Simone Weil (1909-1943), was a French philosopher, Christian mystic and political activist. Disregarding her frail health, Weil worked for a year in factories to better understand the working people she was trying to help as a trade unionist. She was described by Albert Camus as “the only great spirit of our times.”
Edward Hirsch (1950 – ) poet, critic, and “Poet’s Choice” columnist for the Washington Post, said in an interview for Contemporary Authors: “I would like to speak in my poems with what the Romantic poets called ‘the true voice of feeling.’ I believe, as Ezra Pound once said, that when it comes to poetry, ‘only emotion endures.’”
To read Edward Hirsch’s poem about Simone Weil, click here:
Simone Weil: The Year of Factory Work
A glass of red wine trembles on the table,
Untouched, and lamplight falls across her shoulders.
She looks down at the cabbage on her plate,
She stares at the broken bread. Proposition:
The irreducible slavery of workers. “To work
In order to eat, to eat in order to work.”
She thinks of the punchclock in her chest,
Of night deepening in the bindweed and crabgrass,
In the vapors and atoms, in the factory
Where a steel vise presses against her temples
Ten hours per day. She doesn’t eat.
She doesn’t sleep. She almost doesn’t think
Now that she has brushed against the bruised
Arm of oblivion and tasted the blood, now
That the furnace has labeled her skin
And branded her forehead like a Roman slave’s.
Surely God comes to the clumsy and inefficient,
To welders in dark spectacles, and unskilled
Workers who spend their allotment of days
Pulling red-hot metal bobbins from the flames.
Surely God appears to the shattered and anonymous,
To the humiliated and afflicted
Whose legs are married to perpetual motion
And whose hands are too small for their bodies.
Proposition: “Through work man turns himself
Into matter, as Christ does through the Eucharist.
Work is like a death. We have to pass
Through death. We have to be killed.”
We have to wake in order to work, to labor
And count, to fail repeatedly, to submit
To the furious rhythm of machines, to suffer
The pandemonium and inhabit the repetitions,
To become the sacrificial beast: time entering
Into the body, the body entering into time.
She presses her forehead against the table:
To work in order to eat, to eat . . .
Outside, the moths are flaring into stars
And stars are strung like beads across the heavens.
Inside, a glass of red wine trembles
Next to the cold cabbage and broken bread.
Exhausted night, she is the brimming liquid
And untouched food. Come down to her.