Happy birthday to Greta

Read the poem Patti Smith wrote Greta Thunberg for her birthday
Current affairs | 8 January 2020

Patti Smith / Horses

Top image: ‘Horses’ artwork / photography by Robert Mapplethorpe

Just after the turn of 2020, Greta Thunberg turned 17. For any normal teenager, this marks an important milestone: the cusp of adulthood and the glossy expectation of all that will come with it. For Thunberg, the day paled in significance to a world that is, quite literally, on fire. On what could have been any day in the past two years, she spent it protesting outside the Swedish parliament, holding a ‘school strike for climate’ sign.

Thunberg’s unwavering commitment to a cause not of her own making borders on the superhuman. But there must surely be some concern that the sacrifices she has made to her own life, the experiences she has forgone in the name of this all-encompassing cause, will take their toll.

It must come as some consolation however, when one of the greatest songwriters of the last century reaches out with a birthday poem, acknowledging Thunberg’s sacrifices have not gone unnoticed. Posted on Instagram and accompanied by a portrait of the young activist, Patti Smith’s words spoke on behalf of millions who look to Thunberg as the face of the climate revolution.

This is
Greta Thunberg, turning
seventeen today, asking
for no accolade, no gifts,
save we not be neutral.
The Earth knows its kind,
just as all deities, just as
animals and the healing
spring. Happy birthday
to Greta, who stood today,
as every Friday, refusing
to be neutral.

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