In view of the fading animals
the proliferation of sewers and fears
the sea clogging, the air
we should be kind, we should
take warning, we should forgive each other
Instead we are opposite, we
touch as though attacking,
the gifts we bring
even in good faith maybe
warp in our hands to
implements, to manoeuvres
Put down the target of me
you guard inside your binoculars,
in turn I will surrender
this aerial photograph
sections marked in red)
I have found so useful
See, we are alone in
the dormant field, the snow
that cannot be eaten or captured
Here there are no armies
here there is no money
It is cold and getting colder
We need each others’
breathing, warmth, surviving
is the only war
we can afford, stay
walking with me, there is almost
time / if we can only
make it as far as
the (possibly) last summer
- How does the poet illustrate a sense of urgency in the poem? How does she describe the world?
- What does the speaker suggest we do in order to survive?
- How does the poet use the three separate sections of the poem to shift her focus of observation?
- Do you think this poem is essentially optimistic or pessimistic about the future of human life on this planet? Where do you feel a sense of hope in the poem?
- Which are your favourite lines and why?
- If you were going to recite this poem, how would you use your voice to reflect the different tones in the poem? Where would you pause, slow down, or speed up?
- In this poem, the poet argues for an approach to survival that is cooperative rather than competitive. Think about what anxieties you have about the future and how you would like to see people behave differently. Write a poem in three parts. In the first section, describe the state of modern life as you see it, using at least three concrete physical examples. In the second part, speak directly to a person who you think does not agree with you and find a way to offer connection. In the third and final section, pull these first two sections together — choose whether to end on a hopeful note or with a warning.
- Margaret Atwood has written many novels that imagine where we might be headed, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, the Maddadam Trilogy, and The Heart Goes Last. Watch the author speak about the role of speculative fiction here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOWYdX50qQc
- Watch Margaret Atwood discuss extinction with Charlie Rose: http://www.thirteen.org/programs/charlie-rose-the-week/margaret-atwood-on-extinction/
- Watch the documentary on Margaret Atwood called Once in August here: https://www.nfb.ca/film/margaret_atwood_once_in_august
- Read a long interview with Margaret Atwood from the Paris Review: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/2262/the-art-of-fiction-no-121-...
Margaret Atwood, “They are hostile nations” from Power Politics. Copyright © 1971, 1996 Margaret Atwood. Reprinted by permission of House of Anansi Press.
Source: Power Politics (House of Anansi Press, 1996).