The Bigness of Small Poems – #18 in a Series – James Wright – A Poem to Counter Terror

Victims of the July 1st Dhaka Attacks: Abinta Kabir, Faraaz Hossain, and Tarishi Jain.

Victims of the July 1st Dhaka Attacks: Abinta Kabir, Faraaz Hossain, and Tarishi Jain.



As the plump squirrel scampers
Across the roof of the corncrib,
The moon suddenly stands up in the darkness,
And I see that it is impossible to die.
Each moment of time is a mountain.
An eagle rejoices in the oak trees of heaven,
This is what I wanted.

James Wright from Above the River: The Complete Poems, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990

It has been a few weeks since the tragic terrorist attack in Dhaka but since then violence in the world continues unabated.  Attacks of all kinds: the attempted coup in Turkey, the deaths in Nice, France by a man in a truck, the deaths of five policeman in Dallas and days before that, the two deaths of black Americans at the hands of police. At times like these poetry can bring some kind of solace. Which is why this James Wright’s poem brought me such comfort when I learned of the deaths of the three young people who died in the Dhaka attacks.

The deaths of Abinta, Faraaz and Tarishi became more real for me because it turns out they were taught by two friends of mine in Dhaka a few years ago. My friends were devastated, told me they were exceptional, even as youngsters! All three had just finished their first year at prominent universities and had bright futures in front of them. It also appears that one of them, Faraaz, chose to stay with his two friends when he was offered the chance to be released from the restaurant where they were being held. Extraordinary.

So often in these difficult days of on-going wars, terror and racial discord I forget to be fully present to the beauty and extraordinary everyday moments in my life.  Like the late-day sun spilling itself in a treacle of light on the woods I see through my study window. Wright’s poem reminds me to notice and expand my sense of time.

Wright (1927 – 1980), who had his own tumultuous times of difficulty in his life,  was a contemporary and great friend of American poet Robert Bly. His poem reminds me to find the extraordinary in the ordinary moment. And in that way experience eternity. Let beauty slow down time and turn it into a mountain. To praise this world as Rilke, the great German poet adjures us to do. To praise the world in spite of its horrors. To not let horrors have the last word. To always reserve that for beauty, the miracle of this world: for a plump squirrel running across a corncrib.  In this Wright reminds me of Jack Gilbert’s poem: A Brief for the Defense and these lines:

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
Are not starving someplace, they are starving
Somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that is what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
Be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
Be fashioned so miraculously well.

Jack Gilbert from The Collected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012



  1. Posted July 15, 2016 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this, Richard! It is a nice reminder to enjoy the beauty around us, in small things, in our families and how very blessed we are to live in this beautiful country.

  2. Richard Osler
    Posted July 16, 2016 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Joan. Poetry is a big help to me these days!

  3. Posted July 16, 2016 at 2:39 am | Permalink

    This is very good….essence-tial…thank you my friend!

  4. Richard Osler
    Posted July 16, 2016 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much Iain! Blessings. Hard to keep my spirits up these days! Poetry always helps!

  5. Posted July 28, 2016 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    Hi Richard. I came across this site a few minutes ago through a “Dostoevsky Rilke” search – your post being about suffering, and am glad I did arrive here. Remember if a post like that does have real truth, tehn that kind of truth is tested as it were in the more extreme circumstances rather than perhaps the placid everyday ones.

  6. Posted July 28, 2016 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    . . . though of course words can be easily said, and noone wishes for such tragic events to arise.

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