Ode to a Sick Little Girl: Paul Goodman

It’s funny how things can just fall into one’s lap.  Right when Pip inaugurated his “Drawn and Quoted” theme, I happen to see a wonderful documentary called Paul Goodman Changed My Life produced by Jonathan Lee and released in 2011.

Paul Goodman (1911-1972) was an interesting man and perhaps a largely forgotten American poet, philosopher and a number of other things depending on whom you ask. Among his prolific work, perhaps his novel Growing Up Absurd published in 1960 put him in the spotlight during an emerging youth movement.  Although his wife did not particularly care, Goodman badly wanted children and he treasured his first-born little girl Susie.  In 1956 she was afflicted with polio and Goodman devotedly stayed by her side. Perhaps delirious from lack of sleep, he wrote this poem about his feelings and experience.  He shared it with the public at a talk at the Library of Congress in 1957.

MY DAUGHTER VERY ILL

My little darling looked so pale today
fading away
pining and thin like the transparent moon
in the afternoon,
I cannot sleep, obsessed by Susie’s colorless
cheerless face
and bony body in my arms too light,
she who was bright
and comparable to the meadowflowers,
alas! that the mowers
passed and did not spare, their petals droop
—my shoulders stoop
for fear and neither can I breathe for fear.
Nay!  Hear my prayer,
Nature!  who alone healest and not wishes
nor art nor pity,
and do thou, Creator Spirit, visit her
with the quick future
that alone stirs to courage and to walk
and to work.

paul-goodman-my-daughter-very-ill-19571

(Artist Unknown) – Susie Afflicted with Polio (1956)

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