Poetry Friday: Wondering at the Wonder . . .

h1 January 30th, 2009 by jules

My husband and I have finally made our way to season six, the final season, of The Sopranos. Today’s Poetry Friday entry is inspired by a poem one of the characters on the show reads to another character in one of the early episodes of this season, which we watched just the other night. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone (though I know we’re slow in getting to the show and the rest of the country has seen it, I’m sure), so I won’t name names, but it may or may not have been during an existential crisis of sorts that one of the characters was having. In fact, this character was experiencing his own visions of life after death when the poem was being read.

Now, I am convinced that I think about life after death more than a person should (not in a morbid way, but in an enormously curious way) and that I’m, likely, terribly abnormal in this regard (as in, a total weirdo). But to me, it’s Life’s Greatest Mystery, and I think one reason I don’t mind aging at all in this wild life is that, each day, I’m one step closer to finding out the big answer. To say I claim to have no answers on the matter is a big ‘ol understatement, but I hope the atheists are wrong and that, in the words of Peter Pan, to die will be an awfully big adventure. All of that is to say that, well…you give me a book or a movie or a whatever that deals with the issue in an intelligent way, and I’m so hooked. This is one reason the poem really intrigued me. The character only reads the first two lines of the poem before the camera cuts away (to the other character’s ongoing journey through what you figure out is his own afterlife — not that he necessarily stays there, mind you), but my interest was piqued nonethless. (And the first show of this season opens with William Burroughs’ spoken word recording, Seven Souls, which was OH MY a TERRIFICALLY captivating way to open a season, but that’s a Poetry Friday entry for another day.)

Jacques Prévert—who wrote this poem, who is pictured here, who was born at the turn of the last century, and who is new to me—was a French poet and screenwriter. Evidently, he was an active participant in the Surrealist movement and also often wrote of sentimental love, even creating poems that were eventually set to music by the likes of not only many French vocalists, but also folks like Joan Baez.

I can’t seem to figure out when this poem was written. I’ll have to look further. For now, I take my chances anyway in being sent to Poetry Prison by including the entire poem—which takes such a remarkable turn in tone, now doesn’t it?—here:

Our Father who art in heaven
Stay there
And we’ll stay here on earth
Which is sometimes so pretty
With its mysteries of New York
And its mysteries of Paris
At least as good as that of the Trinity
With its little canal at Ourcq
Its great wall of China
Its river at Morlaix
Its candy canes
With its Pacific Ocean
And its two basins in the Tuileries
With its good children and bad people
With all the wonders of the world
Which are here
Simply on the earth
Offered to everyone
Strewn about
Wondering at the wonder of themselves
And daring not avow it
As a naked pretty girl dares not show herself
With the world’s outrageous misfortunes
Which are legion
With legionaries
With torturers
With the masters of this world
The masters with their priests their traitors and their troops
With the seasons
With the years
With the pretty girls and with the old bastards
With the straw of misery rotting in the steel
of cannons.

Today’s round-up is being handled by Suzanne at Adventures in Daily Living. Enjoy.

12 comments to “Poetry Friday: Wondering at the Wonder . . .”

  1. Straw rotting in steel. What an evocative image in quite a few directions — the natural world being overcome by the modern, possible tones of manger straw… He seems overall unsure that the world is, in fact, pretty, as he doesn’t come back to this.

    He, too, seems to wonder at the wonder — wonder how it all exists, cheek-by-jowl, with everything else. Hm.

  2. If you go to Poetry Prison, I’ll come with you!

    How odd that candy canes are in there with the Pacific Ocean as wonders of this world. (Did you pull your image to make that stand out even more?)

    It seems to me he’s commenting on how random the world’s wonders and miseries are, “strewn about.” What are we to do about that, then? Observe? Document? Change? That’s what I wonder.

  3. What a wonderful poem! I’d never heard of Prevert until the PB, How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird, came out. Now I’m intrigued to read more of his stuff. I’m wondering about the candy canes, too.

  4. Hi, ladies. I was taken, like Sara, by his inclusion of candy canes, especially placed in between a river and an ocean. Hence, the photo. Are there other kinds of candy canes in this world? (Now I wonder if maybe I got it wrong, since it’s the only confectionery he mentions! …though I do see candy canes as a kind of wonder. Hee.)

    Sara, you’re right in that he wonders. And then stops. But your questions are good ones. The poem might even serve as a type of…dare I say it? WRITING PROMPT! (Aren’t you the one not too fond of writing prompts?)

    Jama, AHA! I’m so glad you pointed the picture book out. I very much wanted to see it (last year, right?), but you know what? I never did. I’m going to try to remedy that today. Thanks! You must mean this, right?

    Must. see. that. Mordicai Gerstein. Sweet. Thank you thank you for pointing this out. I had no idea it was Prévert.

  5. I loved How to Paint the Portrait of a Bird (the book), and I adored today’s poem, for its humor and its pathos.

    But dude – wasn’t it Dumbledore who said that death is the next great adventure? “After all, to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” (From HP1, The Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone).

    “And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.” ~ Walt Whitman, Song of Myself.

  6. Kelly, does your “but dude” mean you’re asking if Dumbledore and not Peter Pan said it? They both did. That was my favorite part of HPI, too.

    And I’ve always loved that Whitman…Many great minds have weighed in on the subject, haven’t they? But Whitman’s is one of the best. My other favorites? “There are cycles. Things pass. They do not hold still.” — Andrew Wyeth. And Rilke: “I believe that nothing that is real can pass away.” Also (Rilke again): “Life and death at the core, they are one.” That is, I think, how Prévert’s poem ultimately connects to the whole notion of any kind of afterlife. He does spend his time in the poem focusing on the earthly realm after all.

  7. If it is any consolation, I have not watched all (or most, really) of the Sopranos episodes either. I had not seen the one with the poem and it is truly a quintessential Sopranos poem.

  8. Something about the Prevert poem (dang, it’s hard to type his name w/out transposing the “re”) reminds me of the scene at the end of Our Town, where Emily is saying good-bye to all the stuff of everyday life (hope this is the whole thing): “But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another… I can’t. I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed. Take me back — up the hill — to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-by, Good-by, world. Good-by, Grover’s Corners? Mama and Papa. Good-bye to clocks ticking? and Mama’s sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new-ironed dresses and hot baths? and sleeping and waking up. Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? — every, every minute?”

    New nothing at all about the “How to Paint…” book but it looks terrific. Thanks for the heads-up about it, jama…

    And as ever, a great Friday poetry selection. As ever, thanks!

    P.S. Don’t even get me started on The Sopranos. The Missus and I kept waiting for that series to misstep; never seemed to happen, though. LOVED the show.

  9. Rebecca, word to that.

    John, it kills me when I’m watching a show THAT GOOD, knowing I’m probably missing symbolism on about a thousand different levels. I read someone else’s blog post, having stumbled upon it as I was typing this one, about the episode in question, that character’s flirtation with an afterlife, and I was STUNNED at the symbolism he saw in the scenes — the writing, the direction. It was the kind of symbolism that was intended to be there, I think, for smart viewers to find. (Not someone making crap up after having watched it). And I felt SO STUPID. I had missed a lot of it. Makes me want to watch it again.

    All that’s to say: Yes, what a great show it is.

    It’d be so lovely to see a really great production of Our Town at various stages of one’s life, huh? I read it in high school and have a feeling I didn’t appreciate it HALF as much as I would now.

  10. The best Our Town I ever saw was a TV production back in, umm, 1975 or so. Hal Holbrook was the Stage Manager… Uh, no, IMDB says it was 1977. I was sharing an apartment with a sister at the time; she came in that night towards the end of the broadcast, took one look at me, and said John, are you all right? I was blubbering like crazy…

    It’s FINALLY available on DVD (together with a later production, Spaulding Grey as the Stage Mgr) — thanks for inducing me to check; I’d practically given up. Until a few years ago it was available only on never-discounted VHS, for something like $75. [runs off to update wish list]

  11. My family loves the HOW TO DRAW A BIRD book so much, I bought four for everyone. And Mordicai signed them.

    It is a stunner and why it didn’t win awards baffles me.


  12. […] said this before here at 7-Imp, so I won’t belabor the point, but I think about life after death a lot. Not […]

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