Monday, April 14, 2008

A Poem for National Library Week

This poem is by Ted Hughes and was found at:


'For out of olde feldes, as men seyth,
Cometh al this newe corne yer by yere,
And out of olde bokes, in good feyth,
Cometh al this newe science that men lere.'

Chaucer: The Parlement of Foules

Fourteen centuries have learned,
From charred remains, that what took place
When Alexandria's library burned
Brain-damaged the human race.

Whatever escaped
Was hidden by bookish monks in their damp cells
Hunted by Alfred dug for by Charlemagne
Got through the Dark Ages little enough but enough
For Dante and Chaucer sitting up all night

looking for light.

A Serbian Prof's insanity,
Commanding guns, to split the heart,
His and his people's, tore apart
The Sarajevo library.

Tyrants know where to aim
As Hitler poured his petrol and tossed matches
Stalin collected the bards...
In other words the mobile and only libraries...

of all those enslaved peoples from the Black to
the Bering Sea
And made a bonfire
Of the mainsprings of national identities to melt

the folk into one puddle
And the three seconds of the present moment
By massacring those wordy fellows whose memories were

bigger than armies.

Where any nation starts awake
Books are the memory. And it's plain
Decay of libraries is like
Alzheimer's in the nation's brain.

And in my own day in my own land
I have heard the fiery whisper: 'We are here
To destroy the Book
To destroy the rooted stock of the Book and
The Book's perennial vintage, destroy it
Not with a hammer or a sickle
And not exactly according to Mao who also
Drained the skull of adult and adolescent
To build a shining new society
With the empties...'

For this one's dreams and that one's acts
For all who've failed or aged beyond
The reach of teachers, here are found
The inspiration and the facts.

As we all know and have heard all our lives
Just as we've heard that here.

Even the most misfitting child
Who's chanced upon the library's worth,
Sits with the genius of the Earth
And turns the key to the whole world.

Hear it again.

Ted Hughes, July 1997

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