Live it Through

I was just cruising through the contents of my hard drive, looking for anything that might be of interest to you, and found a poem entitled, “Live it Through” by David Ignatow.  I could not remember anything about it.  So I re-read it, and thought, yes, I must have liked it when I saved it to my computer, and I still like it.  I then found a link that talks about David Ignatow (1914-1997), and it’s below the poem that follows…


By David Ignatow

I dreamt a huge liner stood in the desert, its crew leaning

over the railing looking down as though the ship were

plowing through the waves of sand. I was afraid to ask

how a ship could come to rest in the desert. I was afraid I

might hear of a monstrous happening that would set my

heart to beating wildly and kill me with its fear. The world

itself was strange enough and that was all I cared to know,

and so I hailed the crew from my position on the sand and

asked where they were sailing to and was answered, Into

the desert. I was glad to get such an absurd answer, since

I could assume it masked their own fears.


Can I climb on board, I then asked and was answered Yes

promptly and a rope ladder dropped down. Eagerly I

climbed it. We would go through with this madness

together, think of it as real as life itself and help each other

live it through.

In an interview of David Ignatow by Gerard Malanga in The Paris Review, The Art of Poetry No. 23, Ignatow says that the poem of which he is the most proud is Rescue the Dead.

Rescue the Dead

Finally, to forgo love is to kiss a leaf,

is to let rain fall nakedly upon your head,

is to respect fire,

is to study man’s eyes and his gestures

as he talks,

is to set bread upon the table

and a knife discreetly by,

is to pass through crowds

like a crowd of oneself.

Not to love is to live.


To love is to be led away

into a forest where the secret grave

is dug, singing, praising darkness

under the trees.


To live is to sign your name,

is to ignore the dead,

is to carry a wallet

and shake hands.


To love is to be a fish.

My boat wallows in the sea.

You who are free,

rescue the dead.


I pulled the quote below from the biography of David Ignatow on the site:

“Ignatow commented on another significant difference between his earlier and later work; regarding “my early concentration in my poetry on injustice and cruelty,” he once told Contemporary Authors, “these poems were written with the assumption that somewhere, somehow there was a social system, idealized in faith by me, that practiced justice and decency consistently and with pleasure. I was wrong. At seventy-five years of age, I no longer have such hopes and expectations, though my heart still leaps at any and all pieces and fragments of good news.”

Ignatow died in 1997 at age 83.



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