Li-Young Lee, “Nativity” [Poetry for Lent]

Poetry for Lent 2.001

Every Thursday during Lent, I post a poem that I find helpful for deeper engagement with Jesus’ journey to the Cross and the significance of Lent. Here is Li-Young Lee’s poem “Nativity” from Book of My Nights. Born to Chinese political exiles in Indonesia, Li-Young Lee was later educated in the United States and has written several collections of poetry.


In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world?
just to hear his sister
promise, An unfinished wing of heaven,
just to hear his brother say,
A house inside a house,
but most of all to hear his mother answer,
One more song, then you go to sleep.

How could anyone in that bed guess
the question finds its beginning
in the answer long growing
inside the one who asked, that restless boy,
the night’s darling?

Later, a man lying awake,
he might ask it again,
just to hear the silence
charge him, This night
arching over your sleepless wondering,

this night, the near ground
every reaching-out-to overreaches,

just to remind himself
out of what little earth and duration,
out of what immense good-bye,

each must make a safe place of his heart,
before so strange and wild a guest
as God approaches.


Previous poems in this series:

John Donne, ‘Hymn to God, My God, in My Sickness”

Langston Hughes, “The Ballad of Mary’s Son”

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day”

Luci Shaw, “Judas, Peter”

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