A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning

You who are the reader
had an identity crisis, went to college,
went on strike,
but fell out with the movement
when someone started a fire in the library.
You were reading Rousseau at the time.

Hiking in the woods was your pastime.
You sat on a rock and wrote pages no reader
would see. Leaves were your library.
A congress of birds was your college.
They consoled you, told you to strike
up the band when down, play the scherzo movement

of a romantic symphony, and observe the movement
of water in the stream marking time.
You smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes.
You defined a writer as a reader
who skipped classes in college,
spent nights in bars and days in the library.

One section of your ideal library
has books with blank pages. No movement
of men and arms can stand up to a college
of ideas: you believed that at the time.
You believed in the inalienable rights of the reader,
who could bring down poetry by going on strike.

Like a patient batter taking a first-pitch strike,
the professors assembled on the steps of Low Library,
and talked. Students perused The Rousseau Reader.
Some joined an underground movement
of philosophers committed to a new refutation of time.
The course you most wanted to take in college,

“Romanticism from Rousseau to Hitler,” an old college
standby, gave way to a course on great strikes
in union history. Like a referee calling time,
the head librarian asked all to observe library
decorum and said that for the sestina movement
to get off the ground, we needed new readers.

Gather round, ye readers, nostalgic for college,
and the concept of timeless truths beyond movements
of protesters striking poses in the photogenic library. 


— David Lehman ’70CC, ’78GSAS

“A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” first appeared on McSweeneys.net and in the collection Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man (co-written with James Cummins).