Like so . . .
In the Library
by Charles Simic
There’s a book called
“A Dictionary of Angels.”
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered
The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.
Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.
She’s very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.
As ancient and creaky as the book in Charles Simic’s “In the Library” is his portrayal of the librarian Miss Jones. A spinster, too tall, cocking her head to hear books speak to her in her loneliness—I’m hearing strains of “Eleanor Rigby”—a woman not seen in libraries since the fifties and perhaps not even then.
Still, I love this poem, the whimsy, the humor. I love how Simic uses straightforward language to create his fanciful worlds—the medieval one where people have to swat away angels as species of flies, and the modern one where forgotten angels and gods huddle together inside a book, waiting to be set free.
The unopened book full of angels makes me think of the shelves and shelves of poetry books at my library, most untouched for years. And all those novels, especially these days when words on a page can’t compete with their cousins on screens. Where oh where are the legions of Miss Joneses, turning to the written word, looking for what’s beautiful, magical, mysterious?
Here’s a bio from an earlier post:
Charles Simic was born in Yugoslavia in 1938. During WWII, his family was evacuated from place to place to escape bombing. “My travel agents were Hitler and Stalin,” he jokes. His father left to find work in Italy and was imprisoned instead. After the war Simic and his mother and brother were briefly imprisoned by Communist authorities. Eventually they were able to leave Yugoslavia for Paris, then New York, where the family was reunited with Simic’s father after ten years. Simic took night classes in Chicago and then moved to New York where he worked a number of odd jobs. He served in the army in the early sixties, and arriving back in New York, earned a degree from New York University.
Simic has taught at the University of New Hampshire for nearly forty years. He was named the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2007, won the Pulitzer Prize, and received a MacArthur Genius Grant, and remains one of our most popular American poets with readers and critics alike. Quite a feat for a poet who didn’t speak English till he was fifteen.
So interesting!! Thank you!!
Thanks for reading!
I love this one!! Thanks so much.
I’m facing the possibility of having to cull my own library due to a move to a smaller place. Where would I be, where will I be, without the company of all those authors?
I’m trying on the feeling, suspecting it will eventually become reality.
________________________ Julia Ralston Website | Instagram
I don’t envy you that project . . . good luck!
I absolutely loved the imagery in the second stanza of ‘angels thick as flies’ and ‘you had to wave both arms’ to get rid of them’. I immediately wanted to live in a time with visible angels flying about, feeling that if God sent so many of his special beings to earth, that I truly would feel protected and happy. Just my whimsical thought. Thanks for posting this.
Angels have always frightened me a little….those massive wings….and swatting at them with both hands sounds terrifying! But to each his own comforts and terrors…. thanks for commenting.
Thank you for introducing me to the estimable Miss Jones. I think I’ve encountered some of her cousins in libraries I’ve known. And how the heck did Charles Simic write so well in a language he barely knew before turning 15?!? This episode of the Poem Elf was a real treat.
I’ve never read a Simic poem I didn’t love…..I always hear them in Andrei Codescru’s voice . . . Simic is a smart fellow for sure and has a great sense of humor although he doesn’t look like a barrel of laughs in the picture.