“My work is loving the world”–WHAT IS OUR WORK?

A perspective on how we (should) spend our daily energies. A bossiness of poets weigh in, from the late (but always here) Mary Oliver, William Stafford, Raymond Carver, Emily Dickinson, Billy Collins, Lorine Neidecker, Alice Dunbar -Nelson, Gerald Manley Hopkins, William Butler Yeats, Christopher Smart, Richard Wilbur, John Milton, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Doty, e.e. cummings (who loved the world as much?). There’s a lot of loving going on in the work of poets, and the world needs it: maybe this is all our work, loving the world. Yes, I guess, we’re pregaming Valentine’s Day, The Poetry Slow Down with Professor Barbara Mossberg, Produced by Zappa Johns. 

At the conclusion to our show in which poets tell of their work before our eyes, loving the world, loving the work itself, we hear Emerson in “The Poet” saying what happens when someone takes up such work:

O poet! a new nobility is conferred in groves and pastures, and not in castles, or by the sword-blade, any longer. The conditions are hard, but equal. Thou shalt leave the world, and know the muse only. Thou shalt not know any longer the times, customs, graces, politics, or opinions of men, but shalt take all from the muse. For the time of towns is tolled from the world by funeral chimes, but in nature the universal hours are counted by succeeding tribes of animals and plants, and by growth of joy on joy. God wills also that thou abdicate a manifold and duplex life, and that thou be content that others speak for thee. Others shall be thy gentlemen, and shall represent all courtesy and worldly life for thee; others shall do the great and resounding actions also. Thou shalt lie close hid with nature, and canst not be afforded to the Capitol or the Exchange. The world is full of renunciations and apprenticeships, and this is thine: thou must pass for a fool and a churl for a long season. This is the screen and sheath in which Pan has protected his well-beloved flower, and thou shalt be known only to thine own, and they shall console thee with tenderest love. And thou shalt not be able to rehearse the names of thy friends in thy verse, for an old shame before the holy ideal. And this is the reward: that the ideal shall be real to thee, and the impressions of the actual world shall fall like summer rain, copious, but not troublesome, to thy invulnerable essence. Thou shalt have the whole land for thy park and manor, the sea for thy bath and navigation, without tax and without envy; the woods and the rivers thou shalt own; and thou shalt possess that wherein others are only tenants and boarders. Thou true land-lord! sea-lord! air-lord! Wherever snow falls, or water flows, or birds fly, wherever day and night meet in twilight, wherever the blue heaven is hung by clouds, or sown with stars, wherever are forms with transparent boundaries, wherever are outlets into celestial space, wherever is danger, and awe, and love, there is Beauty, plenteous as rain, shed for thee, and though thou shouldest walk the world over, thou shalt not be able to find a condition inopportune or ignoble.

But we already know, from our poets this morning (it is always morning on the Poetry Slow Down, because you know you move to fast, and this is the way to make the morning last), that this work is its own reward, in Emily Dickinson’s words, “to gather . . . Paradise.” Thank you for listening, being with us today, our Producer Zappa Johns, and me, your Dr. B. Keep up the good work, O good listeners to our poets who love you, trust you—in your ears, your hearts, are we saved, and saving! And our world says, hear hear! 

© Barbara Mossberg 2019

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