It’s with some shame that I’ll admit to only discovering the work of American poet Jack Gilbert shortly before his death in 2012.
(Here’s an obituary from The Guardian which gives a decent overview of his work and concerns).
The first Gilbert poem I read has remained my favourite, though I now have several of his collections in my library. It’s called Failing and Flying and it’s no exaggeration to say that the final two lines of that poem have poured balm on situations where I could find no other solace. How wonderful are words, and how gifted was Mr Gilbert.
Failing and Flying
by Jack Gilbert
Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.