April 11, 2008
Li-Young Lee — “Epistle”
Of wisdom, splendid columns of light
waking sweet foreheads,
I know nothing
but what I’ve glimpsed in my most hopeful of daydreams.
Of a world without end,
I know nothing,
but what I sang of once with others,
all of us standing in the vaulted room.
But there is wisdom
in the hour in which a boy
sits in his room listening
to the sound of weeping
coming from some other room
of his father’s house,
and that boy was me, and he
listened without understanding, and was soon frightened
by how the monotonous sobs resembled laughter.
All of this while noon became vast day,
while sunlight and the clock
gave birth to melancholy,
before the days grew vacant,
the sun grew terrible, the clock stopped,
and melancholy gave up to grief.
All of this
in a dead hour of a dead day,
among doors closed for nap or prayer.
Who was weeping? Why?
Did the boy fall asleep?
Did he flee that house? Is he there now?
Before it all gets wiped away, let me say,
there is wisdom in the slender hour
which arrives between two shadows.
It is not heavenly and it is not sweet.
It is accompanied by steady human weeping,
and twin furrows between the brows,
but it is what I know,
and so am able to tell.
—Li-Young Lee, 1986