Lesser Seductions: Night Letters
As we lead up to our fall production of The Lesser Seductions Of History, I'll be posting things that inspired the play's writing or echo its concerns. I heard Stanley Kunitz read from his poem Night Letters in the days before the second Iraq War, at a Not In Our Name gathering during a blizzard in Manhattan. He was in his late nineties then, reading a poem written during Hitler's rise, and craned up to the mike to deliver his poem; and the excerpt I give here lives at the center of The Lesser Seductions Of History, especially those last six lines:
I suffer the twentieth century,
The nerves of commerce wither in my arm;
Violence shakes my dreams; I am cold,
Chilled by the persecuting wind abroad,
The oratory of the rodent’s tooth,
The slaughter of the blue-eyed open towns,
And principle disgraced, and art denied.
My dear, is it too late for peace, too late
For men to gather at the wells to drink
The sweet water; too late for fellowship
And laughter at the forge; too late for us
To say, “Let us be good to one another”?
The lamps go singly out; the valley sleeps;
I tend the last light shining on the farms
And keep for you the thought of love alive,
As scholars dungeoned in an ignorant age
Tended the embers of the Trojan fire.
Cities shall suffer siege and some shall fall,
But man’s not taken. What the deep heart means,
Its message of the big, round, childish hand,
Its wonder, its simple lonely cry,
The bloodied envelope addressed to you,
Is history, that wide and mortal pang.