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By Howard Nemerov

The world is full of mostly invisible things,

And there is no way but putting the mind’s eye,

Or its nose, in a book, to find them out,

Things like the square root of Everest

Or how many times Byron goes into Texas,

Or whether the law of the excluded middle

Applies west of the Rockies. For these

And the like reasons, you have to go to school

And study books and listen to what you are told,

And sometimes try to remember. Though I don’t know

What you will do with the mean annual rainfall

On Plato’s Republic, or the calorie content

Of the Diet of Worms, such things are said to be

Good for you, and you will have to learn them

In order to become one of the grown-ups

Who sees invisible things neither steadily nor whole,

But keeps gravely the grand confusion of the world

Under his hat, which is where it belongs,

And teaches small children to do this in their turn.


Howard Nemerov, “To David, About His Education” from War Stories: Poems About Long Ago and Now. Copyright © 1990 by Howard Nemerov. Reprinted by permission of University of Chicago Press.

Source: War Stories: Poems About Long Ago and Now (The University of Chicago Press, 1990)

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Poet Bio

Howard Nemerov
Howard Nemerov was born in New York City, and attended the Society for Ethical Culture’s Fieldstone School and Harvard University, where he graduated in 1941. He then served as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, an experience he reflects on in “The War in the Air.” After the war, he completed his first book of poems and began teaching at Hamilton College, his first of many teaching positions. In the poems “The Vacuum,” and “Writing,” Nemerov combines a formal elegance with an intelligent wit and strong emotions to describe the mysteries of death and written language.

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