Uncategorized

Muriel Rukeyser – Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars)

“Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.”

– Muriel Rukeyser


Muriel Rukeyser was the poet that Anne Sexton called ‘The mother of everyone,’ and she was a writer whose work traced the integrated tracks that moved between the political and the personal. This poem of hers written in the 1950s refers to the glut of wars that had taken place in her lifetime, and which had affected her strongly. This poem has had a popular resurgence since the election in 2016, and has seemed to be particularly relevant in its lamentation of the carelessness of news reports and the general onslaught of media. In a stroke of optimism at the end of the poem, Rukeyser invokes the humanity in the social response – people moving towards one another, making love, finding themselves and waking up to reach beyond the limits of themselves: ‘as the lights darkened’ and the lights of the night brightened.


Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars)

I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
To let go the means, to wake.

I lived in the first century of these wars.

Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)
From: Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser

Leave a Reply