Louise Gluck




Civilization

It came to us very late:
perception of beauty, desire for knowledge.
And in the great minds, the two often configured as one.

To perceive, to speak, even on subjects inherently cruel—
to speak boldly even when the facts were, in themselves, painful or dire—
seemed to introduce among us some new action,
having to do with human obsession, human passion.

And yet something, in this action, was being conceded.
And this offended what remained in us of the animal:
it was enslavement speaking, assigning
power to forces outside ourselves.
Therefore the ones who spoke were exiled and silenced,
scorned in the streets.

But the facts persisted. They were among us,
isolated and without pattern; they were among us,
shaping us—

Darkness. Here and there a few fires in doorways,
wind whipping around the corners of buildings—

Where were the silenced, who conceived these images?
In the dim light, finally summoned, resurrected.
As the scorned were praised, who had brought
these truths to our attention, who had felt their presence,
who had perceived them clearly in their blackness and horror
and had arranged them to communicate
some vision of their substance, their magnitude—

In which the facts themselves were suddenly
serene, glorious. They were among us,
not singly, as in chaos, but woven
into relationship or set in order, as though life on earth
could, in this one form, be apprehended deeply
though it could never be mastered.