Thursday, September 11, 2014

64 x 37 (The Well Rising)


The Well Rising

The well rising without sound,
the spring on a hillside,
the plowshare brimming through deep ground
everywhere in the field—

The sharp swallows in their swerve
flaring and hesitating
hunting for the final curve
coming closer and closer—

The swallow heart from wingbeat to wingbeat
counseling decision, decision:
thunderous examples. I place my feet

with care in such a world.

Process Reflection: 

I was thinking about this poem today after having written the acrostic poem about joy last night. William Stafford has always had a special place in my imaginary cathedral of literature. I've written about him on an number of occasions (for example here and here and here and here). The bridge between my poem and Stafford's is the notion of attention, the way the world rises and brims and swerves and flares whether we are watching or not, the way the sacred emerges from silence, the way attention is the gateway to appreciation. Of course, Stafford says it much better than I did. This is what he does, what W.S. Merwin does, what Mary Oliver does: they place their feet with care, and then they reflect on what they see and here. Here, for example, is Mary Oliver's poem "Praying":

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence
in which another voice may speak.

I used to work with a poet who dismissed Mary Oliver by saying that "she keeps writing the same poem over and over." There may be some slight element of truth in the allegation, but I don't agree that writing the same poem over again is necessarily a bad thing or an indication that a poet or an artist is out of ideas. There are some ideas that are worth returning to, even some ideas worthy of obsession. I do it myself often enough. Here's a poem I wrote almost twenty years ago which, it might be argued, is in essence the same poem I tried to write again last night:


-  written after  reading Seamus Heaney’s “Field of Vision”
            in the parking lot of the Eastern Martial Arts Studio on August 5, 1996  

If you gaze in one direction long enough—
it doesn’t matter which, so long as you
do it patiently, reflectively—an inkling
of the mysterious begins to assert itself:
majesty of tree against sky, reaching
after itinerant sun with imperceptible in-
clination; painstaking progress of shadow
on clapboard; faintest touch of wind
stirring the golden elasticity of living
branch and bough. Enough, after all,
to do nothing more than breathe, bear
witness, be present to such clarity.

To round out this sampling, here's Merwin, extending the conversation we are having back through the centuries:

A Letter to Su Tung-p’o 

Almost a thousand years later
I am asking the same questions
you did the ones you kept finding
yourself returning to as though
nothing had changed except the tone
of their echo growing deeper
and what you knew of the coming
of age before you had grown old
I do not know any more now
than you did then about what you
were asking as I sit at night
above the hushed valley thinking
of you on your river that one
bright sheet of moonlight in the dream
of waterbirds and I hear
the silence after your questions
how old are the questions tonight

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