In this poem there is no suffering.

It spans hundreds of years and records

no deaths, connecting when it can,

those moments where people are healthy


and happy, content to be alive. A Chapter,

maybe a Volume, shorn of violence

consists of an adult reading aimlessly.

This line is the length of a full life


smuggled in while no one was plotting

against a neighbour, except in jest.

Then, after a gap, comes Nellie. She

is in a drought-fisted field


 with a hoe. This is her twelfth year

on the land, and today her back

doesn’t hurt. Catechisms of self-pity

and of murder have declared a day’s truce


in the Civil War within her. So today,

we can bring Nellie, content with herself,

with the world, into our History.

For a day. In the next generation


we find a suitable subject camping

near the border of a divided country:

for a while no one knows how near. For these

few lines she is ours. But how about


the lovers? you ask, the freshly-washed

body close to yours; sounds, smells, tastes;

anticipation of the young, the edited memory

of the rest of us? How about thoughts


higher than their thinkers?...Yes, yes.

Give them half a line and a mass of footnotes:

they have their own privileged history,

like inherited income beside our husbandry.


We bring our History up to date

in a city like London: someone’s just paid

the mortgage, is free of guilt

and not dying of cancer; and going


past the news-stand, doesn’t see a headline

advertising torture. This is all

recommended reading, but in small doses.
It shows you can avoid suffering, if you try. 

  • E. A. Markham, "A History Without Suffering" from Human Rites: Selected Poems 1970-1982. Copyright © 1984 by E. A. Markham.  Reprinted by permission of Anvil Press Poetry, Ltd..

  • Source: Human Rites: Selected Poems 1970-1982 (Anvil Press Poetry Ltd., 1984)

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