For the discoverer of the Grotte de Lascaux: Marcel Ravidat, 1923-1995
On all the living walls
of this dim cave,
soot and ochre, acts of will,
come down to us to say:
This is who we were.
We foraged here in an age of ice,
and, warmed by the fur of wolves,
felt the pride of predators
going for game.
Here we painted the strength of bulls,
the grace of deer, turned life into art,
and left this testimony on our walls.
Explorers of the future, see how,
when our dreams reach forward,
your wonder reaches back, and we embrace.
When we are long since dust,
and false prophets come,
then don’t forget that we were your creators.
So build your days
on what you know is real, and remember
that nothing will keep your lives alive
but art—the black and ochre visions
you draw inside your cave
will honor your lost tribe,
when explorers in some far future
marvel at the paintings on your walls.
Philip D. Appleman is the distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Department of English, Indiana University. He has published seven volumes of poetry, three novels, and half a dozen nonfiction books. His poetry and fiction have won many awards, including a fellowship in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Friend of Darwin Award from the National Center for Science Education, and the Humanist Arts Award of the American Humanist Association, and have appeared in scores of publications, including Harper’s Magazine, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Partisan Review, Poetry, and Yale Review. He has given readings of his poetry at the Library of Congress, the Guggenheim Museum, the Huntington Library, and many universities. He is a founding member of the Poets Advisory Committee of Poets House, New York, a former member of the governing board of the Poetry Society of America, and a member of the Academy of American Poets.