Thread: Joy Harjo
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Unread 01-09-2020, 08:56 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 2,877

Andrew: "The often quoted business by Brecht about there still being singing in the dark times comes to mind a lot lately."

Yes, it does in my mind, too.
I, too, love the Harjo poem you've posted to start the thread. I haven't yet dug into the second one but will. I just wanted to pick up on the comment you made (quoted above) and also the exchange you had with Nemo. Almost everything in the world today seems laden with a heaping dose of darkness to the degree that it provokes an instinctive fight/flight response in various ways. To me.

Ultimately yes, the world as we know it will pass away. One could argue that is all it ever does. And one could argue equally vociferously that all it ever does is the opposite. Nemo I think interjects that it is the process of transformation that is the crux of being and that there is a delicate balance of the creative and destructive forces that can tip things one way or the other. I wonder sometimes if we, the people, are just hard-wired to ask questions that need not be answered. I don't know if that is just me deferring...

But to the point of my responding: I was listening to a conversation just yesterday between Kevin Young (poetry editor of the New Yorker magazine) and Peter Balakian. It centered on the poem by Theodore Roethke entitled, In A Dark Time. (Here is the podcast for the conversation if you're interested in hearing it in full.)

The conversation got around to the larger implications of the poem (the poem explores the various psychic machinations of mental distress, fatigue, collapse, etc.) and how beautifully and darkly it speaks/applies to today's climate of darkness, fear, hope, despair, etc. Here is the poem:

In A Dark Time
by Theodore Roethke


In a dark time, the eye begins to see.
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood—
A lord of nature weeping to a tree.
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.


What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks—is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.


A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is—
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.


Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

I know your hoping to catalog the poems of Joy Harjo here, but wanted to shoehorn this poem of Roethke's in because it felt a bit like kismet to me that I would come across it after just having read your post. I see some semblance between Roethke's poem and Harjo's.

I am not familiar with her poetry but am glad to have your introduction to it. I'm panicked by all the poems/poets I don't know about but of which I am becoming aware. I'll never get there. I live life way too slowly.
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