This poem from Wendell Berry’s New Collected Poems captures my feeling that poems do not have to change the world, though some do. They can simply add a song from a person who is like no other. That’s what we all have in common–we are distinctly ourselves. Celebrate and develop that unique voice by continuing to sing.
TO GO BY SINGING
He comes along the street, singing,
a rag of a man, with his game foot and bum’s clothes.
He’s asking for nothing–his hands
aren’t even held out. His song
is the gift of singing, to him
and to all who will listen.
To hear him, you’d think the engines
would all stop, and the flower vendor would stand
with her hands full of flowers and not move.
You’d think somebody would have hired him
and provided him a clean quiet stage to sing on.
But there’s no special occasion or place
for his singing–that’s why it needs
to be strong. His song doesn’t impede the morning
or change it, except by freely adding itself.
p.s. I don’t yet follow Berry’s statement, “that’s why it needs / to be strong.” Strong in what sense(s)? Why does not having a special occasion require this strength? I enjoy the poem because it renders one of my beliefs about the value of regular poetry. Even so, I need to wrestle with this mysterious statement. Any ideas, anyone?