Enough or Not? – Part One of Three – First, A Poem by Charles Wright

U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Wright

U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Wright



Piero in wraps, the True Cross sotto restauro,
Piazza desolate edge
Where sunlight breaks it,
desolate edge
Where sunlight pries it apart
A child kicks a soccer ball. Another heads it back.

The Fleeting World, Po Chu-I says, short-hops a long dream,
No matter if one is young or old –
The pain of what is present never comes to an end,
Lightline moving inexorably
West to east across the stones,
cutting the children first, then cutting us.

Under the archways, back and forth, among the tables,
The blind ticket seller taps and slides.
Lotteria di Foligno, Lotteria di Feligno,
he intones,
Saturday, mid-May, cloud bolls high cotton in the Tuscan sky.
One life is all we’re entitled to, but it’s enough.

Charles Wright (1935 – ) from Field, Fall, 1992

Charles Wright, current U.S. Poet Laureate, needs little introduction.Through his poems he has been making the ordinary extraordinary during a remarkably productive writing career spanning more than fifty five years. He also may have won more major literary awards than other English-speaking poet alive today!

Wright’s poetry disarms me. Thoughts and images shadow across his poems like reflections of clouds across the water. His poetry is so grounded in the ordinary, then it can lift off and seem other-worldly. I know where I am; then I don’t. He disorients me, marvellously. I am in this world but not the obvious one.

Here then gone. Here then gone. What a dense atmosphere he creates. And what feeling. Right in the first line. He is in Arezzo to see great art and two of the most famous pieces are under wraps, not for show. What great feeling words: desolate, breaks, pries, and kicks.

Once he has set the scene by description he swerves, switches it up. Based on his feelings from his disappointment, from the play of light and dark on the piazza he brings in the voice of a famous Chinese poet ( bringing a dream-like quality to the poem), then makes a leap to what Canadian master poet Patrick Lane calls a large statement: The pain of what is present never comes to an end. But look: he has book ended that (where-the-heck-did-that-come-from) large statement with showing: the images from the piazza desolate edge, then, in how the light moves away in late afternoon cutting the children first, then cutting us. Through his images I can trust his large statement.

Then, what a remarkable switch up. The utter surprise: in spite of the disappointments, the pain, the light that will leave us all (in death), how his exploration through thought and images he is able to declare: it is enough! What a huge statement, earned, I believe, in full measure by the emotional tone of what has come before. How easy it would have been to write the equivalent of life sucks!

For me, what an exquisite poem! What an example of poetic craft; of a poem simple enough, so to speak, to be easily understood, yet beguiling enough to make each reading a pleasure. How his attention to his feelings and the scene unfolding in the piazza takes him to a place of huge revelation. This poem embodies for me a critical aspect of paying attention as so aptly described by American poet Mary Oliver (who turned eighty years old two days ago on September 10th) in her memorial book to her partner of more than thirty years, Molly Malone Cook:

Attention without feeling, I began to learn, is only a report. An openness – an empathy – was necessary if the attention was to matter. Such openness and empathy M.  had in abundance, and gave away freely… I was in my late twenties and early thirties, and well filled with a sense of my own thoughts, my own presence. I was eager to address the world of words – to address the world with words. Then M. instilled in me this deeper level of looking and working, of seeing through the heavenly visibles to the heavenly invisibles. 

Mary Oliver from Our World, Beacon Press, 2007

In Wright’s poem, what an example of attention with feeling. Of seeing through the heavenly invisibles to the heavenly visibles. And through this kind of attention, what a place Wright comes to inside himself through his poem; what a place to take us, his readers.

In part two of this series I will introduce the poem Autumn Quince by Jane Hirschfield. She ends up in the same place as Wright in his poem but the way she gets there is so different.


  1. Posted September 12, 2015 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    What a rapturous poem and the description thereof. You have brought more holy-ness to my Saturday afternoon, Mr. Osler. Grazie.

  2. Richard
    Posted September 12, 2015 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    My utter pleasure. Happy to triiger holy-ness any day. But today especially. What a beauty. ANd your recent email me, as well. Love, Richard

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