American Poetry, Poetry

It is Better to Write, Then Die – Patti Smith

“I could hear / the freemen call / the way is hard / the gate is narrow / what matter I say” Patti Smith’s A Writer’s Song pays homage to the instinct for laying one’s mat ‘among the reeds’ and writing one’s name ‘upon the water’. Writing, she suggests, is a response in tune with the insouciant mechanisms of nature when poetry itself becomes a kind of refuge. This poem is from a collection called Auguries of Innocence, published in 2009. The name of the book refers to William Blake’s poem that begins “To see a World in a Grain of Sand…”

 

The Writer’s Song

I did not wish to work
I did not wish to earn
but to curl with my jar
in the sweet sorghum
I laid my mat among the reeds
I could hear the freemen call
oh my life
what does it matter
will the reed cease bending
will the leper turn

I had a horn I did not blow
I had a sake and another
I could hear the freemen
drunk with sky
what matter my cry
will the moon swell
will the flame shy
banzai banzai
it is better to write
then die
in the blue crater
set with straw

I could hear
the freemen call
the way is hard
the gate is narrow
what matter I say
 

with the new mown hay
my pillow

I had a sake and another
I did not care to own nor rove
I wrote my name upon the water
nothing but nothing above
banzai banzai
it is better to write
then die
a thousand prayers
and souvenirs
set away in earthenware
we draw the jars
from the shelves
drink our parting
from ourselves
so be we king
or be we bum

the reed still whistles
the heart still hums

 

Patti Smith
From – Auguries of Innocence: Poems

 

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