The Age of Humans The Age of Humans

A Poem Dedicated to Earth in the Age of Humans

National Portrait Gallery historian David Ward writes a new ode for the Anthropocene

(Collections of the Smithsonian.com Annual Photo Contest, Gal Gross)
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It Happened Slowly, Then Very Fast

. . .and the earth abideth forever — Ecclesiastes

Forever is a long time, however
no one thought to ask how long  
long would be until time ran out
somehow without our knowing
much about it, except the sudden
shock of loss, the once so familiar
and now so missed. Recriminations
followed. They always do. Too late
to think of what we’d do, what we
should have done. And then: the desperate
sense that what we had done could yet
be still undone, made right. But we
had undone time, betrayed it with neglect
and careless disconnect from one
another, and this earth.

Left regretful, self-pitying
in our usual careless way – it wasn’t me! –
memory is no consolation for what we
let slip and lost: this copse of trees,
that stand of water, the vee of geese,
and reindeer running fast across the ice.
Memories fade, this earth too.

About David C. Ward
David C. Ward

David C. Ward is senior historian emeritus at the National Portrait Gallery, and curator of the upcoming exhibition “The Sweat of their Face: Portraying American Workers."

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