Posted on: Dec 06, 2022
For years I have quoted this poem by Louis Simpson, a gifted poet and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
There is no way out.
You were born to waste your life.
You were born to this middleclass life.
As others before you
Were born to walk in procession
To the Temple singing.
I read this poem as an honest recognition of the spiritual predicament of our age. At the same time, I have always found Simpson’s poetry to be suffused with a sacramental cast of thought typical of person of faith. Not long before Simpson died in 2012 (I was unaware of his impending death at the time), I was in Stony Brook, New York giving some talks. It turned out that the person who took me to the auditorium where I gave my first talk, and with whom I had dinner, was Louis Simpson. I was moved to discover in our conversation that he had fought in the Battle of the Bulge, in which my father had been killed. Because I greatly admired Simpson and his poetry, I was very pleased to later learn of his return to the Episcopal Church of his youth, the Church which operated the boarding school in his native Jamaica where as a youth he was required to recite the Psalms. It seems likely to me that both his life as a poet and his eventual reconnection with his Christian upbringing was influenced by those Psalms. I trust that he left this earthly life walking in procession to the Temple singing.