What Kinds of Times are These
by Adrienne Rich
There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.
I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.
I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light –
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.
And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.
In the late 1930’s, when German poet Bertolt Brecht was living in exile in Denmark, he posed this question What kind of times are these? in a poem titled: To Posterity sometimes translated as To Those Who Come After. It’s a bitter poem full of foreboding that reflected his deep awareness of the threat ahead and what war would mean. It begins: Truly, I live in the dark ages. He asks:
What times are these, in which
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
For in doing so we maintain our silence about so much wrongdoing!
Half a century later – in 1991 – Adrienne Rich picked up on that question for her own poem of dread and foreboding.
The featured image is a detail from the Canadian artist Emily Carr. Among the Firs 1930’s.