This is one of those poems that gives solace by putting your complicated feelings into beautiful words.
“Good Bones” is about making peace with the grim aspects of the world without closing your eyes to them. I often struggle with loving our world as there are so many horrors taking place in it, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
by Maggie Smith
Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
This poem rolls off the tongue. I love the repetition of “a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways” and “though I keep this from my children”. The sentences run on but the repetition of single words and phrases gives it a rhythm and a kind of rhyme.
This poem acknowledges the lies we tell ourselves about the world and argues that these are necessary to keep trying to make it a better place, or to persuade our children to make it a better place. It pairs one lovely thing with one horrible thing, showing how in the world there is both, but ultimately ending on a note of potential.
Smith acknowledges the way in which she is complicit in not always choosing the most sensible path “I have shortened mine in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways”. She argues that this a part of life, while adding that she will not tell this to her children because that is not how she sees the role of the parent. The parent’s role is to draw the child’s attention towards the good in the world. Is it wrong that this comes with some inherent deception?
What do you think? Is it a parent’s job to highlight the better parts of the world? Do you like this poem?
One thought on “A Poem About Loving Our Beautiful Horrible World | Good Bones by Maggie Smith”
I find this poem horribly depressing and pessimistic. I don’t think that the world is at least 50% bad: I believe that most people are good hearted and want good for others. I believe that most countries live in peace for most of the time and that most people enjoy a reasonable standard of living. Things are generally improving, believe it or not.
The world is not a shithole: it’s still a beautiful place that we need to take care of.