All Good Things…?

Advice and insight from a professional poet.

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Why have there been so many earthquakes lately? Do you think it’s a sign that the end of the world is coming? How should we prepare?
— Jackie

 

Oh boy. If you’re looking for signs that the end of the world is coming, you can find more convincing ones than earthquakes. From what I understand, earthquakes happen all the time. The Earth’s plates get the urge to shift, kind of like when you get the urge to turn over in your sleep, and so they do, producing seismic waves that most times go unnoticed. Only sometimes do they damage local infrastructures, and that’s when we hear about them. It’s heartbreaking — the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile are devastating in objective terms of damage and loss, and devastating on the internal landscape of anybody who has a heart. The most positive thing we can say is that such catastrophic events brings us together. Just last week, Robert Pinsky, Jorie Graham, Roseanna Warren, Gail Mazur, Dan Tobin, and many others participated in a Poets for Haiti reading at Harvard University to benefit reconstruction and aid efforts, so an event that can bring that much talent under one roof must have some redeeming quality. I guess — that’s what I like to tell myself anyway.

Now, are these earthquakes a sign that the world will end soon? Hmm, I guess it’s possible, but remember, people thought the world would end in the year 2000. People predicted the world would end with the return of Halley’s Comet in 1986 and 1910, not to mention the doomsday predictions during every century of the Middle Ages, or on every coincidental date on the Jehovah’s Witness calendar. The Mayans predicted that the world would end in 2012, so we have that to look forward to. The thing about the end of the world though is that one can’t possibly prepare for it — in practical terms, I mean. Stocking up on water, canned goods, or batteries won’t do any good. I guess there are spiritual things you can do depending on your beliefs, but I won’t even go there.

Song on the End of the World

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

So, Jackie, cross that bridge when you come to it — that’s not always the best advice, but I’ve found it useful on a few occasions. I’ve always thought that a little bit of worry is good for the soul, but don’t worry yourself too much. Think positive, and make the best of that wild apocalyptic ride if it does come.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.

(Czeslaw Milosz)

15 March 2010

Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston.
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