“To Laziness” Charles Simic

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Why Do Some Poems Inspire You To Write While Others Don’t?

After Roman Coliseum-like spectacles like yesterday’s special Senate hearing on the pending Supreme Court nomination, one can’t help but curl up in a ball of despair or read poetry.

I chose poetry. It took my mind off ugly things and reminded me of what can be beautiful in life. For succor, I chose my copy of Charles Simic’s That Little Something, flipping open to pick-a-page, any-page. Turns out, the page was 21 — older than most Senators acted yesterday — and the poem was “To Laziness.”

I don’t know about you, but for me, there are poets and there are poets who inspire one to write. Simic belongs in the latter category. His free verse, his often short lines, his conviction that the ordinary is worth exploration, they all drive me to blacken a blank screen and revise.

This poem, in true wu-wei fashion, does a whole lot of nothing elegantly. Stanza one muses on big topics, like eternity, but stanza two dives into that simplest of difficult techniques to pull off well — the list — finishing with the poem’s strongest lines, a metaphoric sail “made of cigarette smoke.”

In the final stanza, simply enough, Simic does a little “meta-” wondering. Where am I? Why am I here? Until even the clouds (echoing the cigarette smoke’s infectious listlessness a stanza earlier) are described as not being sure “which way to go.”

Did laziness ever look so good? Especially when it cleanses your mind of pompous partisans and drives you to write yourself? Rhetorical questions, all!

Here, then, is Simic’s poem:


To Laziness
by Charles Simic

Only you understood
How little time we are given,
Not enough to lift a finger.
The voices on the stairs,
Thoughts too quick to pursue,
What do they all matter?
When eternity beckons.

The heavy curtains drawn,
The newspapers unread.
The keys collecting dust.
The flies either sluggish or dead.
The bed like a slow boat,
With its one listless sail
Made of cigarette smoke.

When I did move at last,
The stores were closed.
Was it already Sunday?
The weddings and funerals were over.
The one or two white clouds left
Above the dark rooftops,
Not sure which way to go.