February 4, 2010

Forgive My Innocence

Today, which was a melancholy day for me, I feel moved to share this poem by the New England writer and Pulitzer prize-winning poet, Robert P. Tristram Coffin. Coffin, who died in 1955, published dozens of books of poetry and prose in his lifetime and was widely anthologized. Though now his work is largely forgotten, I never forgot these powerful words of confession and amends, which I first encountered at age 12; they never fail to bring tears to my eyes.

Whenever I feel irredeemable, I think of Coffin's poem and I just know that anyone who regrets their actions as deeply and sincerely as he did is instantly forgiven in the moment of asking. As he shares his heart, I see not his sin, not his guilt, but his innocence.

Recognizing this in myself is another matter; I'm working on it.

"Forgive My Guilt"
by Robert P. Tristram Coffin

Not always sure what things called sins may be,
I am sure of one sin I have done,
It was years ago, and I was a boy,
I lay in the frostflowers with a gun,
The air ran blue as the flowers, I held my breath,
Two birds on golden legs slim as dream things
Ran like quicksilver on the golden sand,
My gun went off, they ran with broken wings
Into the sea, I ran to fetch them in,
But they swam with their heads high out to sea,
They cried like two sorrowful high flutes,
With jagged ivory bones where wings should be.

For days I heard them when I walked that headland
Crying out to their kind in the blue,
The other plovers were going over south
On silver wings leaving these broken two.
The cries went out one day; but I still hear them
Over all the sounds of sorrow in war or peace
I ever heard, time cannot drown them,
Those slender flutes of sorrow never cease.
Two airy things forever denied the air!
I never knew how their lives at last were spilt,
But I have hoped for years all that is wild,
Airy, and beautiful will forgive my guilt.


Lisa said...

This made me cry. I can so relate and feel the Poet's pain. I have such anguish and guilt over giving away a dog I had after 14 years, a pattern I seem to have as I don't want to be around to watch them age, and die. I don't forgive myself, somehow I just can't. This poet carried this pain and guilt for so many years. For me guilt, regret and the inability to forgive myself is a death sentence of the cruelest kind and until I can "deserve" it, I am not free.

Carol L. Skolnick said...

Dear Lisa,

Another way to look at your giving the dog away is: how kind of you to allow your beloved copanion to spend its final hours with someone who did want to watch it age and die. Kind to the dog, kind to yourself.

Can you know that the dog would have been better off if you had kept it until the end of its life?

We project that we, as the animal, would feel abandoned if taken from the only home and family we ever new. My guess is the dog was just fine. They are so much more adaptable and forgiving than we sometimes are!

You say guilt is a death sentence. I'd say it's a life sentence... without parole.

Time to let ourselves off the hook for what we did and can't take back. We are innocents who have always done the best we could at the time.