By: Duncan Wu
Daddy took my innocence; I was eleven,
Screamed for God who didn’t respond, as if
He was laughing, watching in heaven,
Or maybe nowhere at all. Belief
Was hard to sustain after that. I came
To see the world as matter in motion
Without name, morality, or brain,
And governed by chance interwoven
With chaos, like the universe. That made
It easy to let go; loss is benign.
In time, everything I own will escape
Into earth—but then, what was ever mine?
This isn’t tragedy but nature’s farce;
Let it illume your path. Living is loss.
Duncan Wu is Raymond A Wagner Professor of Literary Studies at Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He is a former fellow of St Catherine's College, Oxford and is best known for his anthology of British Romantic texts, Romanticism. His anthology of poetry about dogs, Dog Eared, will be published by Basic Books in October 2020.
"How do you write about abuse? The theme is almost untouchable, it’s so incendiary, so intertwined with the most personal and least approachable aspects of the psyche. I wanted to write about it partly for that reason, but also to say something to the reader that was not self-obsessed, self-regarding, or self-interested—something, in fact, that was disinterested and preoccupied with the almost impossible task of saying what it was about abuse that equips the child for its future. (But not, obviously, in a way that minimized the damage or the hurt that arises from the experience. That isn’t up for debate.)
I was brought up in England in the 1960s, a period when it was not in any way unusual to strike children; indeed, they were routinely subjected to corporal punishment at school, usually by teachers but sometimes by fellow students. I was six when I was first spanked in front of my sister. That to some extent prepared me for the much worse humiliations that were to come.
Small, tightly regimented forms are useful. You can pack them with emotion and, with their smaller scale, they can detonate with many times more effect than a longer work. That’s why I work largely in sonnets."