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Wednesday, November 10, 2010


(Mstislav “Slava” Rostropovich, 1927-2007,
one of history’s greatest cellists, a Russian in
exile, performing a Bach cello suite by the
Berlin Wall on November 11, 1989)

Yesterday, November 9, was the anniversary of two important events of the twentieth century.

The poem below marks the second event, the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It was written by Karol Wojtyla (1920-2005), the Polish priest, philosopher, playwright, and poet who became Pope John Paul II. In 1940, he began four years of forced labor under the Nazis, the first year spent in the backbreaking work of mining limestone. He composed this poem in 1956.


Listen: the even knocking of hammers,
so much their own,
I project on to the people
to test the strength of each blow.
Listen now: electric current
cuts through a river of rock.
And a thought grows in me day after day:
the greatness of work is inside man.
Hard and cracked
his hand is differently charged
by the hammer
and thought differently unravels in stone
as human energy splits from the strength of stone
cutting the bloodstream, an artery
in the right place.

Look: how love feeds
on this well-grounded anger
which flows in to people’s breath
as a river bent by the wind,
and which is never spoken, but just breaks high vocal cords.
Passers-by scuttle off into doorways,
someone whispers: “Yet here is a great force.”
Fear not. Man’s daily deeds have a wide span,
a strait riverbed can’t imprison them long.
Fear not. For centuries they all stand in Him,
and you look at Him now
through the even knocking of hammers.

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