The World in Your Hand



I COME to speak first of simple things,
To make you think of words for simple things;
Poetry is usually in the simplest words:
Words like hand, milk, earth, sun, cloth,
Words and things we see, digest, and feel,
That make our world, that make love grow in our world,
But being simple are so hard to find,
As thought of them is hard to find, till danger
Wakens our eyes to their conceivable loss
And brings us back to them and to ourselves.
I come to speak first of obvious things;
Sunlight, a woman’s breast, walking, apples,
An ant running efficiently through grass,
A leaf in the rain, a drifting mote in sunbeams;
I ask you to think of a single strand of hair.
All wonder, all delight, all love and wisdom
Rise from the dust they end with, till we see,
Thinking of simple things, our single worlds
One with the revolution of the stars.


HELD in your hand, the round heavy world
Can weigh your hand down till the globe smashes
Hand and globe together. Held in your hand,
The world can be tossed up, a bubble, into the air
And be dissolved, emptily, to nothing,
Leaving an idle hand. Held in your hand,
The world can weight your hand, strengthen it, fix it,
Till you can move your hand with the weight in it,
And you, the flexible hand, the world, are one.


THE pulse that stirs the mind,
The mind that urges bone,
Move to the same wind
That blows over stone.
Over the Arctic pole
The same wind blows,
And into the waiting soul
Of him that knows
Whence that wind stirs;
Blows the wind
Over the hemispheres
Of world and mind,
Crying: “O not alone,
Strange creature of air,
Stands that cold stone,
Silvers that hair.'
Crying: “You are not alone,
Bright angel of dust;
You are flower and stone,
Are diamond and rust.”
Crying: “Not alone
Does your heart fade,
Beneath while bone
To the dark shade.”
“Not alone,” crying,
Calls the cold wind.
And echo, dying,
Sings in the mind.


WE do not remember birth; no one can tell us
What it is like to die. One third of our lives
Is spent in sleep. And when we are awake
We use only a portion of ourselves,
Doing the anxious, necessary things,
Plowing the heavy earth, mining under
The dark earth, planning the earth’s conquest;
Plowing, mining, planning, without thought,
Caught in the wheel that heavily turns our lives,
And heavily turns the earth beneath our lives. . .
We hope that death will catch us unaware.


WE are brought to this damnation, not by God,
Not by blind evolution of cell to man,
Not by the grabbing of money by envious thieves;
We are brought to this damnation by ourselves —
Though God, nature, and money shape our growth —
Trying always to live out of ourselves,
Sharing too much, and not sharing enough.
We try to live only in the obvious clamor.
We are children, cruel children, hating each other;
Like children we look for parents justly to punish us,
And not finding parents, attack each other,
Grabbing each other’s toys. We are afraid.
And we are rebuked, poor children, by simple things;
A stone, the order of petals, a snowflake crystal.
We are rebuked, sad children, for our fear
When, out of earth, we see in each dead leaf
The tender resurrection of the spring.
We are rebuked, cruel children, when we wake
Seeing the sun, bright on an April morning,
Broaden his slow splendor over the world.


AND yet these things are not our life, are only
Part of our lives, the edges, not the center;
Able to shame us only, not to shape us.
There is no voice except our own to cry
In terrible pity over our broken promise.
We have no voice but our own to shout “Awake!”
Before disaster becomes the air we breathe
And the water we drink is muddied with choking ash.
What shall arouse us? What trumpet shatter our sleep?
Is it always and only the trumpets of war that make us
Wake, work, stride, triumph together
Until a peace of some sort slackens us again
And we relax into our usual selves?
What can we find to make us live our lives
Partly alone — and brave; together — and wise;
A crowd together, not losing the lonely voice;
Men alone, not losing the crowd’s voice;
What can we find to make us win our peace
Without this fierce intemperance of war?


MAN’S handicap begins
At birth or before birth;
One grandfather’s sins
Sent him to early earth,
And from that now clean bone
And futile dust
He stirs the grandson on
His rhythm of lust,
Urging in living cell
Ancestral evil,
And summoning out of hell
The obliging devil.
One grandfather’s love,
Now also bone,
Found pure love enough,
Singing alone;
And that long-lived old man,
Thinking of heaven,
Should have made heaven’s plan
Seem fair and even.
But Jack and you and I,
Our grandfathers’ sons,
Know that birds flying high
Are not the easy ones;
And how to aim our fire
At targets we’ve not seen
Makes our confused desire
Rebel to discipline.
When luck and fate and chance
Make each man what he is,
What tune can call the dance
That a wise man wouldn’t hiss?
How can we find a fact
To justify our faith
That some incisive act
Must antedate our death?
God we have blown away;
We seek our hope in love.
But in the glare of day
Is that sweet hope enough?
No: we must find beneath
Our too easy despair
Hard steel within the sheath
That hides it from the air;
Facing the tough truth
That what we’re forced to know
Is still a seed for growth
Unkilled by snow;
Facing the sharp wind
That chills not us alone,
But carves from man’s mind
More dignity than stone.


WISDOM and love begin with simple things,
A leaf in the rain, sunlight, apples and laughter;
These we can share, children and old men,
Merely by opening our eyes. And when our thought,
Stretched to its furthest reach, like Plato’s, sees
The calm eternal essence of all good,
That we can share, those few of us who know.
But in between the world of flowers and God,
Between the first simplicity and the last,
Here where we rack our lives in struggle and danger,
Sharing and knowing what to share become
Almost impossible, and only the wind
Blowing from Time and into Time can make
Our differing battles seem at last the same.
Yet if we dwell on loneliness, on fear,
We are only half ourselves. We are not alone;
And more than Time and Time’s relentless wind,
Blowing over our births, our lives, our deaths,
Makes each of us a part of all his world.
Between the grass-blade and the outmost star,
Between the mind’s Aldebaran and the dust,
Though chaos seems at first the only rule,
We still can find a promise and a plan,
And from confusion carve the strength we need
By finding inward order in ourselves.
Wherever we are we must forever remember
The voice within that says, “Wait: be still.”
You will hear it speak in sunlight and darkness, will hear it
Flying your bomber over the bleak sand
Or crouching behind your gun on the hostile island;
You will hear it beneath the autumn crow’s wild cawing
Breaking the October hush of lonely hills.
Under the roar of tanks you will suddenly hear it;
As long as you stay a man you will hear that voice,
Always you’ll hear that voice, saying, “Be still:
Build on me.”


And when we have heard, O when we all have heard,
Then we may dare to love, to create love,
Not merely satisfaction of desire,
But love of all we have known, all we shall know.
Then out of wisdom in our single hearts
Love, unexpected Phoenix, springs to the sun,
And selfish love flowers to emulation
Of love sharing and acting in all the world;
And every usual necessary thing,
The toothbrush slanting in the bathroom glass,
The latchkey turning in the door — a smile,
Are sudden tokens of our possible union;
And as we share them under the daily sun
Honor and wisdom come alive again,
And we can hear their voices, humble and proud,
Echoing down the corridors of our minds,
Singing: “You are not alone,
Bright angel of dust;
You are flower and stone,
Are diamond and rust.”
Singing: “Not alone
Does your heart strive
Within white bone
To keep love alive. ”
“Not alone,” singing,
Soars the wise voice.
And echo, ringing,
Sings “Rejoice!”