Most people know Margaret Atwood for her prose (who hasn’t heard of The Handmaid’s Tale by now?) but she’s also a magnificent poet. This poem plays with the idea of ownership: creating something of your own seems compelling, but can we really own a piece of land? Not according to Atwood. The world and all its nature was here first, so we’re its guests. A very simple message, penned down years ago, that’s still relevant today. Just like she did with The Handmaid’s Tale.
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.