To read the great ones—-
Mandelstam, Celan, Heaney,
Bonnefoy—-is to walk

outside into the
breezes off the ocean, star-
light dim above trees,

the neighbor’s jasmine
intimate and everywhere.
We live in fear of

corrupt government.
The world is a good place with
these voices in it:

jasmine stars under
canopies dark with ocean
breath and ardent words.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at and other sites.

7 thoughts on “World”

  1. That penultimate sentence comes as a shock Tom, as no doubt you intended, and suddenly all the previous lines take on a new purpose, the whole poem shifts its ground – and prepares to deliver its conclusion. I like it.


      1. I don’t know Tom. I can only respond as a reader. And reading the poem i thought I was following a thread about great writers, with some exemplary metaphors of landscape and weather, so I had not expected a sudden diversion to corrupt government and still less the concluding sentence which brings the synthesis. Seen in this dialectical way, it all makes perfect sense and feels inevitable – even if the conscious mind of the writer was not aware of the destination in advance. So, as you see, I like it!


  2. This poem evokes Whitman’s “mystical moist night air…under the stars.” “World” shows, like Whitman, a turning from the frustrating limits of the human-framed world to the open, beautiful, mysterious, and living other world in which we have our being. “World” has another dimension, however, “the great ones,” who are one with the jasmine-scented ocean breath, intimate and everywhere. We breathe it all in, and the “world is a good place.”

    This poem is sublime, one to keep in your pocket for necessary moments.


    1. Your comment alerted me to possible misreadings but the spirit is certainly generous. Whitman’s ecstatic populism is foreclosed here by the great ones! As America confronts its profound pathology perhaps only Dickinson and Melville (?) among 19th century writers suggest another possibility.


  3. Yes indeed! I get what you’re saying. I tried to make that point in “another dimension,” although not sufficiently defined I now see. Ecstatic populism is far, far, far from both the poem “World” and my own thinking. Dickinson and Melville, oh yes.


  4. Although Whitman’s poetry generally is marked by ecstatic American populism, the poem referred to above contains not a whiff of that.

    The ecstatic populism in Nazi Germany and on the rise in America now is profoundly pathological, for sure, especially as it is wedded to the complicity of the GOP. Tracing Hitler’s path carefully both before and after its turning point in 1933, one can see the same arc playing out in Trump. The clues are in plain sight, which is why the current populism gives evidence to the extreme danger of the moment. William Shirer’s The Nightmare Years gives a granular picture of the events in Nazi Germany, and it makes one more attentive to the daily progression now. One can almost smell the smoke of the Reichstag. History does rhyme.

    As reader, I understand your “great ones” in a general sense to include the reader’s own “great ones” and, more importantly, the “great ones” throughout history who may be able to “foreclose” on the direction of the American story as it is unfolding now. Hopefully we can avoid catastrophe.


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