Address to the Living

YOUNG men and men with eyes alive and quick,
With health and passion in the way you walk:
Women with hands delighting now in furs
To touch, now polished wood: women who talk
Aware of webs that whirl from mind to mind:
Women and men for whom the air is clear,
And time a wave at crest: women and men
Whose honor is the blood: I greet you here.
Remember here, count now with me your luck.
Outdoors the night leans hard against the house,
The dead lie dreamless and historical,
But here such ample revelations rouse
That darkness topples backward; here the hand
Touches a corner of the flying page
Wherefrom we learn to make our peace with time,
To go with no rebellion toward old age.
We are the living, on this keel of earth,
Who hail the convoy stars across the night,
Or feed joy’s bird, and stroke his folded wing.
Then fling him flying toward the stream of light.
We are the living; daylight in our eyes;
Earth under heel; and in the mouth a word;
Fire in the fingers; question in the mind;
And round the throat a slowly tightening cord.
Now give heart’s onward habit brave intent:
Hammer the golden day until it lies
A glimmering plate to heap with memory;
Salute the arriving moment with your eyes.
It brings extravagant and famous gifts:
Trees: they grow up in green and florid grace,
As darker downward grow the boughs of root;
The wind: a sprawling, towering sea in space;
And light, light: on the upper side of earth
It lies, and on the under side of cloud;
We are the living, who in light between
Go forth at morning blest and golden-browed,
And on our shoulders wear the afternoon;
Light is the last fact and the first that falls
On mortal eyes, and while they stare at time,
Light is a calendar on outdoor walls;
People: I watch them walking in the street,
The crippled ones, the lonely ones, the loud,
The deft and delicate, the old and tame,
The ardent ones, the evil, the abrupt and proud;
And books: they give a room a thousand doors;
Color: it is an infinite map unrolled
For exploration, where the traveling eye
Adventures more than memory can hold,
Where misty weather blows to blue and clean
Over its charted boundaries and shores.
Remember color, bid the moment stay,
Touching the gaudy leaf to make it yours;
Touch frosty iron; crumple the written sheet;
In darkness find the stair rail’s friendly wood;
Here where you held another hand now say,
‘This was the one I loved, and here we stood.’
But think of pain that, offering no remorse,
No hate, stabs you, and stays to stab again.
Living, we risk that wound, for pain goes armed,
The sword two-edged with self and fellow men.
And pain’s more cunning weapons reach the mind,
Putting a scar on wisdom, though it heal:
We risk the jeer of treachery; the blur
Of shrewdness on a mouth; the violent seal
Of sudden hatred stamped upon a face;
And bruising fear; and the harsh rack of mind
At waste, at promise withered into truth,
At narrow caution, shabby and unkind.
Then think no pain but these can threaten us.
We chose to live by living: take them both,
All sharp delight, and danger with its blade.
The mind will have such hardy grace in growth,
Learning to parry life and plunder it,
That more than this the living will not need.
Who but a ghost would gaze on bright and dark,
And shut his ghostly heart, and give no heed?
We live, we are elected now by time,
Few out of many not yet come to birth
And many dead, to use the daylight now,
To stand up under the sun upon the earth.
Then break the silence with a voice of praise;
Open the door that opens toward the sky;
Press mind and body hard against the world,
Before we fall asleep, before we die.
JOHN A. HOLMES