jeudi 1 novembre 2012

The Right Thing

I have posted this poem on my blog before, but that was years ago. I was reminded of it today when I read this interview, with author Cheryl Strayed (Torch, a novel; Wild, a memoir; Tiny Beautiful Things, a compilation of her work as "Sugar," an online advice columnist). In the interview, Strayed is asked what she thinks impedes or detracts from her happiness, and she says it is the tendency to say yes:

Saying yes. Yes and I have a long history. Yes is generous and open-hearted. It’s kind and fun. It’s led to so many good things in my life. But everything in balance, as they say, and I’m feeling a strong need for a bit of no. Yes has become a shackle to me. It’s keeping me from spending my days in ways that make me the happiest. I’ve been reflecting on this lately because with the amount of things people have asked me to do in this past year, I’ve realized how difficult it is for me to say no. I mean it kills me. Probably because it goes way deep into my psyche and my ancient desire to be loved. People love you if you say yes to them. It’s an incredibly effective survival technique. So now I have to learn a new way to survive. What will happen when I say no? I’m going to try it and see.

Her words reminded me of one of my favorite lines from another of my favorite poems, Theodore Roethke's poem The Right Thing: Time harried prisoners of shall and Will.

Sometimes, I am that time harried prisoner.

Yes, I memorized this poem as well, when I was about 16. I had no idea who Roethke was at the time. I did not know of his connection to the English Department at the University of Washington, nor of his struggles with mental illness and the bottle. He died at the age of 55, after suffering a heart attack in a friend's swimming pool.

The Right Thing

Let others probe the mystery if they can.
Time-harried prisoners of Shall and Will—
The right thing happens to the happy man.

The bird flies out, the bird flies back again;
The hill becomes the valley, and is still;
Let others delve that mystery if they can.

God bless the roots!—Body and soul are one!
The small become the great, the great the small;
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Child of the dark, he can out leap the sun,
His being single, and that being all:
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Or he sits still, a solid figure when
The self-destructive shake the common wall;
Takes to himself what mystery he can,

And, praising change as the slow night comes on,
Wills what he would, surrendering his will
Till mystery is no more: No more he can.
The right thing happens to the happy man.