“Despair”

Sometimes, in moments seeming the most clear,
It seems as though my perishing were sure,
My hopeless expiration imminent,
Unless you send some whirlwind of salvation
To wipe away, erase, my many woes,
Or, better yet, I suddenly awake
(In what would be unprecedented grace)
To find myself before it all went wrong.
And so I pour myself out on the floor,
My voice a fountain of both sobs and prayer,
My shivering body awkwardly abased
To mirror in my flesh my misery …
And then, at length, my limbs begin to ache,
My stomach growls and my head hurts from thirst,
And while anxiety is no less keen
In pressing on me, tempting to despair,
Mere aches and itches drive me to my feet
To serve those merely momentary needs,
But until greater power has moved my limbs,
The pit I, senseless, dug to trap myself
Does not thereby grow any shallower.
Neither can dust nor tears do any good
If my heart’s eyes are dry, its back unbent.
To seek you in my need is my one thought
In this whole sorry business that was right,
But you have promised you will answer prayer
Of one whose heart is broken and contrite,
The sheep (or Rabbit) willing to be led,
Not one who still is set on his own way,
That stubbornness a sign of greater peril.
Lord, humble me, before it is too late;
Let not my course be set to lasting death,
Nor let my hands accomplish only that
Which, in the end, shall perish in your fire.
Ah, save me, Lord—but from the greater snare,
That I may live to sing your praise on high.

I began this poem one morning in late January of this year, after yet another occurrence of the phenomenon its opening lines describe, and got what I had written so far into my records in mid-February. After two more revision sessions, mostly adding new lines to the end, I managed to bring it to what I felt was a reasonable conclusion, in the form you read above.

Il Penseroso by Thomas Cole

As always, I earnestly welcome your comments, questions, critique, or other feedback about this or any other part of my work. If you’d like to read more of my poetry, you can read my archive (also organized in more manageable installments), follow this blog for (now only occasional) new poetry (among other things), or get my book, which contains over sixty of my best poems, each paired with a public-domain illustration or drawing. You may also share this poem with others, subject to my sharing policy.

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