Try to Praise the Mutilated World
BY ADAM ZAGAJEWSKI
Translated by Clare Cavanagh
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
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 going 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 gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
Adam Zagajewski is perhaps the greatest Polish poet alive today. Zagajewski shot to fame among American audience after “New Yorker” silently featured this influential poem in the first issue to be published after the attacks of Sept 11, 2011 .While watching the faces of the refugees from Syria, especially Children, in TV, I couldn't help but remember this poem and find solace in it. We are living in a mutilated world in every sense. But we must accept it with grace, as the poet echoes. Great poems have therapeutic power, like this one.
This poem juxtaposes the disfigurement and the simple joys of life. The poet is trying to convey a philosophical conviction that one must learn to accept or praise the faults of the world to enable us to see the beauty and help to heal the mutilated world. We as a society must remember the good things when times begin to get arduous.
The poem moves from the assertion "Try to praised the mutilated world" through "You must praise" to "You should praise" to the imperative "Praise" as it catalogues a series of mutilated objects from "the nettles that methodically overgrow/the abandoned homesteads of exiles" to the refugees heading nowhere/...the executioners singing joyfully" and to the simple "grey feather a thrust lost".
Zagajewski thus uses repetition with the phrase "Praise the Mutilated World," and each time the phrase is written, it means something completely different because of the tone that is being used and the urgency that is being asked to praise the mutilated world. The tone changes throughout each stanza, it changes from an asking tone, to a demanding tone, to a parental tone then a pleading tone .The poet thus reminds us to “praise the mutilated world” , filled as it with exiles, the debris of war, refugees and other contingencies but also with “gentle light that strays and vanishes and returns”
Indeed we must praise the mutilated world, for the very reason that praising itself is a hard a task. The poem doesn't say how to do it. But it puts into words what one wanted to do and felt one had to find a way to do. The 'hope' that is beautifully captured in the last line reminds us that joy will overpower sorrow.
As we reflect on our own suffering and reach out to alleviate the suffering of the world, the words of Maurice Merleau-Ponty , a pivotal figure in twentieth century French philosophy, comes to mind- “ The human world is an unfinished system and the same radical contingency which threatens it with discord also rescues it from the inevitability of disorder and prevents us from despairing of it."
Source: Without End: New and Selected Poems by Adam Zagajewski (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002)