Poetry as Prophecy

October 26, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In good times and bad, San Franciscans are accustomed to hearing from the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. For a half century, he has walked the streets of his beloved North Beach neighborhood and produced volumes of verse about matters mundane and monumental. He was the city’s first official poet laureate and his bookstore, City Lights, was recently declared a San Francisco landmark. Though he’s known now as a peace activist, he joined the Navy in World War II and became commander of a sub-chaser. He witnessed the devastation of Nagasaki just after the atomic bomb was dropped. Last week at a North Beach theater, Ferlinghetti read his poetry to a sold-out audience. He said art and poetry will be classified from now on as B.S. and A.S.– Before and after September 11. He also spoke of poetry as prophecy.

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI: Here’s another attempt at prophesy before September 11. It’s kind of based on the Greek poet, Cavafy.

“Are there not still fireflies
Are there not still four-leaf clovers
Is not our land still beautiful
our fields not full of armed enemies
our cities never bombed
by foreign invaders
never occupied
by iron armies
speaking iron tongues
Are not our warriors still valiant
ready to defend us
Are not our senators
still wearing fine togas
Are we not still a great people
in the greatest country in all the world
Is this not still a free country
Are not our fields still ours
our gardens still full of flowers
our ships with full cargoes
Why then do some still fear
the barbarians coming
coming coming
in their huddled masses
(What is that sound that fills the ear
drumming drumming?)
Is not Rome still Rome
Is not Los Angeles still Los Angeles
Are these not the last days of the Roman Empire
Is not beauty still beauty
And truth still truth
Are there not still poets
Are there not still lovers
Are there not still mothers
sisters and brothers
Is there not still a full moon
once a month
Are there not still fireflies
Are there not still stars at night
Can we not still see them
in bowl of night
signalling to us
our manifest destiny?”