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A Sense of Tragedy

by Zettel 

Posted: 19 July 2005
Word Count: 149
Summary: See below

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A Sense Of Tragedy

Turn your eyes
our pain
I beg of you
look look
see what you
yes you
not your God
have done

Wash your hands
not of
our blood
feel feel
sense the hate
you yes you
not your God

Come close,
to the whisper
of our fear
hear hear
the cry of justice
you yes you
not your God
have stilled

Smell our flesh
life’s fragrance gone
shame's odour clings
smell smell
the rankness
of tarnished faith
you yes you
not your God
have betrayed

Taste the fetid air
choking hope
savour love’s despair
taste taste
the spice of hate
the salt with which
you yes you
not your God
have seasoned death

Sense the senselessness
of your act
see feel hear our loss
think think
we are your sons
your daughters, who
you yes you
God help you
have destroyed

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Comments by other Members

paul53 [for I am he] at 14:35 on 20 July 2005  Report this post
I think this would be much better received with an owner edit to remove your introduction.
By itself, this is a heartfelt poem that could be applied to any tragedy: past, present or still to come. It comes across equally well as spoken by those who remain, or indeed left in a note by those who are gone.

Ticonderoga at 15:07 on 20 July 2005  Report this post
I'm with Paul; remove the apologia and let the poem stand alone, which it is more than capable of doing. The killer part of this is the refrain, 'you yes you/ not your God'. Good strong meat.



joanie at 15:25 on 20 July 2005  Report this post
Hi Zettel. I assumed that your introduction is just a summary for WW; perhaps I was wrong. I agree that the poem should stand alone.

I think the repetition is very effective, and I like the slight change in the last verse.

Quietly very powerful.


James Graham at 19:19 on 20 July 2005  Report this post
I agree with the first part of your intro, on the deafening noise of axe-grinding, but not with the rather self-effacing things you say after that. As a statement about the London atrocity your poem outweighs a whole heap of partisan opinions and special pleadings of the sort you refer to.

There's a lot to be said about the way you've put this poem together. The structure based on the five senses is very well handled. To begin with the sense of sight is the right choice: the most fitting thing to say at the start is 'Look what you've done', and the dual sense of 'see' - see with your eyes, and understand - accords with 'sense' and 'think' in the last stanza. The poem is framed in that way.

The stanzas on each of the other senses all have something valuable to offer. To select one: 'listen/to the whisper/of our fear' are very strong lines. We think of the opposite of this - all the loud mouthing-off that we hear from extremists and democratic politicians alike. 'The whisper of our fear' is a still small voice, as even the cry for justice so often seems to be.

'The spice of hate/the salt with which/you...have seasoned death' is a brilliant image too. I've been very moved by this poem. It reminds me of James Fenton, especially his poem on another act of terrorism (in this case, by a state) - Tiananmen. I've quoted this before on WW but a repeat won't do any harm. Just two stanzas.

You must not speak.
You must not think.
You must not dip
Your brush in ink.
You must not say
What happened then,
What happened there
In Tiananmen.

Truth is a secret.
Keep it dark.
Keep it dark
In your heart of hearts.
Keep it dark
Till you know when
Truth may return
To Tiananmen.

Your incantatory repetitions of 'you yes you' and other words and phrases work in much the same way as Fenton's poem. With a certain subject matter, repetition is one of the simplest and most effective ways of conveying anger, the kind of anger that won't give up until it has nailed its recalcitrant target: 'You! Yes, you! It's you I'm talking to. You! Pay attention, I haven't finished!'

Just one detail of the poem puzzles me slightly: 'Wash your hands/in/not of/our blood'. Can you explain?


Zettel at 23:31 on 20 July 2005  Report this post
Paul Ti Joannie James

Reassured, I have happily removed the apologia. Thanks for that and of course your very generous comments.

I guess if someone is moved by what one writes it is the sharing that implies that satisfies, so again thanks first for reading and then for commenting.

James I very much admire the Fenton and am pleased at the flattering comparison. As for the blood: I think there were two underlying ideas that set off the poem in my head - one was very basic - a belief that if you dismiss from your mind ideas and rational justifications, and simply look closely at the flesh and blood of another human being, then you sense literally the fragility and preciousness of existence. Hence the sensory pattern and theme. It was intended to be visceral. The injunction to wash their hands in our blood was - put your hands into this substance of our physical life; touch, feel this life you have literally shed. Thus the in; the of was simply the contrasting meaning as in Pilate washing his hands of responsibility and guilt. So feel what you have done and don't allow yourself any excuse that diminishes the stark physical reality of that.

The other key idea you have picked up on of course - which is blocking the other path to justification and thus evasion of personal responsibility - untestable transcendendant sanction or authority. And here Mr Bush needs to listen as much as any Muslim.



little monkey at 23:36 on 20 July 2005  Report this post
Really powerful, really lovely. So many scenarios can be pulled from this description.

Zettel at 10:50 on 21 July 2005  Report this post
Thanks LM.

Glad you liked it.


James Graham at 22:02 on 21 July 2005  Report this post
Z - thanks for the explanation of the 'blood' lines. Before you posted this, I looked at these lines again and the penny dropped, then when I read your explanation my delayed understanding was confirmed. So absolutely no problem. This is a fine poem. There are many 'poetic' outpourings of protest to be found but this is in a different class from most of them, because it's so well crafted and constructed.


Zettel at 23:47 on 21 July 2005  Report this post
Thanks so much James. Sometimes a peom doesn't quite come off and that's OK - part of the learning process. But for obvious reasons - I wanted this one to ring true. So your comments, and the others, are more welcome even than usual.



James Graham at 11:12 on 23 July 2005  Report this post
Z, how does this strike you?

Wash your hands
- not of -
our blood

This punctuation would make the syntax and logic of these lines instantly clear. Without punctuation, the reader can still supply that parenthesis, but with just a little difficulty: there might be a phase of puzzlement for someone reading it without punctuation, and then perhaps a eureka. That's how it was for me. I think that (even temporary) puzzlement is something to be avoided, especially in this poem; it isn't meant to be even a little enigmatic but should be transparent in every detail.

I think you said recently that you don't like italics in verse, but just this once:

Wash your hands
not of
our blood

- another possible way of making transparent exactly what you mean here. It would be a pity if any reader were to be even slightly confused, because the distinction you make between confronting the consequences of one's actions and turning away from them is so sharp and telling.


Zettel at 15:59 on 23 July 2005  Report this post

I'll go with the italics. I take your point and agree with it, especially the rationale.

Thanks for the help


James Graham at 00:44 on 24 July 2005  Report this post
Have you thought of submitting this for publication? Is there maybe a London paper or magazine that would be interested? Not necessarily a literary magazine. Living so far from London I don't know the publishing scene there, but I would think a poem like this, written in response to the 7/7 atrocity, might find an outlet and a London readership.


engldolph at 11:16 on 24 July 2005  Report this post
Z -

Late commenting, but I wanted to let it settle.

For me, this is a strong and valuable poem ...in its uncompromisingly direct and personal appeal to the senses, and hence the humanity (not the ideology) of those who commit such atrocity.

Those who have already martyd are gone and cannot hear your words, nor would they mean much to them - they had long since cut their cord with humanity - but for those remaining would sympathize with such acts, these are powerful words.


Zettel at 13:11 on 24 July 2005  Report this post
Thanks Mike

As a philosopher I love ideas. Yet it has always struck me how many millions of people have died as a consequence of the ideas at the heart of religions.

Not many people have gone to war for the Ontological Argument or the Verification Principle. Occam's razor wouldn't even trim a beard.

The other paradox is that all the 'religions of the book', Christianity, Judaism and Islam, in whose name the most people have died - have at their heart the injunction 'thou shalt not kill' yet they all, at least in interpretation, find an excuse to do so. One of the controversies about the Koran appears to be a built in "except" within the text that obscures the issue as regrads 'non-believers'.

Religions enjoin us to aspire to emulate God. I rather feel that aspiring to be the best human being you can is a tougher challenge - because it's all down to us.

Scraping sound of soapbox again.

Thanks again for the comment


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