A Poem For Sunday


"Life" by John Masefield first appeared in The Atlantic in January 1916:

What am I, Life? A thing of watery salt
Held in cohesion by unresting cells
Which work they know not why, which never halt;
Myself unwitting where their Master dwells.
I do not bid them, yet they toil, they spin
A world which uses me as I use them.
Nor do I know which end or which begin,
Nor which to praise, which pamper, which condemn.

So like a marvel in a marvel set,
I answer to the vast, as wave by wave
The sea of air goes over, dry or wet,
Or the full moon comes swimming from her cave
Or the great sun comes north; this myriad I
Tingle, not knowing how, yet wondering why.

(Photomicrograph of "the microscopic blood vessels that carry nutrients to neurons in the brain, obtained with a scanning electron microscope, by Alfonso Rodríguez-Baeza and Marisa Ortega-Sánchez, collected in the new book Portraits of the Mind: Visualizing the Brain From Antiquity to the 21st Century)