21 August 2008

letters and papers—and poetry

In my last post, I mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison. In the New Greatly Enlarged Edition, his friend and editor Eberhard Bethge includes some letters that were sent to Bonhoeffer, as well. In one of Bethge’s letters to him (dated 26 August 1944), he speaks of poetry.

Speaking of Bonhoeffer’s “Stations on the Road to Freedom,” he says, “You can’t give anything more personal than a poem. And you could hardly give me greater joy. There is no greater self-sacrifice, no better way of signifying an otherwise unattainable nearness than in a poem. And it is probably the form, because it makes visible the inwardness that is bound up and held in check with it…Its touch is steadier and more far-reaching than that of a letter.”

In that spirit, let me share another of Brian Turner’s poems from Here, Bullet. It’s entitled, “A Soldier’s Arabic.” He prefaces his poem with a quote from Ernest Hemingway: “This is a strange new kind of war where you learn just as much as you are able to believe.”

The word for love, habib, is written from right
to left, starting where we would end it
and ending where we might begin.

Where we would end a war
another might take as a beginning,
or as an echo of history, recited again.

Speak the word for death, maut,
and you will hear the cursives of the wind
driven into the veil of the unknown.

This is a language made of blood.
It is made of sand, and time.
To be spoken, it must be earned.

(By the way, I’ll admit that the image I posted probably doesn’t inspire feelings of such a sublime nature!)

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