really, really need to read some Chesterton. I think I'll make that one the first.

mermaid - I'd like to read that sometime, now that I've read Goethe's Faust.

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