The Ides of March: Soothsayer=Poet*
Speaking of art & politics:
What man is that?
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
Set him before me; let me see his face.
Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
What say'st thou to me now? Speak once again.
Beware the ides of March.
He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.
It’s hard not to think of Caesar on the ides of March. All those knives, all those men of politics. However, I often find that it is not Caesar or Brutus that I think of the most, rather, it is the Soothsayer. The poor nameless fellow who wanders in to warn his dictator of the coming fall only to be shoved out of the way as men with important business to attend to go about their day. Mainly, I think, Hey, I’d like a soothsayer! Or an oracle. Or a Ouija board, a magic eight ball, even a good horoscope. Unlike Caesar (there’s really little comparison between he and I), I’d listen. Someone says, “Beware,” and I do, I pay attention.
Maybe the soothsayers of today are the poets: Poor, often nameless, often shoved aside, often shouting something that no one is listening to.
But if the ides of March has taught us anything (aside from never befriending a man named Brutus), it is that we must listen to the soothsayers. Perhaps it could save our lives.
That sounds dramatic, of course, and it is. I like a bit of the dramatic. I mean, I’m talking about Caesar. But in all honesty, I do believe that we are often delivered a poem exactly when we need it—when we are unaware that we are asking. We’ve all been on those marble steps, thinking, Man I’m done with this whole Rome thing. Let’s throw in the toga. And just then someone hands us a note, a poem. Say it’s, “Listen” by W.S. Merwin and we read:
“with the cities growing over us like earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is.”
And we’re reminded to do so. Thank you. Thank you Rome. Thank you Romans. And for one more day we walk up the steps and we’re reminded to be, well, alive and for the meantime, happy about it.
If it weren’t for those many poet/soothsayers, I’d most likely have taken the wrong path numerous times. Maybe you’ll get a poem today, passed under the door like a note. Read it, and in honor of the ides of March, pay attention.
*This is my first post on Harriet, thank you for having me here.
Ada Limón is the author of Lucky Wreck (2006), This Big Fake World (2006), Sharks in the Rivers (2010), and Bright Dead Things (2015), a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award. She earned an MFA from New York University, and is the recipient of...