A Question of Politics

If the best poems are the ones that convince you of something you didn’t see clearly before you read it, than Wistawa Szymborska’s “Children of Our Age” would be my best poem in this collection.


We are children of our age,
it’s a political age.

All day long, all through the night,
all affairs—-yours, ours, theirs——
are political affairs.

Whether you like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin, a political cast,
your eyes, a political slant.

Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don’t say speaks for itself.
So either way you’re talking politics.

Even when you take to the woods,
you’re taking political steps
on political grounds.

Apolitical poems are also political,
and above us shines a moon
no longer purely lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
And though it troubles the digestion
it’s a question, as always, of politics.

To acquire a political meaning
you don’t even have to be human.
Raw material will do,
or protein feed, or crude oil,

or a conference table whose shape
was quarreled over for months:
Should we arbitrate life and death
at a round table or a square one?

Meanwhile, people perished
animals died,
houses burned,
and the fields ran wild
just as in times immemorial
and less political.

I suspect my 30 years of teaching high school convinced me to become apolitical because I felt it was my job to teach kids how to think for themselves, not to indoctrinate them with my liberal values (of course, I suspect that was, in itself, a “liberal” value).

Even though this blog started as an attempt to protest the Afghan war, I have long since given up stating my political beliefs directly here, preferring, instead, to share them on my Facebook account because once I turned back to writing about poetry, flowers, and wildlife political beliefs didn’t quite seem to fit here, though I occasionally indulged in a political rant when it seemed absolutely necessary to preserve my sanity.

However, just reading the line “Whatever you say reverberates,/whatever you don’t say speaks for itself./So either way you’re talking politics” made me realize that this blog screams “Liberal,” if not radical environmentalist. Although I’ve long thought of adding a list of causes I support to the margin, I’m not sure that would add anything to my political message because everyone except the casual visitor looking for an easy answer for his homework would realize that I’m pro-environment and, more than likely, a political progressive.

Like most people I would prefer not to be involved in “politics” because politics “troubles the digestion,” and I’ve always had a tendency towards ulcers. It’s hard to see politics as anything but unsavory, as well-documented in the reference to the months-long debate over the shape of the negotiating table near the end of the poem.

In the end, though, my concern for the people who are perishing and the animals who are disappearing probably dictates that I continue to be involved in politics, at the very least to the extent of donating money to causes I believe in. How could I not sign online petitions and email my congressmen when so much is at stake even if it seems futile to do so?

3 thoughts on “A Question of Politics”

  1. As a general rule, I prefer politics and the arts to have their separate arenas (although, combining history with the arts is fine). But Szymborska is the exception and the fact that she pulled it off so well is what, in my opinion, probably allowed her to win the Nobel! I honestly can’t think of a better study for someone who might want to effectively bring politics into an art form.

    1. I agree, and in that sense she also reminds me W. H. Auden,who as I just discovered on the internet was criticized for his poems that seemed too political for some, and even some that he later disavowed himself.

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