“Of all the things ever said about poetry, the axiom that less is more has made the biggest and most lasting impression on me,” said Charles Simic, who died on three days ago, aged 84. A Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Simic was considered by many as one of the greatest modern poets, one who awed critics and readers alike with his characteristic short, but pointed poems about the tragic side of life, written with singular comic lyricism. Born in Belgrade, the former Yugoslavia in 1938, Simic grew up with the horrors of war, which led him to observe that “the world is old, it was always old.” In 1971, he migrated to the United States and became an American citizen, and two years later, he joined the faculty of the University of New Hampshire, where he remained for decades. Besides the Pulitzer Prize, Simic was also the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Arts and the Wallace Stevens Award. He was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2007 to 2008.
Selected Poems of Charles Simic
In my great grandmother’s time,
All one needed was a broom
To get to see places
And give the geese a chase in the sky.
The stars know everything,
So we try to read their minds.
As distant as they are,
We choose to whisper in their presence.
Take a clock that has lost its hands
For a ride.
Get me a room at Hotel Eternity
Where Time likes to stop now and then.
Come, lovers of dark corners,
The sky says,
And sit in one of my dark corners.
There are tasty little zeroes
In the peanut dish tonight.
In just five stanzas, each written simply, Simic weaves many references to time and space, invoking nostalgia and a strong longing to return, references to the vast realm of the sky, and the desire to stop time to take in what the metaphorical sky has to say.
In Come Winter, Simic takes a decidedly darker tone, using the cold darkness of winter, to remind us of life’s impermanence.
The mad and homeless take shelter
Against the cold weather
In tombs of the fabulously rich,
Where they huddle in their rags
And make themselves scarce only
When a hearse comes along
Bringing the smell of freshly-cut roses
And a drove of flunkies
With snow on their black shoulders
In a hurry to lower the heavy coffin
So it can go to hell on Satan’s luxury.
Our last poem is also the shortest; it is just four lines, but what a punch it packs!
THE WIND HAS DIED
My little boat,
There is no
Land in sight.