Saying thanks: From poets to everyday people, it’s essential

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I can no other answer make but thanks,

And thanks, and ever thanks.

William Shakespeare, “Twelfth Night”

Thank you. What a simple phrase — short, direct and unadorned. It’s part of every language on the planet, and it transmits as easily as a smile.

But thank-yous are not simple. They are a component of our social contract, a way we show appreciation for the acts of one another.

Thank-yous are meaningful, which explains why the most talented authors and poets of our day have taken a crack at writing about the nature of giving thanks.

Some works deal with Thanksgiving, the holiday that invites us to take stock of our blessings. Others are rich portraits that describe nature at this time of year. They are as varied as the scenes around today’s dinner tables.

In “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” the words of Robert Frost, the country’s first inaugural poet, resemble an oil painting by Norman Rockwell.

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold,
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

A different scene is laid out by Richard Blanco, the 2013 inaugural poet. In this excerpt from his poem “America,” a family of Cuban immigrants is trying to adapt to a new tradition.

I spoke English; my parents didn’t.
We didn’t live in a two-story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter or Marsha;
we were not the Brady Bunch. ...

A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain’s majesty,
“one if by land, two if by sea”
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the “masses yearning to be free”
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.

Most everyday Americans cannot match the insights or feelings of these artists, but we can access their words easily, one of the richest gifts our free society affords.

Today, before uttering our own thoughtful phrases of thanksgiving, before passing the gravy and the yams, maybe we all should rummage through our bookshelves or, yes, Google it, and find a meaningful reflection on the nature of giving thanks or on thanks for the turn of season and share it with loved ones.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Post-Gazette.

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