Learning from History

They said, my saints, my slogan-sayers sang,   
Be good, my child, in spite of all alarm.

They stood, my fathers, tall in a row and said,   
Be good, be brave, you shall not come to harm.

I heard them in my sleep and muttering dream,   
And murmuring cried, How shall I wake to this?

They said, my poets, singers of my song,   
We cannot tell, since all we tell you is

But history, we speak but of the dead.   
And of the dead they said such history

(Their beards were blazing with the truth of it)   
As made of much of me a mystery.

David Ferry, "Learning from History" from Of No Country I Know: New and Selected Poems and Translations (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999). Copyright © 1999 by David Ferry. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: Of No Country I Know (The University of Chicago Press, 1999-10-31)
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