Monday, September 7, 2009

the poetry of social injustice

I have been thinking a lot lately about what I call radical compassion which is a way of seeing the world and seeing events and experiences from someone else's perspective, with a perspective that encompasses their views of the situation, past, present and future. Radical compassion is not feigned or manufactured and must involve the imperative to act, to take action for social change, in the face of injustice and suffering.

But most people, particularly in this country, want to avoid thinking about social injustice, suffering and evil. The Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert is not one of those people. I read a reviewer once who described his poems as a continuous alchemy of despair and desolation. Herbert is a poet with a powerful sense of right and wrong.

Just love the line from Zbigniew Herbert's poem Mr Cogito Reads the Newspaper:
A subjest for meditation:
the arithmetic of compassion
here is the full poem from the Zbigniew Herbert The Collected Poems 1956-1998
Mr. Cogito Reads the Newspaper
By Zbigniew Herbert

On the first page
a report of the killing of 120 soldiers
the war lasted a long time
you could get used to it

close alongside
the news of a sensational crime
with a portrait of the murderer

the eye of Mr Cogito
slips indifferently
over the soldiers’ hecatomb
to plunge with delight
into the description of everyday horror

a thirty-year-old farm labourer
under the stress of nervous depression
killed his wife
and two small children

it is described with precision
the course of the murder
the position of the bodies
and other details

for 120 dead
you search on a map in vain
too great a distance
covers them like a jungle

they don’t speak to the imagination
there are too many of them
the numeral zero at the end
changes them into an abstraction

a subject for meditation:
the arithmetic of compassion

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