“We Must Risk Delight”

A Brief for the Defense

~ Jack Gilbert

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.


When I was younger, I did not believe this. I was horrified at Jesus’ statement that it was OK for his follower to wash his feet with oil instead of using the money to feed the poor. “The poor you will have always with you,” seemed (and, in context, still does seem) breathtakingly brutal coming from a man who claimed to be THE All-Powerful God who worked miracles on a whim.

But, for the rest of us, made of Goddess-stuff as we are, I’ve come around, as I’ve gotten older, to Gilbert’s view: “We must risk delight. . . . We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” I thought of those lines last night as I contrasted the horrible shooting in Wisconsin with the amazing achievement of landing Curiosity on Mars.

There was a moment this weekend when G/Son was idly washing his hands and singing, in his six-year-old perfect pitch, a song that he likes to sing: “When the sun goes down, the stars come out. And all that counts is here and now. My universe will never be the same. I’m glad you came. I’m glad you came.” I stopped, leaned back against the cool wall, closed my eyes, and positively drank it in. I want to be able to remember, and to delight in, that moment forever. Once in a while, something happens that makes me say, “OK, I’m glad that I did the chemo. It was worth it.” That was one of those moments. I’m glad that I was willing to risk delight.

What do you think?

Picture by the blogger; if you copy, please link back.

7 responses to ““We Must Risk Delight”

  1. “There is no cure for the cycle of birth and death save to enjoy the interval”

  2. While my personal tragedies have been compartively very small, goddess be thanked, I still think that this is ver much a reminder that I needed to hear today.

  3. What a fantastic piece of verse, i’ve never commented here before but felt moved to do so today. It’s so easy to be dragged down by the sadness in this world; sometimes we feel guilty, therefore missing out on so much. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Martin, Agreed!

    katie and Kate, So glad you liked it. We can all use a reminder once in a while.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing the poetry and the moments with your grandson. And for doing the chemo.

  6. I’ve been thinking about this for days (since you posted). Of course it’s the last bit that really got me: “I’m glad I did the chemo.” That was good for me to hear.

  7. Michael and Sara,

    Many kind thanks. Chemo was horrible for me; I kept questioning whether or not it was worth it. So I now store up those moments that make me think, “Yes, yes it was.” Sara, you’ll have many such moments!!!!!! Glad this ordeal is behind you. Hope there’s a book that comes out of it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s