“…it’s madness to live without joy.”
Czeslaw Milosz

It’s madness to live without joy, to will
to wake and look forward to nil,
to drag a dull clod through the day
with little to give or to say,
to keep going nowhere, uphill–

to look out and dream by the sill
of elsewhere and elsewise until
the traveling river has trickled away–
it’s madness to live without joy.

Beyond the forest of chill
is a clearing–quiet, sun-filled.
It awaits. Go. Not to pray
but to listen for what to obey.
There’ll be things to destroy. Still,
it’s madness to live without joy.

48 responses »

  1. Joy! It would be madness to live without it! Beautiful rondeau! (I read “…to live without you” the first time, almost works too ๐Ÿ™‚ )

  2. Another splendid outing. I mean once again you’ve “imitated” a kind of impersonal, folk style — the meter, the aphoristic or general diction (as a devotee of light verse and “anon” I value such diction, and also my philosophical interests make me fascinated by your mastery of this idiom — it’s very difficult and missing from much contemporary poetry). Anyway, so we have this aphoristic timeless song, until the “inner form” has its way and the impersonal tone becomes somewhat more personal, indeed imperative: GO, NOT TO PRAY — etc. The next phrase is a triumph: “to listen for what to obey.” So what could have been an argument to self-indulgence and nihilistic autonomy becomes a discipline grounded in a transcendent other. And the final flourish: the element of destruction in joy! Without the key transitional line in the argument: “what to obey” — without the ambiguity of that “whatness” (after that refusal of prayer), we may have taken this as merely Dionysian. There IS a slight wobble in all this, but I carp not. This is a superb outing. Bravo!

    • I guess a llfe-long, seemingly incurable streak of non-conformity, and a fascination with discipline are what keep me on the “folksy” road. One great bonus of your commentary, Tom, (besides the kindness of your taking time to read and think about it) is that when you apply them to my own poem, I can better understand your hermeneutics and philosophy. Thank you!

  3. LUVVIT. THE OXYMORON OF OBEYING AND DESTROYING IS VEXINGLY ENIGMATIC TO ME. I don’t mean to be typing in all caps–my solar-powered keyboard did it to me. When you’re down in the dumps, do you have to be mad to become joyous? Sometimes I have to really rummage for happy memories–they’re there but the bad ones torture me sadistically (to sit and dream by the sill/of elsewhere and else wise)–so much of my deepest joy has been weighted with frustration. So this poem says it all, and thank you for turning my subconscious inside-out, as you unwittingly do so often.

    • Dear Marta…I’m so glad you said “unwittingly”, because it isn’t my desire to be turning anything, except my laundry, inside-out. I always love your “take” on things, especially because it is so often different from anything I woulda thunk. Thank you…and I hope all is well.

  4. Reblogged this on MADWOMAN of GHOST HARBOR and commented:
    Here’s a wise and wonderful lady, if you haven’t met her yet. Cynthia’s poem makes a nice companion piece to my recent one describing Depression. Indeed it’s madness to wallow in “want”–better to choose a quest for JOY. I guarantee there’s “something” a-glitter in the dust!

  5. Wow! An exhilarating, life-affirming poem! A joy to read Cynthia.
    How do we find this clearing, by the way? Do only the fortunate find their way there? Or are there signposts for all? “Much easier to believe it must be so”.

    • So many questions, John. Like you, I am much better at questions than answers, but I will try to answer yours in order.

      (1) right through the forest of chill
      (2) I believe anyone can find the way if it’s honestly desired
      (3) there are many signposts–unless one refuses to see them
      (4) yes, much, much easier. (didn’t realize you knew that poem, but am touched that you quote it.)

      You’ve made a dull morning much more interesting. Thank you, John!

      • In his comment above, John quotes a poem from my archives, “Into Something Rich And Strange,” taking it’s title from a line in Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST (also stealing “full fathoms five…”) and written on the occasion of scattering beloved ashes at sea….out by New England’s Isles of Shoals, to be exact.

        • Bother. I meant that to be a reply to your comment above.
          And here I wanted to say that “Into Something Rich And Strange” is one of my favourite Jobin poems: deeply moving and almost beyond the audacity of comment.

  6. I loved this poem of hope and joy. In spite of loss and pain, there is the indomitable human spirit. I don’t know why but this poem made me think of Anne Frank who, I think, said in spite of everything, I do believe in humanity or something like this quote. I’m on my laptop so I’m having no problems retrieving this life-affirming poem. Eileen

    • You’re back! And it’s good to see you here. Your comment reminds me how there are as many individual readings as there are individuals, and each of them a gift. Thanks Eileen! (Hope you’re still enjoying your break..)

      • Oh! Thank you, Cynthia! Sounds like you’ve had the chance to enjoy the best of both worlds — the city and rural area. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. As usual I loved it. I like the notion that we need joy, not happiness but joy- an emotion so much deeper. For me the most profound message was in the last verse “Thereโ€™ll be things to destroy.” How true, we probably all have obstacles which impair our ability to experience joy, some no doubt very hard to destroy.
    Great poem – I need to print it out and post it on my wall for further study and as a reminder.

    • So much deeper than happiness, as you say, Jane, and when it comes, more abiding. And like you, I think the “destroy” part is key. I am humbled and honored by what you say about printing and posting. I often make “hard copies” of poems and stories I like. Why do they seem more permanent and real than on the web? It’s generational maybe. And by the way, I really am in the planning process for a self-published book. It will be a very small run, so I can give away the copies yet plan to sell on demand later, should that be desirable. It’s a good way to pull stuff together all in one place and placate the ego-fear that all my work will end up in a dumpster shortly after my demise….though I realize it’s foolish to even care about that. Meanwhile, my friend, I thank you for help and support. Cheerio!

  8. Hello Cynthia, this poem shows the complexity of joy, how we can hold all the hardships in life with joy. It is difficult to write a joyful poem, to write about happiness and you’ve done a playful as well as deep rendition of joy! I enjoyed this poem : )

    • Thank you for what you say, Anna. I think the traditional form of the rondeau might be what gives this poem the lilt you find “playful”. You’re right, the repetition is song-like and adds lightness to what could be a heavy idea.

  9. I think it is madness to live without joy! The only problem is, when a mindset is in the frame of “I don’t know what joy is” it’s actually really difficult to get out of that and discover it again. I’ve been there a few times, many years ago!

    I really like the last stanza, that speaks of the perfect place to be, listening, and knowing what things to destroy are really the only keys to joy. A lot of people sadly make the mistake of trying to create joy from little or nothing, and it always fails. It really is a case of eliminating what has stolen it in the first place.

    Thank you Cynthia, a very thoughtful message! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’m so glad you read and comment here, Suzy, because you always give time and thought to the posts (as you do to responding on your own blog.) Eliminating the thieves of joy, as you say, is a good way of putting it, meaning it’s already there, it abides, if only we can see it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. A beautiful rondeau, Cynthia. As is often true of this form, however, I see subtleties in this that create some dark whirlpools. The first stanza challenges us.
    Itโ€™s madness to live without joy, to will
    to wake and look forward to nil,
    to drag a dull clod through the day
    with little to give or to say,
    to keep going nowhere, uphillโ€“
    You say that it is madness to live without joy, without the will to wake, to look forward to nil, a stronger statement than nothing. Nihilism is a powerful philosophy of denial, the idea that nothing can really be communicated. It is madness to drag a dull clod through the day with little to give or to say and to keep going nowhere, uphill, lost in the labors of Sisyphus.
    It is madness
    to look out and dream by the sill
    of elsewhere and elsewise…
    as so many do as age weighs down on their days, lost in the dreams of other times and other states of being (at least that’s how I interpret the sense of elsewise).
    Beyond the forest of chill
    is a clearingโ€“quiet, sun-filled.
    Out of madness a place of sun and peace exists… The forest of chill is excellent phrasing.
    Go. Not to pray
    but to listen for what to obey.
    So go to the place of sun, quiet, and peace, but not to pray, not to do what the saints and preachers have told us to do, but to listen for what to obey.
    But what will we hear? Ah, the complexity of poetry! Even in this place
    Thereโ€™ll be things to destroy.
    So you can find nirvana, but even in nirvana there’ll be things to destroy.
    Still, in spite of that terrible truth,
    itโ€™s madness to live without joy.
    So, unless you want to live in madness, the slicing of reality upon the flesh, find joy and live.
    The last part of the rondeau challenges us in a different way than the first stanza does. It puts the burden of joy on us, the reader, and not on seeking and finding the clearing–quiet, sun-filled. So, joy comes from inside? The poem does not say that, but it hints that, and perhaps that’s worth contemplating.

    • It’s quite amazing to witness your meander through a poem, recording your thoughts, tuitions, and intuitions as you go. Indeed a humbling and gratifying experience for the writer. Thank you for your unique insights, Thomas.

    • And my goal, too, Patricia. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty live there, so it’s where I want to be…(The Truth part not always being the easiest!) Thank you for your kind words.

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