We loved the world but could not stay,
Our hearts were not strong enough
To keep us tethered to the ground, but
Instead we hurried along all our days
Unable to pause and root ourselves
Further in the earth, and so it came
About that all too quickly our hearts
Gave out and snuffed out our candles.
They called it a heart attack, but it
This particular poem was inspired by a line at the end of a paragraph in one of Ted Kooser’s books: The Poetry Home Repair Manual, on page 5. It is worth quoting the paragraph in full: “A noted contemporary poet and critic has said we ought to keep poetry secret from the masses. Another, the editor of a prestigious anthology of poetry, said that each nation ought to have no more than a handful of poets. Both sound pretty elitist, don’t they? Well, we’ll always have among us those that think the best should be reserved for the few. Considering the ways in which so many of us waste our time, what would be wrong with a world in which everybody was writing poems After all, there’s a significant service to humanity in spending time doing no harm. While you’re writing your poem, there’s one less scoundrel in the world. And I’d like a world, wouldn’t you, in which people actually took time to think about what they were saying? It would be, I’m certain, a more peaceful, more reasonable place. I don’t think that there could ever be too many poets. by writing those poetry, even those poems that fail and fail miserably, we honor and affirm life. We say “We loved the earth but could not stay.”
There are some people who spend their life haunted by death. My father, for example, long expressed to my brother and I that he did not believe he would live very long, and he was indeed right, as he died in February 2008 of a heart attack some six weeks after having a massive stroke, at the age of 59. He was the longest lived of his generation of our family. The previous spring his sister had died in her sleep of a heart attack in her 50’s. When I was a child his brother had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound because my uncle could not bear to live without his father, who had died four years or so before that due to lung cancer caused by his own longtime smoking habit. And there was young uncle I never met who died as a child himself due to spinal meningitis, apparently taking much of the laughter and lightness from a family that could have used a little more. None of these people were long for the earth for one reason or another, and in many ways I have inherited their sense of not being long for the world.
When I read those lines quoted above that began my poem about loving the world but not being able to stay, I do not think of loving the world in the sense of loving the wicked and evil in the world, the corrupt ways of the world. I rather think instead that it is loving the shards of divine creativity that find themselves lodged within human hearts and minds, and the occasional efforts at striving for beauty that people make when they put their pen to paper or type on their computer screens seeking to leave something of beauty and worth behind. I think of loving the world as loving some aspect of creation, be it God’s creation or mankind’s subcreation, that desire to imitate God and to leave something of worth behind us that at least has the potential to be remembered after we are dead. For death haunts many of us and it is all too natural for us to wish to survive and to have an influence in the world after we are gone, and without having created art of some kind a great many of us have little hope at all at leaving a mark on the world at all.