svc52 asked in Arts & HumanitiesPoetry · 8 years ago

What is the meaning of the poem What the Living Do by Marie Howe?

What does the following poem mean

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.

And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.

It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.

For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those

wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.

Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want

whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss--we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,

say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:

I am living. I remember you.

4 Answers

  • 8 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Marie Howe is saying that we spend so much of our lives obsesses with minutiae (trying to get the plumber to call, trying to fix the central heating, do the groceries) that we often forget how magical it is simply to be alive. Often, remembering someone we loved who has died (What you finally gave up) reminds us how precious life is.

    It is a pretty cliché idea, and Howe has no original insight to add to it; but like most cliché ideas it is eternally popular with the slow-witted (this is also the lifelesson that begins the universally approved book of modern philosophy Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder).

    The huge popularity of creative writing courses (especially in the US) since the 1980's has spawned a comfortable market for 'poetry' which seems awkward and unsophisticated, but in fact delivers comforting and traditional half-truths as if they were news. Writers like Marie Howe exploit this market ruthlessly.

    Marie Howe is a charlatan, but a very successful one. So was Vincent Peale, nobody ever badmouths him.

  • 8 years ago

    Pretty much, we need to stop worrying about the little things, and stop dwelling on our problems, and spend our time living life to the fullest by focusing on the things that are important in our lives. You only live once :)

  • Anonymous
    8 years ago

  • 8 years ago


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