The Truly Great

Richard (Rev. Richard Beal, UU minister) had a great service at church today. He read a number of fine poems written by veterans of various wars. But the one poem that really got to me was done as a responsive reading. This was the powerful poem by Stephen Spender, The Truly Great. Here it is:

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life
Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

This to me is a strong anti-war poem because it’s a poem for the greatness of life, honoring those who immerse themselves totally in passion for life and song and love. Their lives are brief because of the intensity, the fire that touches their lips and hearts. As the closing lines say, they travel a short while towards the sun and leave that vivid air signed with their honor. This in a sense may apply to all of us, and certainly to those young soldiers whose lives are cut off too soon by senseless war.

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