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A Prayer That Will Be Answered

May 23, 2016

A Prayer That Will Be Answered

Lord let me suffer much
and then die

Let me walk through silence
and leave nothing behind not even fear

Make the world continue
let the ocean kiss the sand just as before

Let the grass stay green
so that the frogs can hide in it

so that someone can bury his face in it
and sob out his love

Make the day rise brightly
as if there were no more pain

And let my poem stand clear as a windowpane
bumped by a bumblebee’s head

Anna Kamienska, 1986 —tr. Clare Cavanagh 2005

Anna Kamienska was a Polish poet of the generation who came of age during the German and Russian occupation. There is always a murmuring, elegiac, half-resigned quality about her work—a melancholy that is not unexpected for a writer who saw her country leveled, rebuilt, leveled again, and rebuilt again before she was thirty. Yet she was also a devout Catholic, and, if there is a certain degree of pessimism in her poetry, there is also a luminousness that is not totally darkened by it.

At first, this poem creates the expectation of a cynical cri de coeur: here is a prayer for a world where prayer is useless, one which will be answered only in the ironic sense that it prays for things that will happen anyway—where grief and pain will go on with just as much impassive regularity as the waves come or the grass grows. Yet it would be a mistake, on a closer reading, to reduce the poem to an Ecclesiastes-esqu “all is vanity.” If there is a darkness in these lines, there is also a degree of triumph—the world is bright and large and forever “as if there were no pain”….or as if pain were nothing in comparison. Yet, the world, for all its grandeur, somehow participates in our private world of passion. We can sob out our grief into it, and vivify it in our grief. The victory in this, satisfying or not, is reinforced Kamienska’s use of lush bright, living imagery: seas, sunlight, green grass, frogs, bees. This paradox of an answered yet unanswered prayer, of intervention by the seemingly otiose, comes together in the last line, where poetry, like the prayer, both does nothing and does everything. On the one hand, the windowpane (at least as far as the bumbling and dimly-sighted bee is concerned) is invisible and beneath notice. On the other hand, it is an invisible field of force and horizon, interposed between the body and the world.

  1. richibi permalink

    love ‘”Ecclesiastes-esqu’ “, moonbeam – Richard

  2. Chris Penna permalink

    If something is so clear that you can see right through it, is such a given that it’s taken for granted and unnoticed, is it somehow diminished? I guess she’s saying, no. Or is this Pope saying “whatever is is RIGHT”? I like your commentary quite a bit. As for the poem, I’ve been puzzling over the distinction between her use of “let” and “make” throughout, but I suppose that that’s something that the translator may have had a(n) invisible) hand in. “bumbling and dimly-sighted bee ” is great, as is your last sentence.

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