– Jack Gilbert (1925-2012) I only recently discoveredthe poetry of Jack Gilbert, which seems to invite readers to rethink things we had assumed or taken for granted. It presents an interesting new take, in the most matter-of-fact tone.
This one also has an outdated view: regarding men ('we') as the real people, while women (the 'them' whose hearts can be visited and bodies entered) are not included but form some separate category. A widespread attitude of an earlier era from which Gilbert comes, I suspect it's unconscious in him. Even the most original thinkers can absorb cultural biases without realising. Other poems, however, suggest that he did not objectify the individual women in his life. This particular poem seems, also, rather 'first world' – e.g. not everyone has easy access to the beauty spots of Europe. Even so, its basic proposition offers some possible comfort in the face of the many ills of the world.
I like the way he anticipates a future when many great landmarks we know will be no more ... and then finishes with the scientific fact that we are indeed, right now, looking at the past of the stars we see (because of how long their light takes to reach us).
'And that too is more than enough.' I have to say yes. Sometimes, particularly when many aspects of the world appear dreadful, I forget that life itself is the gift. For which, after all, I am inordinately grateful. And I'm grateful to be reminded by this poem.
I learn online that Gilbert was noted for both the lyricism and the simple straight-forwardness of his language, and for being 'the great American writer who turned his back on fame and insisted on life and work on his own terms absolutely,' rejecting conventional notions of success after early acclaim (he won the Yale Younger Poets award with his first book).
His friend and one-time partner, the poet Linda Gregg, said of him, 'All Jack ever wanted to know was that he was awake—that the trees in bloom were almond trees—and to walk down the road to get breakfast. He never cared if he was poor or had to sleep on a park bench.'
He was short-listed for the Pulitzer. The jury's citation read: 'a half century of poems reflecting a creative author’s commitment to living fully and honestly and to producing straightforward work that illuminates everyday experience with startling clarity'.
Here he is discussing his work, and reading some of it (one of several YouTube videos in which he's featured):