Our Poems for the Victims of Nice

Lately, over the summer holidays, I have been writing poetry everyday. But when I woke up this morning and heard the news of yet another devastating, inhuman, ridiculous attack on beautiful France… I found myself speechless.


84 people killed. 10 of them children. Some of the children who survived will grow up to be orphans. All because of one man, one ideology, and a bag-full of hate. I hear CNN repeatedly saying ‘this is the new normal’. They said it during the November attacks, in Orlando, in Belgium, and again now. At first I was defiant. No: no this will not be the new normal. But now, there’s a sense of foreboding familiarity about it all. We are becoming, hell, used to this!


But we should never, never get used to it. We have to fight back. I don’t know how. I don’t mean cowboy-isms like Trump or Putin. I mean we need to stop the hate. We are better than them. We are better than this tumour of barbarism. ISIS needs to be fought on the ground, in their own backyard… but in ours too. I said it after the November attacks and I’ll say it again now: the best weapon we have is our culture. Our post-Enlightenment civilization; our art; our humanism; our secular tolerance – once we begin to lose that, then, the terrorists will truly have one.


They are trying to bring down our culture from within. We cannot let them. Although, having said that… what do we say to the families of the victims? This isn’t right, it isn’t fair. Nothing we ever say to them can begin to assuage the pain they are feeling now. We are helpless. All we can do is collectively put our arms around them and support them. Support.
Today I couldn’t write. If this is the new normal, I don’t know what to say to it. Maybe over time but not now. Too soon, too fresh. So instead, I found some poems, old and not-so-old, that make up the canon of our civilization’s literature, that can maybe, just maybe, have something pertinent and consoling to tell us. If nothing else, they can make us proud. At a time when it’s so easy to doubt ourselves. My deepest condolences to all the families of the victims.



After Great Pain A Formal Feeling Comes

Emily Dickinson


After great pain, a formal feeling comes –

The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –

The stiff Heart questions ‘was it He, that bore,’

And ‘Yesterday, or Centuries before’?


The Feet, mechanical, go round –

A Wooden way

Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –

Regardless grown,

A Quartz contentment, like a stone –


This is the Hour of Lead –

Remembered, if outlived,

As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –

First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –




Robert Louis Stevenson



Under the wide and starry sky

Dig the grave and let me lie:

Glad did I live and gladly die,

And I laid me down with a will.


This be the verse you ‘grave for me:

  Here he lies where he long’d to be;  

Home is the sailor, home from the sea,          

  And the hunter home from the hill.




The Wind, One Brilliant Day

Antonio Machado


The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

‘In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I’d like all the odor of your roses.’

‘I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.’

‘Well then, I’ll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.’

The wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
‘What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?’




WH Auden


Lay your sleeping head, my love,

Human on my faithless arm;

Time and fevers burn away

Individual beauty from

Thoughtful children, and the grave

Proves the child ephemeral:

But in my arms till break of day

Let the living creature lie,

Mortal, guilty, but to me

The entirely beautiful.


Soul and body have no bounds:

To lovers as they lie upon

Her tolerant enchanted slope

In their ordinary swoon,

Grave the vision Venus sends

Of supernatural sympathy,

Universal love and hope;

While an abstract insight wakes

Among the glaciers and the rocks

The hermit’s carnal ecstasy.


Certainty, fidelity

On the stroke of midnight pass

Like vibrations of a bell,

And fashionable madmen raise

Their pedantic boring cry:

Every farthing of the cost,

All the dreaded cards foretell,

Shall be paid, but from this night

Not a whisper, not a thought,

Not a kiss nor look be lost.


Beauty, midnight, vision dies:

Let the winds of dawn that blow

Softly round your dreaming head

Such a day of welcome show

Eye and knocking heart may bless,

Find the mortal world enough;

Noons of dryness find you fed

By the involuntary powers,

Nights of insult let you pass

Watched by every human love.



Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Dylan Thomas


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.




For Andrew Wood

James Fenton


What would the dead want from us
Watching from their cave?
Would they have us forever howling?
Would they have us rave
Or disfigure ourselves, or be strangled
Like some ancient emperor’s slave?

None of my dead friends were emperors
With such exorbitant tastes
And none of them were so vengeful
As to have all their friends waste
Waste quiet away in sorrow
Disfigured and defaced.

I think the dead would want us
To weep for what they have lost.
I think that our luck in continuing
Is what would affect them most.
But time would find them generous
And less self-engrossed.

And time would find them generous
As they used to be
And what else would they want from us
But an honored place in our memory,
A favorite room, a hallowed chair,
Privilege and celebrity?
And so the dead might cease to grieve
And we might make amends
And there might be a pact between
Dead friends and living friends.
What our dead friends would want from us
Would be such living friends.




When You Are Old

WB Yeats


When you are old and grey and full of sleep,

And nodding by the fire, take down this book,

And slowly read, and dream of the soft look

Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;


How many loved your moments of glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true,

But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face;


And bending down beside the glowing bars,

Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled

And paced upon the mountains overhead

And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.




Perfection Wasted

John Updike


And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.



3 Comments Add yours

  1. jaynezak says:

    beautiful tribute. it was really nice to reread these poems all together. thank you.


    1. justinfenech says:

      Many thanks to your for reading and caring!


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