The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Forty-One (Zagajewski)

I’d like to dedicate this week’s Mnemosyne Weekly to the victims and survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and their families and friends. The poem, “Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” written by one of my grad school professors, Adam Zagajewski, ran on the final page of The New Yorker’s 9/11 issue. Though it was written a year and a half before the attacks, it became the most well-known poem cited in relation to the tragedy. Now that we are once again blindsided by the agonizing symptoms of a mutilated world, I think again of this poem.
According to The Daily Beast, “‘Try to Praise the Mutilated World’ recalls a trip Zagajewski took with his father through Ukrainian villages in Poland forcibly abandoned in the population transfers of the post-Yalta years.” No stranger to tragedy himself, Zagajewski was just an infant when his family was deported from their home, thus beginning a state of exile that would become a motif in both his life and his poetry. Bless him for transforming his experience into art.
As I memorize this poem this week, I’ll be thinking of the community of Newtown, Connecticut, and sending prayers for healing.

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

By Adam ZagajewskiTry to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.
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