Today on my way to work I passed by a man sitting on the pavement cross-legged. The morning was cold and frost glittered in the window panes. His back was pressed against the wall. Face hidden inside the hood, hands squeezed in the pockets. Next to a small cap, large, hand-written cardboard note read: ‘Destitute and desolate, living in a night shelter, any help appreciated’. I passed by … embarrassed – for us both. And the whole day the sight of the man rested in my vision. In the evening it brought me to Tin Ujevic and his poem (translated from Croatian) below:
How hard it is not to be strong,
How hard it is to be alone,
And to be old, yet to be young!
And to be weak, and powerless,
Alone, with no one anywhere,
Dissatisfied, and desperate.
And trudge bleak highways endlessly,
And to be trampled in the mud,
With no star shining in the sky.
Without your star of destiny
To play its twinkling’s on your crib
With rainbows and false prophecies.
– Oh God, oh God, remember all
The glittering fair promises
With which you have afflicted me.
Oh God, oh God, remember all
The great loves, the great victories,
The wreaths of laurel and the gifts.
And know you have a son who walks
The weary valleys of the world
Among sharp thorns, and rocks and stones,
Through unkindness and unconcern,
With his feet bloodied under him,
And with his heart an open wound.
His bones are full of weariness,
His soul is ill at ease and sad,
And he’s neglected and alone,
And sisterless, and brotherless,
and fatherless, and motherless,
With no one dear, and no close friend,
And he has no-one anywhere
Except thorn twigs to pierce his heart
And fire blazing from his palms.
Lonely and utterly alone
Under the hemmed in vault of blue,
On dark horizons of high seas.
Whom can he tell his troubles to
When no-one’s there to hear hues call,
not even brother wanderers.
Oh God, you sear your burning word
Too hugely through this narrow throat
And throttle it inside my cry.
And utterance is a burning stake,
Though I must yell it out, I must,
Or, like a kindled log, burn out.
Just let me be a bonfire on
A hill, just one breath in the fire,
If not a scream hurled from the roofs.
Oh God, let it be over with,
This miserable wandering
Under a vault as deaf as stone.
Because I crave a powerful word,
Because I crave an answering voice,
Someone to love, or holy death.
For bitter is the wormwood wreath
And deadly dark the poison cup,
So burn me, blazing summer noon.
For I am sick of being weak,
And sick of being all alone
(seeing I could be hale and strong)
and seeing that I could be loved),
But I am sick, sickest of all
To be so old, yet still be young!