Toads and Ashes

Here’s a poem for you on this Ash Wed:

At A Certain Age

We wanted to confess our sins but there were no takers.
White clouds refused to accept them, and the wind
Was too busy visiting sea after sea.
We did not succeed in interesting the animals.
Dogs, disappointed, expected an order,
A cat, as always immoral, was falling asleep.
A person seemingly very close
Did not care to hear of things long past.
Conversations with friends over vodka or coffee
Ought not be prolonged beyond the first sign of boredom.
It would be humiliating to pay by the hour
A man with a diploma, just for listening.
Churches. Perhaps churches. But to confess there what?
That we used to see ourselves as handsome and noble
Yet later in our place an ugly toad
Half-opens its thick eyelid
And one sees clearly: “That’s me.”

Czeslaw Milosz
Some quick thoughts:
I love the movement of this poem: It begins with inner turmoil and quickly moves to the sky and wind. The sinner finding no rest in the clouds, turns to the land and its creatures. The description of the dog and cat brings the poem to earth in one quick sweep and invoke the domestic life. They are uninterested and disappointed. He moves to humanity. Friends are indifferent and how humiliating and sterile it would be to pay someone!
We have a turning point – Churches – Clouds, animals, friends, professionals – Churches.  The tone seems to shift a bit with the turning point. The examination of conscience begins. What is this unrest? “But to confess what?” The poet seems unsatisfied with what he knows he should confess. Pride. He thought himself noble but now he is no more than a  toad. His description is so perfect! Slit eyes -half open. The image of the toad brings to mind both land and sea, the mythical fairy tales and the factual, the scientific- both body and soul. The poem ends with knowledge of self- seeing oneself as is, and not what’s thought to be. And so, this Ash Wed, let us remember what we really are – Toads and Ashes.

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