“…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.

66 responses »

  1. I love the way the rhythm does not really match the reality: but since when did the rhythm around us match our reality? I love the form.

    • I like the rondeau, too, Natalie. There’s something about the forms that have a refrain….
      Your postcard from London arrived yesterday. I loved it …especially the news that good poetry seems to be alive and well!

  2. This is the older twin of your “Should the ability appear”. Sort of like Don Quixote rolled into a few lines! Except the joy here is not a dancing-prancing sort of madness, but the quiet reflection of a genuine kind of loveliness…

    • Such a nice comment, Bruce, and with associations I had not seen myself, these days being more Sancho P. than Don Q. Now that dancing and prancing happen mostly in the rear-view mirror, I’ve become quite fond of the quieter twin of that joy.

  3. It is indeed a profound truth you have captured here, though sometimes the knowing is eclipsed by the madness of despair. But, as Bruce so aptly pointed out, the remedy lies in an earlier poem….. I love that!! 

    • Actually, this one is the earlier poem…written two years ago. But I keep wanting to remind myself, and possibly, anyone else by the way. It is a desperate season, but madness shall not have the upper hand—at least not in the microcosm. Thanks, Pauline

  4. If a thing of beauty is a joy forever, why is my mirror losing its looks as it ages?
    Oh, ’tis madness I say, with the river trickling away like so many turned pages.
    But there is joy in the telling, though we tell it as we must, living in stages.

  5. Indeed it is, CJ. I am e’en now coping with the forest of chill; but then, it’s better than the busy desert I was in. XO

    • It’s so good to hear about the changes you’ve made, M-R. I seem to detect a greater sense of peace and possibility….that sun-filled clearing is bound to be just ahead. At least that’s my hope for you.

  6. This is a beautiful message Cynthia (to lie without joy is madness), but I feel some sadness too, like somebody trying to convince oneself (and it may be only me).

    • I think the repetition—refrain—of the rondeau form has that effect of trying to convince, Sylvie. I find your mention of that very interesting, and something to think about. Of course, it would also be madness, as well as impossible, to force oneself to be joyful, . But being convinced that there cannot be joy is probably the greater madness. Madness and joy….perhaps we all know a thing or two about both!

  7. It may be madness to live without joy but it might be hard to live with continuous joy. Content and happiness go a long way with a sprinkling of joy, like spice on good food. The words
    “Beyond the forest of chill
    is a clearing–quiet, sun-filled.”
    Spoke to me, for even in my darkest moments I have managed to find peace in nature and especially sunshine. That could be partly because I’m of English stock and all Englishmen, with their oft cloudy sky, tend to sun worship. Someone recently told me that one should take joy in being alive as it beats the alternative; so I daily try to get some sunshine beyond that sill.

    • That “clearing” is a wondrous place, isn’t it? And now that the nice English girl has landed in Texas, I imagine there is no shortage of sunshiny days in which to bask! Thanks for your usual, thoughtful comment, Jane.

  8. It is madness to live without joy, and the clearing gives space for it to well up. This poem reminds me of another and I think it is probably the rhythm/rhyme or form. If I remember, I’ll drop another comment.

  9. You are such a skillful maker Cynthia. Milosz did pray and your last lines open a can of worms — destroy! Destroy, — so that Nietzsche takes the poem hostage. But I know you don’t believe in such things. The ‘still’ has great ironic effect but the lid has come off the can and the élan vital goes on its merry Dionysaic way! Cheers!

    • What a nice surprise to find your comment here, this morning, Tom, and, as always, such a valuable comment for its perceptions and references. I know Milosz did pray, as do I. But praying is asking, hoping….and sometimes just listening works out as well, if not better. As for the temptations of Nietzsche, well, that’s what they are, temptations. and, of course, only a part of the story.

      I have been wondering how you are faring these days, way on the other side of our continent, and hoping the recent scarcity of your posts and appearances among the readers/bloggers we mutually follow was occasioned only by a whole lot of new and more wondrous things grabbing your attention. I’m glad you came by to read. I like what you have said. Thank you…. and Cheers to you too!

  10. Indeed. Wondrous things come from your mind, Cynthia. I kinda think it’s the first name that does it. But then again, I think not or I’d be a poet too. Well done, Cynthia!

  11. Hm, my ‘like’ disappeared, but my comment is still here. I might add, that we are created to have joy, by default. Otherwise it would be madness, indeed. Hope you are well and in good spirits.

    • I agree, Inese, that we are created to have joy…but by “joy” I don’t mean the jumping up and down, Dionysiac joy of pleasures. There’s a quieter, inner kind of joy—maybe you could call it christian, as opposed to pagan—that is more sustaining, even in the face of life’s inevitable troubles. Yes, I am well. I hope you are too! Thank you for returning to comment.

      • Yes, it is a special joy that has nothing to do with jumping up and down 🙂 It is joy we feel when we marvel at the nature, or when we see a newborn child, or meet a wonderful person, or when we have a purifying, cathartic experience.
        Glad you are well, have a wonderful week!

  12. Of course to the schizophrenic it’s a joy to live without madness.

    But in that clearing I shall loiter, plan, and destroy.

    • I am thoroughly enjoying your comments this morning, Prospero. Your time away from blogsville seems to have rendered your wit sharper than ever. “It’s a joy to live without madness” would be a terrific companion piece to this poem…and the two would be like bookends for my collection of poetry books, arranged chronologically.

      It’s the “destroy” part that’s tricky.

  13. Once again, how true! I have heard a lot of times people blaming circumstances, other people, etc., for their situation. But, end of the day, we are responsible for our lives, not our circumstances, not other people, not nobody else. It is upto us to make the effort of reaching that clearing.

    • Sometimes we forget…I know I do….this truth you speak of, Ankur, but it certainly remains true: it’s not just what happens to us, but what we make of it, that determines our ability to know joy; and joy comes in making peace with what is.

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