Who the Meek Are Not


Mary Karr is an Ignatian-influenced former atheist, recovering alcoholic, and one my favorite poets.  I’ve written about her before.  This poem is entitled “Who the Meek Are Not.”

    Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent

under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep

    in the rice paddy muck,

nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles

    make the wheat fall in waves

they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan

    nun says we misread

that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.

    To understand the meek

(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop

    in a meadow, who—

at his master’s voice—seizes up to a stunned

    but instant halt.

Read the rest of the poem here.

Image from Wikimedia Commons


  1. I enjoyed the horse imagery up to now. Please! Not the point, not the place!
    I come here for peace and inspiration.

  2. A mare will run off a stallion to defend her colt. If your only experience with horses are the sad ones you get on trail rides or dude ranches, then you have little experience of horses.
    There’s an old term ” rough string” refers to that part of the remuda that were untrained, or at best nasty and potentially dangerous horses of any kind. The “rough string rider” was a very respected and held in awe working cowboy.

    • My point does not negate all other points. It adds to those. the horse is a symblo of strength and freedom. It is conversely utilized as a sex symbol usually with a scantily clad female on it’s back. The two foregoing points do not cancel each other out.
      Have a happy day!

  3. I thought of Jesus’ statement “the meek shall inherit the earth” and realized I needed to refresh my understanding about what He meant concerning meekness as a virtue, so spent some time this morning looking up the definition as it applies to our faith. Below is an excerpt from “Catholics United for the Faith” Mar/Apr 2007 issue of Lay Witness Magazine. I thought it interesting the author used the example of a trained, powerful horse as did Mary Karr’s poem in this blog.
    “Meekness, sometimes used interchangeably with “gentleness” in biblical translations, comes from the Greek word prautes, meaning “not easily provoked.” This in turn comes from praus, which refers to a highly spirited trained horse. Such a horse has become so gentle and mild that a child may pet it or ride on its back. But the more important thing is that the horse no longer thrashes about wildly, but rather has been trained to take direction. The strength of the noble animal has been harnessed for good, not forfeited. Similarly, a harnessed river can generate power, and a harnessed or “meeked” fire can heat a campsite. Meekness, even in its etymology, has always implied harnessed strength, not weakness.”
    Definitely a virtue worth developing.

    • The mighty equine is so powerful yet when someone does something horrid to it, it refuses to defend itself (let’s see them try that with a pit bull). Ergo lies its meekness. Karr utilized the absolute best symbol she could have.

      • I don’t know about a horse refusing to defend itself, Linda, the author is speaking of a stallion, not a gelding or mare. Where I live ranchers have to post “Caution: Stallion at Large” where they are pastured as they are far more dangerously territorial than a bull, and at least as tenacious as a pit bull.

        • We have incidents up here once in a while such as the dementees who decided to starve and hang a horse from a machine. It did not die easily or quickly nor did it kick them like it could have. There have been many incidents and these horses are neither old nor female. They are too tame for their own good.

      • I realize this blog post is not about horse sense, and I don’t mean to be contrary contradicting Linda about stallions and meekness, but I would not want anyone hurt by a stallion. I’ve witnessed first hand their aggression, particularly at pasture with the mares.

        • Linda does not mind being contradicted and actually expects that. Smile. It’s just that when a person asks a question I answer knowing they likely will not like the response. A realist, I don’t walk with hands folded and eyes on the sky — we trip over rocks and cliffs that way. I liken the horse’s meek response despite his strength to Christ when he was mocked and scorned.

  4. Every time this talented poet mentions that she was once an alcoholic, she gives hope to other people in the same situation; I think she is a brave person.

  5. Yes they do have a gift for us in their strength inasmuch as some of us take pause at such modifiers as black lady (we say person of colour up here in the north, black is a bad word now along with retarded and other such horrors) along with such phrases as elderly man and alcoholic husband. We could just say lady, man, husband and forget the adjectives. Let them tell their own story. Hard to get a job for instance if you go in and say well I’m recovering from this addiction but I’m a strong person.

    • In the context of this blog post there is a purpose for the use of the modifier, which is to point us to the author’s experience of Divine Intervention (where Jim has written “more” link) and her Resurrection experience. Also, a world of difference between describing the author as a recovering alcoholic as opposed to an alcoholic writer. The former describes someone in a process of healing.
      I, too, felt a sting when I first read the descriptive, based on our family’s experience with our own member. It left me wondering about where she was in her recovery, was she all right, taking care of herself? Why speak of this and leave her open to judgment? Then I read the entire article and the one mentioned before. There is a time and place to reveal, and I agree, sometimes a reveal serves no purpose, the individual owes it to him/herself to guard against discrimination.
      Those who’ve shared with me their stories of addiction and ongoing recovery have helped me understand and heal from the loss of our family member, their lives a witness to God’s love and mercy.

      • Perhaps I should have made it clearer that Mary Karr describes herself as a recovering alcoholic, and thus I’m not disclosing private information about her.

        • I would assume that it was public info given the kindness and compassion almost always expressed here. It is sometimes good to know where people come from. Often it pulls the spotlight in a different direction.
          I thought this was beautiful.

        • I understood that, Jim, you disclosed nothing. I mean there is a line between being healed and displaying the fact that once they were not. Is there a need to draw attention to that?

  6. If a person has recovered spiritually (former athiest) and physically (former drinker) then why do we publicly announce those past sins? Sort of rubs salt into the healing soul does it not? I see that way too often. Inside the book at an author’s admission is fine if that is what they desire to do.

    • It could be because the author herself prefaces everything she writes and says with “I am a recovering alcoholic”, as authentic recovery is never done and finished with, it’s a constant ongoing battle. So, the addiction and the process becomes a filter that life is viewed and lived through, not seen as a sin.
      I suggest this because we have a family member who is an alcoholic/addict and who has estranged himself from us, and over the years many alcoholics who have made more progress than he have spoken with us of their lives – struggles, victories, hopes. But, always, no matter what the situation, the “I am a recovering….” starts the conversation. These individuals need not have volunteered information to us about their past, but chose to do so in order to help us better understand the dynamics of life with addiction.
      I am no expert on any of this by any means but have found these individuals who have been to hell and back have a great gift to offer us.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here