In honor of the first week of National Poetry Month, here is a favorite poem of mine, about (surprise, surprise!) the circulation of print. It was written by Randall Jarrell in the early 1950s, and it is a difficult and fascinating text.
I think it is especially useful, more than half a century later, to compare (and contrast) the deliberative, "slow and sidelong" experience of knowledge/culture/narrative depicted here to our experiences of the information landscape today.
Children Selecting Books in a Library
With beasts and gods, above, the wall is bright.
The child's head, bent to the book-colored shelves,
Is slow and sidelong and food-gathering,
Moving in blind grace… yet from the mural, Care
The grey-eyed one, fishing the morning mist,
Seizes the baby hero by the hair
And whispers, in the tongue of gods and children,
Words of a doom as ecumenical as dawn
But blanched like dawn, with dew.
The children's cries
Are to men the cries of crickets, dense with warmth
— But dip a finger into Fafnir, taste it,
And all their words are plain as chance and pain.
Their tales are full of sorcerers and ogres
Because their lives are: the capricious infinite
That, like parents, no one has yet escaped
Except by luck or magic; and since strength
And wit are useless, be kind or stupid, wait
Some power's gratitude, the tide of things.
Read meanwhile… hunt among the shelves, as dogs do, grasses,
And find one cure for Everychild's diseases
Beginning: Once upon a time there was
A wolf that fed, a mouse that warned, a bear that rode
A boy. Us men, alas! wolves, mice, bears bore.
And yet wolves, mice, bears, children, gods and men
In slow preambulation up and down the shelves
Of the universe are seeking… who knows except themselves?
What some escape to, some escape: if we find Swann's
Way better than our own, an trudge on at the back
Of the north wind to — to — somewhere east
Of the sun, west of the moon, it is because we live
By trading another's sorrow for our own; another's
Impossibilities, still unbelieved in, for our own…
"I am myself still?" For a little while, forget:
The world's selves cure that short disease, myself,
And we see bending to us, dewy-eyed, the great
CHANGE, dear to all things not to themselves endeared.