Thursday, April 01, 2021

Poetry on Thursday

It's the first of April, which happens to be national poetry month. One of my goals this year is to read more poetry, so I thought I'd join in with those of you sharing poems on your blogs with one that's stayed with me for many years.

I did a lot of creative writing as a teenager, primarily poetry. In high school, between my freshman and sophomore years, I attended a summer precollege program at Brandeis University (my mother's alma mater!), where I took two classes. One was about the psychological and physiological effects of stress (I was already thinking about the field that would become my undergraduate major) and the other a creative writing course. For the latter, we studied poems out of The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, which I still have and pull out now and then. The poem I am sharing with you today is one that we studied and that had a really powerful effect on me, partly because it was an emotional poem and partly because the style in which it was written reminded me so much of my own. Twenty-five years later, it's still powerful to me, so even though it's a sad poem, I've decided to share it.

Cambridge Elegy
For Henry Averell Gerry, 1941-1960

I hardly know how to speak to you now,
you are so young now, closer to my daughter's age
than mine--but I have been there and seen it, and must
tell you, as the seeing and hearing
spell the world into the deaf-mute's hand.
The tiny dormer windows like the ears of a fox, like the
long row of teats on a pig, still
perk up over the Square, though they're tearing up the
street now, as if digging a grave,
the shovels shrieking on stone like your car
sliding along on its roof after the crash.
How I wanted everyone to die if you had to die,
how sealed into my own world I was,
deaf and blind. What can I tell you now,
now that I know so much and you are a
freshman still, drinking a quart of orange juice and
playing three sets of tennis to cure a hangover, such an
ardent student of the grown-ups! I can tell you
we were right, our bodies were right, life was
really going to be that good, that
pleasurable in every cell.
Suddenly I remember the exact look of your body, but
better than the bright corners of your eyes, or the
light of your face, the rich Long Island
puppy-fat of your thighs, or the slick
chino of your pants bright in the corners of my eyes, I
remember your extraordinary act of courage in
loving me, something which no one but the
blind and halt had done before. You were
fearless, you could drive after a sleepless night
just like a grown-up, and not be afraid, you could
fall asleep at the wheel easily and
never know it, each blond hair of your head--and they were
thickly laid--put out like a filament of light,
twenty years ago. The Charles still
slides by with that ease that made me bitter when I
wanted all things hard as your death was hard;
wanted all things broken and rigid as the
bricks in the sidewalk or your love for me
stopped cell by cell in your young body.
Ave--I went ahead and had the children,
the life of ease and faithfulness, the
palm and the breast, every millimeter of delight in the body,
I took the road we stood on at the start together, I
took it all without you as if
in taking it after all I could most
honor you.

Sharon Olds

The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, edited Robert Pack, Sydney Lea, and Jay Parini, (c) 1985 by Bread Loaf Writers' Conference/Middlebury College


  1. That is an extraordinary poem, Sarah, and I thank you for sharing it. Sharon Olds' honest and beautifully detailed sharing of emotion and grief but with a bit of hope, too shows the power of poetry at its best. Simply stunning!

  2. Thanks Sarah - A Poem in my pocket was one of my favorite days at preschool when I was teaching - might need to revive that for my grandson this year

  3. Oh, that is just a wonderful poem; a total gut-punch and absolutely gasp-worthy. (I love Sharon Olds!) Thanks so much for sharing it today! XO

  4. Wow. I am awed by the power of these words. A gut-punch, yes. Heart-wrenching, yes. But so painfully beautiful. Thank you for sharing this poem today! Is there anything better than National Poetry Month? XO

  5. WOW! What a powerful poem. Thank you for sharing Sarah!

  6. Sharon Olds is a wonderful poet. Such a beautiful poem about grief.

  7. A brand new-to-me poet, Sarah - thank you! One of my favorite things about April blogs is learning so much about poetry and finding new favorites.