Simone Weil: The Year of Factory Work (1934-1935)

By Edward Hirsch b. 1950 Edward Hirsch
A glass of red wine trembles on the table,   
Untouched, and lamplight falls across her shoulders.

She looks down at the cabbage on her plate,   
She stares at the broken bread. Proposition:

The irreducible slavery of workers. “To work   
In order to eat, to eat in order to work.”

She thinks of the punchclock in her chest,
Of night deepening in the bindweed and crabgrass,

In the vapors and atoms, in the factory   
Where a steel vise presses against her temples

Ten hours per day. She doesn’t eat.
She doesn’t sleep. She almost doesn’t think

Now that she has brushed against the bruised   
Arm of oblivion and tasted the blood, now

That the furnace has labelled her skin
And branded her forehead like a Roman slave’s.

Surely God comes to the clumsy and inefficient,   
To welders in dark spectacles, and unskilled

Workers who spend their allotment of days   
Pulling red-hot metal bobbins from the flames.

Surely God appears to the shattered and anonymous,   
To the humiliated and afflicted

Whose legs are married to perpetual motion   
And whose hands are too small for their bodies.

Proposition: “Through work man turns himself   
Into matter, as Christ does through the Eucharist.

Work is like a death. We have to pass   
Through death. We have to be killed.”

We have to wake in order to work, to labor   
And count, to fail repeatedly, to submit

To the furious rhythm of machines, to suffer   
The pandemonium and inhabit the repetitions,

To become the sacrificial beast: time entering   
Into the body, the body entering into time.

She presses her forehead against the table:   
To work in order to eat, to eat . . .

Outside, the moths are flaring into stars
And stars are strung like beads across the heavens.

Inside, a glass of red wine trembles
Next to the cold cabbage and broken bread.

Exhausted night, she is the brimming liquid   
And untouched food. Come down to her.

NOTES: During this period Simone Weil worked as a manual laborer in the Renault, Alsthom, and Forges de Basse-Indres factories in Paris. The experience was one of the gravest and most shattering in her short life (1909–1943). “That contact with affliction had killed my youth,” she wrote in her “Spiritual Autobiography” (Waiting for God, posthumously published in 1951).
Weil described and meditated on her factory experiences in a series of letters, journal entries, and notes posthumously collected in La Condition Ouvrière (1951). The title of my poem and some background information are gleaned from chapter eight of her friend Simone Pétrement’s biography, Simone Weil: A Life (1976). The logical propositions are quoted from Weil’s essay “The Mysticism of Work” (Gravity and Grace, 1952).

Edward Hirsch, “Simone Weil: The Year of Factory Work (1934-1935)” from Earthly Measures. Copyright © 1994 by Edward Hirsch. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Source: Earthly Measures (1994)

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Poet Edward Hirsch b. 1950

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Philosophy, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Jobs & Working, Activities

 Edward  Hirsch


Poet and author Edward Hirsch has built a reputation as an attentive and elegant writer and reader of poetry. Over the course of eight collections of poetry, four books of criticism, and the long-running  “Poet’s Choice” column in the Washington Post, Hirsch has transformed the quotidian into poetry in his own work, as well as demonstrated his adeptness at explicating the nuances and shades of feeling, tradition, and craft at . . .

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SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Philosophy, Social Commentaries, Money & Economics, Jobs & Working, Activities

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

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