Help me find a poem reflecting on the labor of wanting what we have
August 23, 2021 9:54 AM   Subscribe

In the last year or so I read a long poem (maybe a book?) that conveyed the idea that we work for most of our lives, toiling for what we want, only to realize in middle/old age that all that work was meaningless, that the treadmill only goes faster the farther we run, and now begins the harder work, of wanting what we have, and we're older so that's harder. I can't find this poem/book, can you help me?

I thought for sure that I'd read it in John Bricuth's "Just Let Me Say This About That" but I double checked and it is not from there.
posted by Archibald Edmund Binns to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Likely not it, but this was the one I thought of. Maybe it tangentially sparks somebody else's neurons in a good direction.

Poem 133: The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

—Mary Oliver
posted by adekllny at 11:28 AM on August 23, 2021 [3 favorites]

Your description made me think of this Wordsworth poem, specifically the first four lines.

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
posted by scratch at 12:40 PM on August 23, 2021 [1 favorite]

Do you remember any of the specific phrases or metaphors that were used? I don't know of anything but might be able to help search if there's a bit more to go by.
posted by Lady Li at 8:41 AM on August 24, 2021

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