The poetry of bureaucracy

by societyofsmallness


The offices of the Central Social Institution of Prague, Czechoslovakia had the largest vertical letter file in the world. Electrically operated elevator desks rose, fell and moved left or right at the push of a button. Date: 26th April 1937, Photo Credit: UPPA/Photoshot 

Good poetry leads right into the heart of the subject — makeup-free, wrinkles and hairs all exposed. Diving into this deep well reveals truth that is beautiful in its brutality.

By Theodore Roethke

I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate grey standard faces.

Theodore Roethke, Michigan native and Pulitzer Prize winner who spent his childhood in a greenhouse.