Poems for Coping With Change on Inauguration Day

A crowd watches Donald Trump's inaugural address in Washington, D.C., on January 20, 2017, Ricky Carioti / Reuters

In the aftermath of November’s election, many readers who had been shocked by Donald Trump’s victory shared poems that helped them cope with loss and change. Jared turned to “Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot:

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

Full poem here.

***

Trump’s presidency is actual now, and will be for another four years. For many, after the bitterly fought campaign and the upset victory, his Inauguration Day feels like the turning point between a past marked by loss and a future marked by uncertainty. Maybe that was why, this morning, I found myself looking back at another poem—W.H. Auden’s “Homage to Clio,” the muse of history:

It is you, who have never spoken up,
Madonna of silences, to whom we turn

When we have lost control, your eyes, Clio, into which
We look for recognition after
We have been found out.

It’s a poem in praise of memory and choice, those uniquely human capacities—and in praise of the regret that comes inevitably with them. So far as Clio stands for time and history, her “silences” apply to both the past and the future: She won’t tell you what to do next, and if you look back and beg her to change something, she’s extremely unsympathetic.

What Clio can do, Auden writes, is to remind you of your own power: your ability to act with purpose, not only in the sense of political action or artistic expression but also in the simple sense of recognizing your own regrets and fears and place in history. That power is a privilege and a burden, which may be why Auden closes with a prayer:

Clio,

Muse of Time, but for whose merciful silence
Only the first step would count and that
Would always be murder, whose kindness never
Is taken in, forgive our noises

And teach us our recollections.

Listen to Auden reading the poem here.

***

If you have a poem that brings you hope and comfort, please send it—with a link if you can—to hello@theatlantic.com, and I’ll add it here. Update: Katie recommends “Revenge” by Eliza Chavez:

I’ll confess I don’t know if I’m alive right now;
I haven’t heard my heart beat in days,
I keep holding my breath for the moment the plane goes down
and I have to save enough oxygen to get my friends through.