It was just children playing in the sand
(accompanied by the narcotic scent
of blooming lindens, don’t forget),
just children, but after all
the devil, and the minor gods,
and even forgotten politicians,
who’d broken all their promises,
were also there and watched them
with unending rapture.
Who wouldn’t want to be a child
—for the last time!
Szymborska, Milosz, Herbert. Now add Zagajewski. The reading and commentary are from Slate.com (note: its not an mp3, but a ,wma file).
Alice Quinn on “Just Children” by Adam Zagajewski.
Adam Zagajewski was born in Lvov, Poland, in 1945, and his masters were Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Szymborska, and Zbigniew Herbert, the great poetic voices of post-war Poland. The New Yorker ran Adam’s poem “Try To Praise the Mutilated World” in the issue just after Sept. 11, 2001, and it struck a necessary note at that time. These great postwar Polish poets lived through so much: They’d managed to perfect, in the 30 years following the war, a balance of reverence for the world and a sharp awareness of the fragility of life.
One of the things I love about the poem is the way the punctuation figures: the implied single quotations around the word “just,” and the use of an exclamation point at the end following that wonderful question “who wouldn’t want to be a child, for the last time”—that exclamation point makes a point, but with an air of gentle surprise. I also love the tranquil mood of the poem and the way that as you read it your senses light up to the dimension of the sentence—you’re gazing so intently at the lindens and at the children, lulled into a meditation on how delightful it would be to be a child. Then comes a swerve at the close: “Who wouldn’t want to be a child for the last time”—and you think “Ummm … maybe.” Childhood, after all, is just the braided thing that every stage of life is: ecstasy, but misery and other things, too.
You could read this a hundred times. It’s so limpid and so wise. It reminds me sometimes of that beautiful poem of Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Sandpiper” and the lines “[t]he world is a mist. And then the world is/ minute and vast and clear.” It’s that shift of scale, there, between looking at the children and yet being aware of the larger present—the devil and the minor gods and the politicians who don’t keep their promises but are still likely to be just as pierced by the sight of the children playing in the sand. – slate.com