Speaking of art & politics:
CAESAR
What man is that?
BRUTUS
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
CAESAR
Set him before me; let me see his face.
CASSIUS
Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
CAESAR
What say'st thou to me now? Speak once again.
SOOTHSAYER
Beware the ides of March.
CAESAR
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.

Originally Published: March 15th, 2008

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...

  1. March 15, 2008
     Didi

    I think I am your soothsayer -- just take a look at all the alerts I have been emailing you about the May issue.
    Didi

  2. March 15, 2008
     bill knott

    you're forgetting Act 3 Scene 3:
    CINNA THE POET
    Truly, my name is Cinna.
    First Citizen
    Tear him to pieces; he's a conspirator.
    CINNA THE POET
    I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet.
    Fourth Citizen
    Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses.
    CINNA THE POET
    I am not Cinna the conspirator.
    Fourth Citizen
    It is no matter, his name's Cinna; pluck but his
    name out of his heart, and turn him going.
    Third Citizen
    Tear him, tear him!
    *
    Better for the poet to be brushed aside by Caesar than torn for his bad verses.
    If the citizens only knew what we got up to our pages, how few of us would escape
    their wrath!
    *

  3. March 15, 2008
     bill knott

    p.s.
    luckily for most of us Cinnas,
    neither Caesar nor Citizen
    bothers to notice our bad verses ...
    getting beaten up in the streets or
    the New York Times Book Review–
    I could recover from the former but
    not the latter . . .

  4. March 15, 2008
     Rich Villar

    La La Limon! Boy it's good to see you here! You're my soothsayer, and you say your sooths awfully well.
    Here's a sooth I'd like say to you. Forsooth!
    Sonnet for the #6
    The subways are full of smoke and acrid mists today. In this
    Heat the haze is thick glass that turns everything upside down.
    Thor is banging on the third rail, his sparks shoot down the
    Newspaper birds flying in flocks in the dark. Vulcan's forge
    Bellowing, coughing gas, ozone and foul fumes travelling faster
    Than Mercury or Huracan or the express. Marijuana flavors
    The smoke, and incense burned by Afro-American Muslims. What
    Thoughtless God gave man drugs I wonder, when I see the old sign
    With the Ordinance which Prohibits Cigarette Smoking, but the new
    Generation smokes grass and only reads color video, and disobedient
    Prometheus is to blame for fire anyway. Down here, like at Styx,
    I am angry at the Gods, but at Hunt's Point a Latin lady gets on
    And I recognize Quetzalcoatl, beak and plumes, and the train elevates
    like a magic carpet over the Bronx to Pelham or Parnassus.
    --Jack Agüeros

  5. March 15, 2008
     Rich Villar

    ...and lucky for some of us Caesars and Cinnas, the rest of the world is not the United States, and they could care less about the New York Times.

  6. March 15, 2008
     Ada Limon

    Indeed, I would have been torn to bits by an angry mob had bad verses been cause to riot. Although we might deserve it a little if we walked around saying, “I am Ada the Poet,” or” Bill the Poet” or “Rich the Poet.” Right? Then, the stones might be warranted...if only to knock us off our own Caesar-like pedestals.
    Rich, thanks for the poem. And, it’s lovely to be here, thanks for the welcome.

  7. March 15, 2008
     Rigoberto

    How wonderful to see Ada representing out here on Harriet. Welcome, Ada!

  8. March 15, 2008
     Sheryl

    Yes. Welcome Ada!

  9. March 15, 2008
     Nicole Callihan

    Et tu, Ada?

  10. March 15, 2008
     Adam

    I just hope we can all tell Brutus and the Soothsayer apart, especially when they're not speaking....

  11. March 16, 2008
     Javier Huerta

    I think a poet should be more like Shakespeare's Touchstone and/or Feste. Yes, the more fool I. Look forward to reading your posts.

  12. March 16, 2008
     adam

    I just hope we can all tell the difference between Brutus and the Soothsayer when they're not talking.

  13. March 16, 2008
     dianamariedelgado

    Right on, Ada. Can't wait to read what you have to say. Your first post is great!

  14. March 19, 2008
     scott hightower

    How great to have you here! Looking forward to what is to come!