Original poem reprinted online here: "A Grace" by Donald Hall
Originally read: September 20, 2013
More information about the Poet: Donald Hall
So the poem is structured as a prayer with two rhymed couplets and a tercet. Each couplets serves different purpose: whether to strengthen a point or to counter a point.
"God, I know nothing, my sense is all nonsense / And fear of You begins intelligence:" So these lines bring up an interesting rhetoric. The second line does overpower the first though, intelligence brings fear (also a little pun on intelligent design), but the admittance of "knowing nothing" is mixed with the play of language of "sense is all nonsense."
"Does it end there? For sexual love, for food, / For books and birch trees I claim gratitude." Two thing, the construction of the sentence, and the use of the ambiguous pronoun. The ambiguous pronoun sets up a continuation of "intelligence" -- a list that creates fear, but the list doesn't rely on intelligence (maybe books need intelligence) but, mostly, of nature. The turn is the introduction of the subject of the line, "I claim gratitude." Note, not God, but the speaker.
"But when I grieve over the unripe dead / My grief festers, corrupted into dread. / And I know nothing . Give us our daily bread." I guess my question would be if the end is cynical or not. But I do believe the two lines before it are genuine. The "unripe dead" is not something to know based on intelligence, and grief does fester. I think it's me, as a reader, relating to the emotion on the line level.
And so the admittance, again, of knowing nothing with the emotional pull brings genuineness. The last sentence undercuts the genuineness a bit with the allusion back to prayer since the first line played with the structure. But this shows the poem as a rumination not only on a rhetorical level, but also a emotional one as well.