Category Archives: writing

Moles fly, and sparrows sweep the sky.

IMG_3260Preface:  I drafted this post yesterday, not expecting to publish it this soon, but today, the occasion of a statewide election day, I was pained to see public pleas and even poems put forth drawing attention to the needs of “art” and “artists” for money and support. I am all for supporting artists whom I admire, but I am also realizing that in the minds of some professional artists, art has become just another “spiritual practice” to support and be supported by that new religion of modernity, politics. So I decided to share this poem, and my short response, on behalf of all you creative people out there, who may or may not know that you are. Art will never not be, and that is a gift.

PRAISE in SUMMER

Obscurely yet most surely called to praise,
As sometimes summer calls us all, I said
The hills are heavens full of branching ways
Where star-nosed moles fly overhead the dead;
I said the trees are mines in air, I said
See how the sparrow burrows in the sky!
And then I wondered why this mad instead
Perverts our praise to uncreation, why
Such savor’s in this wrenching things awry.
Does sense so stale that it must needs derange
The world to know it? To a praiseful eye
Should it not be enough of fresh and strange
That trees grow green, and moles can course in clay,
And sparrows sweep the ceiling of our day?

-Richard Wilbur

This poem was part of Wilbur’s first collection published when he was 26, just returned from World War II. I read it in Poem A Day Volume 3, where it is accompanied by comments from Wilbur himself:

“Aristototle once said, ‘The making of metaphor is the peculiar gift of the poet, the mark of poetic genius.’ This early poem of mine — a Spenserian sonnet, by the way — begins as an impatient attack on metaphor, but by the close has capitulated and become helplessly metaphorical. That’s as it should be, because the likening of all things, the implication that all things are connatural, is of poetry’s essence.”

I like that in the poem, he refers to “uncreation,” i.e., the One who has made “all things visible and invisible,” and from which Source they also come by their likeness one to another. God is the supreme metaphorical Poet from whom we all receive this gift of making metaphors, and most of us think and speak in metaphors all day long. When in the poem we read, “summer calls,” is that not likening summer to a being that can beckon with a hand or voice? To think of our senses as “stale” links them in our mind to flat beer or dry bread. It’s part of the gift of imagination which has the same Source, and another way that we are made in the image of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit!

 

Slipping from the tedious plane.

I was telling Mr. Greenjeans about how An American Childhood by Annie Dillard encouraged me in my writing. He comes from the author’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which is the backdrop for her growing-up adventures told from her vividly revealing point of view. I took the book off the shelf to put aside for him, and turned the pages a while, seeing passages I’d marked long ago.

Hers is a unique point of view, of course, as each of us is an unrepeatable individual looking out on our world. Whether it is her perspective that is unusual as well, or only her ability to convey it in words, I don’t know. I do know that few children today have the liberty of youth that Dillard describes as regularly offering periods of time so deep and distraction-free that you can “lose yourself.” In a chapter on her love of books and reading, she tells how she felt:

The actual world is a kind of tedious plane where dwells, and goes to school, the body, the boring body which houses the eyes to read the books and houses the heart the books enflame. The very boring body seems to require an inordinately big, very boring world to keep it up, a world where you have to spend far too much time, have to do time like a prisoner, always looking for a chance to slip away, to escape back home to books, or to escape back home to any concentration–fanciful, mental, or physical–where you can lose your self at last. Although I was hungry all the time, I could not bear to hold still and eat; it was too dull a thing to do, and had no appeal either to courage or to imagination. The blinding sway of their inner lives makes children immoral. They find things good insofar as they are thrilling, insofar as they render them ever more feverish and breathless, ever more limp and senseless on the bed.

-Annie Dillard, in An American Childhood

Three poets and a desk.

It’s National Poetry Month and now that I take notice, we are nearly at the end of it. That prompts me to finally take this bit out of my files to give you in celebration.

I read a post from Malcolm Guite two years ago in which he tells about his visit to the Emily Dickinson home/museum, and seeing her little desk; his musings provoked me to think, too. He wonders if the physical narrowness of her space somehow helped her to turn “restraint to grace,” in this poem which, as always, you can hear him read if you like: Emily Dickinson’s Desk

That’s two poets to honor this month, and here is a poetry from a third, that may have nothing really to do with Malcolm and Emily — but I think it does. If not in any other way, then because Jane (photo above) is in a “room” with the other poets…. where, I suppose, they are all scratching out, or typing their lines… or only composing mentally and invisibly for the moment…. each wishing she could just be alone in a quiet room with a tiny writing table… I better stop or I’ll have to write a poem about my three poets.

AN HOUR IS NOT A HOUSE

An hour is not a house,
a life is not a house,
you do not go through them as if
they were doors to another.

Yet an hour can have shape and proportion,
four walls, a ceiling.
An hour can be dropped like a glass.

Some want quiet as others want bread.
Some want sleep.

My eyes went
to the window, as a cat or dog left alone does.

-Jane Hirshfield

The letter is an act of faith.

The telephone conversation is, by its very nature, reactive, not reflective. Immediacy is its prime virtue. The immediacy delivers quick company, instant stimulation; the stimulation is cathartic; catharsis pushes back anxiety; into open space flows the kind of thought generated by electric return.

The letter, written in absorbed solitude, is an act of faith; it assumes the presence of humanity; world and self are generated from within; loneliness is courted, not feared. To write a letter is to be alone with my thoughts in the conjured presence of another person. I keep myself imaginative company. I occupy the empty room. I alone infuse the silence.

–Vivian Gornick