Old Marx

Jan Wootten is a P4P member from Manhattan.  Her selection for our National Poetry Month is by Adam Zagajewski, who happens to be one of my favorite poets.  Enjoy.

Jan Wootten


I loved this poem, published in the New Yorker in January 2008, and kept it on my refrigerator for years.  

It made me feel sadness and compassion for Mr. Karl Marx and some of the loneliness, doubt and despair he may have struggled with in helping give birth to a breakthrough conceptualization of practical critical / revolutionary activity.”


Old Marx

(Translated, from the Polish, by Clare Cavanagh.)


I try to envision his last winter,                                                                                                         London, cold and damp, the snow’s curt kisses
on empty streets, the Thames’ black water.
Chilled prostitutes lit bonfires in the park.
Vast locomotives sobbed somewhere in the night.
The workers spoke so quickly in the pub
that he couldn’t catch a single word.
Perhaps Europe was richer and at peace,
but the Belgians still tormented the Congo.
And Russia? Its tyranny? Siberia?
He spent evenings staring at the shutters.
He couldn’t concentrate, rewrote old work,
reread young Marx for days on end,
and secretly admired that ambitious author.
He still had faith in his fantastic vision,
but in moments of doubt
he worried that he’d given the world only
a new version of despair;
then he’d close his eyes and see nothing
but the scarlet darkness of his lids.


Our celebration of National Poetry month continues throughout April with poems chosen or written by P4P members.  

Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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