I’ve been investing time in my Pulitzer novel this week—remember that? Upton Sinclair and Dragon’s Teeth? well, if you don’t, never mind that; the blog’s leitmotif will return soon, is all you need know at present—and so this will be brief. In keeping with that brevity, I turn to one of the best modern poets at getting something alive and enticing into a short verse, Norway’s Olav Hauge. Here is his “Don’t Give Me the Whole Truth,” which appeared in a collection by that name in 1985:
“Don’t give me the whole truth,
don’t give me the sea for my thirst,
don’t give me the sky when I ask for light,
but give me a glint, a dewy wisp, a mote
as the birds bear water-drops from their bathing
and the wind a grain of salt.”
Hauge takes a strange tack in this poem, and one that, for that reason, intrigues and draws me in. Unlike plenty of poems that are desperate for truth, Hauge—a little world-wearier, perhaps, a little wiser—asks for something short of revelation. He just needs satisfaction, not excess; happiness, not ecstasy. Not the ocean, but that grain of wind-borne salt. Not a fortune, but the unexpected coin. Not a forest, but the shade of a single slender tree. Like a prayer, he offers it to us, like a whispered hope. Do not ask for the whole world; just that corner of it where you can find a roof and a bed, a smile to return to and a simple meal on the table. As winter gives way to spring, it sounds about right to me.