But when I hear about senseless killing -- like in Delhi 1984, or Kashmir since 1989, or Rwanda 1994, or Bombay 1992-93 and 2003 and 2006, or the Balkans through the '90s, or Columbine 1999, or Godhra and across Gujarat in 2002, or Beslan 2004, or Chhatisgarh 2007, or Virginia Tech two days ago, and merely putting down this short list has me depressed -- anyway, when I hear about such senseless killing, I think of two poems.
I can't offer that cliche, that the words in these poems give me "comfort". Because they don't. They make me feel worse. But I think of them anyway.
The first is not really a poem, but is taken from a prose piece by John Donne. It goes like this:
- No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. ... Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
- By strangers' coasts and waters, many days at sea,
I came here for the rites of your unworlding,
Bringing for you, the dead, these last gifts of the living
And my words -- vain sounds for the man of dust.
Alas, my brother,
You have been taken from me. You have been taken from me
And by cold hands turned to shadow, and my pain.
Here are the foods of the old ceremony appointed
Long ago for the starvelings under the earth.
Take them. Your brother's tears have made them wet. And take
Into eternity my hail and my farewell.
And I say this today with Catullus, and silently: You have been taken from me, and by cold hands turned to shadow, and my pain.