Poems about Haiti

I have just read an excellent entry in the always good “Open Culture”  website  http://www.openculture.com/ . The  entry is called

Voltaire on the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755

This is a very powerful poem that still moves in translation and whose echo rings through the years as we now face the devastation of Haiti.

My reaction to reading the poem was to try and write one of my own in respect of Voltaire’s and about the present disaster. I am putting both poems below as I feel that events such as these, although terrible, do provide an opportunity for students to explore their feelings, empathy, explore the social and political implications and maybe try to come to terms with an event such as this (as Voltaire did in his response to the non-concerns of many about Lisbon in 1755).

First, lines from Voltaire’s “poeme sur le desastre de Lisbonne”:

What crime, what sin, had those young hearts conceived
That lie, bleeding and torn, on mother’s breast?
Did fallen Lisbon deeper drink of vice
Than London, Paris, or sunlit Madrid?
In these men dance; at Lisbon yawns the abyss.
Tranquil spectators of your brothers’ wreck,
Unmoved by this repellent dance of death,
Who calmly seek the reason of such storms,
Let them but lash your own security;
Your tears will mingle freely with the flood.

And my own response as a poem:


Haiti 2010
And maybe,
Just maybe
You will look into the eyes
Of the child crying
Unknowing
Why did this happen?

Because you were born
You lived in that place
There are plates beneath the Earth
That move
And they moved

What will you do?
Survive,
Grow up,
Exist
Live
In that place

You will die there
Remembering what?
Dirt, darkness, the screams of others

It was not your fault
You lived in that place
In another there could be smiles
That another day could become tears


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