Why Are Your Poems So Dark? by Linda Pastan

Isn’t the moon dark too,
most of the time?

And doesn’t the white page
seem unfinished

without the dark stain
of alphabets?

When God demanded light,
he didn’t banish darkness.

Instead he invented
ebony and crows

and that small mole
on your left cheekbone.

Or did you mean to ask
“Why are you sad so often?”

Ask the moon.
Ask what it has witnessed.

Why Are Your Poems So Dark?

This poem called to me, with its question I could well imagine asking or being asked by others. Dark, of course, in our culture is considered the end of the spectrum we wish to avoid despite its reality in our lives. And as Pastan says, the moon is dark much of the time as it waxes and wanes, though as I write this, the moon has reached its fullness, a blood moon, full of light.

She asks if the white page we read would seem unfinished without the dark stain / of alphabets, all that lovely white space around poems. She points out that it is said that God created light, separate from the darkness, day and night, but he didn’t banish darkness. At this time of year, many people resist the darkness, but I believe it is part of the season’s gift. She gives examples of ebony and crows, that small mole / on your left cheekbone, so many objects of dark beauty if you think about it.

And then she rephrases the question, Why are you sad so often? This opens a new possibility, that her poems are not so much dark as simply sad. And then her simple response: Ask the moon, the moon which looks down on us from the night sky at every phase. Ask what it has witnessed. And as I reflect on the daily news, the answer is so clear – there is definitely sadness, darkness in between the moments of joy and light. Is this not how we notice the difference between the two?

14 thoughts on “Why Are Your Poems So Dark? by Linda Pastan

  1. Beautiful!!
    In this poem the author refers to the space between darkness and lignt. Neither are more/less privileged….such a simple and complex reflection

    I find myself moved by the idea of ’space between’ – where the unconscious ‘lives’/ where the breath is suspended, between the inhalation and the exhalation/ between life and death/ where some may say the ’spirit’ moves.

    As you know Jan, so much of yoga/mindfulness is about presence to the breath, including the space at the top of the inhalation and the bottom of the exhalation, as reflected in a favourite quote of mine, from an unknown author, “The breath is the bridge over the ocean of the conditioned mind”. Thankyou!!

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    • Simple and complex, yes! the space between, the suspension of breath, wonderful enrichment of the meaning to be found here that you have added. And I love the quote, so much to be found in the breath. Thank you dear Rena xoxo

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  2. I had to look up this poet, to understand why others might think her poems are so dark. The ones I saw seem, often, hoepful or uplifting, though she does write about loss and change often. Every single bio I saw mentioned her Jewish background…as one of the tribe, I wonder how generational sadness may play in to any aspects of her poetry which seem dark. But I do so love the way she calls out the contrasts here. Rena’s comment makes me think of yin and yang. Thank you for another great poem and your insightful commentary, and introduction to a poet. I’m going to share her poem about autumn (In the Forest) now on social media…before autumn is gone.

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  3. Janice, What a beautiful, feminine poem! I like Elizabeth’s contribution suggesting the
    natural fit of yin and yang energy in the universe. Our Western culture has placed so much
    emphasis on “living in the light,” that we have forgotten the beauty that comes in stillness,
    reflection, and the dark. Thanks to Linda Pastan we are free to claim our inheritance as
    people of the dark Mother Earth, the moon, and of our feminine sensibility once again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
    The light sustains me, but there is so much terrible beauty in the darkness. I would not give it up for anything. As you said, how would we know one without the other?
    Thank you for always waking me, dear Jan.

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