Pantoum of the Great Depression

BY DONALD JUSTICE

Our lives avoided tragedy

Simply by going on and on,

Without end and with little apparent meaning.

Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.


Simply by going on and on

We managed. No need for the heroic.

Oh, there were storms and small catastrophes.

I don’t remember all the particulars.

 

We managed. No need for the heroic.

There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows.

I don’t remember all the particulars.

Across the fence, the neighbors were our chorus.

 

There were the usual celebrations, the usual sorrows. 

Thank god no one said anything in verse. 

The neighbors were our only chorus,

And if we suffered we kept quiet about it.

 

At no time did anyone say anything in verse. 

It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us, 

And if we suffered we kept quiet about it. 

No audience would ever know our story.

 

It was the ordinary pities and fears consumed us. 

We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor. 

What audience would ever know our story? 

Beyond our windows shone the actual world.

 

We gathered on porches; the moon rose; we were poor.

And time went by, drawn by slow horses.

Somewhere beyond our windows shone the world. 

The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.

 

And time went by, drawn by slow horses.

We did not ourselves know what the end was.

The Great Depression had entered our souls like fog.

We had our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues.

 

But we did not ourselves know what the end was.

People like us simply go on.

We have our flaws, perhaps a few private virtues,

But it is by blind chance only that we escape tragedy.

 

And there is no plot in that; it is devoid of poetry.

The pantoum originated in Malaysia in the fifteenth-century as a short folk poem, typically made up of two rhyming couplets that were recited or sung. However, as the pantoum spread, and Western writers altered and adapted the form, the importance of rhyming and brevity diminished. The modern pantoum is a poem of any length, composed of four-line stanzas in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza serve as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The last line of a pantoum is often the same as the first.

The pantoum was especially popular with French and British writers in the nineteenth-century, including Charles Baudelaire and Victor Hugo, who is credited with introducing the form to European writers. The pantoum gained popularity among contemporary American writers such as Anne Waldman and Donald Justice after John Ashbery published the form in his 1956 book, Some Trees.

PantoumRead more about the pantoum.

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Filed under History, Poem, Study

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