Podcast: Bearhug by Michael Ondaatje

I spent some time today reading Michael Ondaatje. Ondaatje is probably better known for his book, The English Patient. But far better than his prose, is his poetry. Filled with the minutiae of relationships and gestures. I felt like reading aloud one of my personal favourites – “Bearhug“.

Griffin calls to come and kiss him goodnight
I yell ok. Finish something I’m doing,
then something else, walk slowly round
the corner to my son’s room.
He is standing arms outstretched
waiting for a bearhug. Grinning.

Why do I give my emotion an animal’s name,
give it that dark squeeze of death?
This is the hug which collects
all his small bones and his warm neck against me.
The thin tough body under the pyjamas
locks to me like a magnet of blood.

How long was he standing there
like that, before I came?

— Michael Ondaatje


Why call a hug given with such love and wholesomeness a bearhug? A bearhug is usually so intense that it’s supposed to crush your bones and perhaps even kill you. The poem is so brief and filled with such wonder at the effortless seeking of love of a child, that to call it touching is an understatement. One of my other favourites by Ondaatje is “To A Sad Daughter“.

[Mp3 Download. (Right Click, Save As)]

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0 Responses to Podcast: Bearhug by Michael Ondaatje

  1. dipali says:

    What wonderul poems. I’d liked his prose, didn’t know him as a poet before these. Thanks, Neha


  2. Falstaff says:

    Ahem! Ahem!. Not to overdo the self-promotion or anything, but we’ve actually run both poems on Poi-tre:


    I can’t say that I agree with the bit about Ondaatje being a finer poet than a novelist – on the whole I’d still pick his prose over his poems, though I’m not sure the comparison is really meaningful.

    P.S. I’m assuming you’ve read Elimination Dance.


  3. I like muchly. Thankoo.



  4. dipali: Welcome as always.

    Falstaff: Just heard. Interesting how two different people can read the same thing out so differently. The comparison is only meaningful only in my head really. Given a choice between the two – I tend to pick his poetry. Have read Elimination Dance and really liked it – but the heart likes what it likes etc. Btw, apologies for the delay in publishing your comment. My spam filter always sets your comments to be moderated. I have no idea why!

    J. Alfred Prufrock: Welgum.


  5. Ph says:

    So lovely, I feel like I am reborn.


  6. Mohib says:

    I love your podcasts and recital style. Good job!

    This is one more request for Urdu poetry podcasts.


  7. mumbaigirl says:

    Have always loved his poems. My father showed me To a Sad Daughter many years ago. Read out some more?


  8. Ph: Thank you. Very much.

    Mohib: I would read out something in Urdu – but am scared of being accused of butchering the language. πŸ™‚

    mumbaigirl: Will do..


  9. ang says:

    very cool! never thought i’d chance upon Neha’s blog and read about a relative (from the second generation of Ondaatje’s) *grins*