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What Is It To Be Human?

17 Apr
What Is It To Be Human?

What is it to be human?

What is staying alive? To possess
A great hall inside of a cell.
What is it to know? The same root
Underneath the branches.

What is it to believe? Being a carer
Until relief takes over.
And to forgive? On fours through thorns
To keep company to an old enemy.

What is it to sing? To receive breath
From the genius of creation.
What’s work but humming a song
From wood and wheat.

What are state affairs? A craft
That’s still only crawling?
And armaments? Thrust a knife
In a baby’s fist.

Being a nation? What can it be? A gift
In the swell of the heart.
And to love a country? Keeping house
In a cloud of witnesses.

What’s the world to the all powerful?
A circle spinning.
And to the children of the earth?
A cradle rocking.

Waldo Williams (translated from the Welsh by Menna Elfyn)

According to the article about him on Wikipedia,

Waldo (GoronwyWilliams (30 September 1904 – 20 May 1971) was one of the leading Welsh languagepoets of the twentieth century. He was also a notable pacifist, anti-war campaigner, and Welsh nationalist.

The fourth and fifth stanzas of the poem above reveal his political views. The translator states,

One must remember that “nationhood” in Wales was very often synonymous with anti-militaristic campaigns. Very many prominent poets in Wales have been known as pacifists, seeing their patriotism as embedded in total regard for human life and rejecting notions of “imperialism” and “colonization.” Many would argue that Wales was the very first acquisition of the English state when Wales was conquered in the thirteenth century, its princes killed, and the Welsh language disallowed. (Poetry, April 2008)

This poem reminds me of the spoken intro to the song “Higher Education and the Book of Love” by Rich Mullins:

What does it mean to be human?
What does it mean to be human?

I cannot help but suspect that, at one time in the history of thinking,
people believed that it meant that we were spiritual,
and that we could make choices,
and were capable of aspiring to higher ideals…
like maybe loyalty or maybe faith…
Or maybe even love.

But now we are told by people who think they know
that we vary from amoeba only in the complexity of our makeup
and not in what we essentially are.

They would have us think,
as Dysart said,
that we are forever bound up in certain genetic reins —
that we are merely products of the way things are
and not free —
not free to be the people who make them that way.

They would have us see ourselves as products so that
we could believe that we were something to be made,
something to be used,
and then something to be disposed of.
Used in their wars —
Used for their gains —
and then set aside when we get in their way.

Well, who are they?
They are the few who sit at the top of the heap —
dung heap though it is —
and who say it is better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.

Well, I do not know that we can have a Heaven here on earth,
but I am sure we need not have a Hell here either.

What does it mean to be human?
I cannot help but believe that it means we are spiritual,
that we are responsible, and that we are free —
that we are responsible to be free.

Influenced greatly by St. Francis of Assisi, Rich Mullins endeavored to live what he believed. He died at age 41 in an auto accident in autumn 1997.

Of possible further interest:
1) Fan site for the late Rich Mullins: Calling Out Your Name
2) Lyrics with the intro to “Higher Education”: Lyrics Mode
3) Poetry Foundation
4) Rich Mullins on YouTube
4) Waldo Williams official website
5) Menna Elfyn’s website — in Welsh!

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