Posts filed under ‘mjbesq’
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches —
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead —
if it’s all you can do
to keep on trudging —
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted —
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
from Dream Work (1986)
“Mary Oliver is just about the last poet I would expect to adore. Her nature themes and breast-swelling cadences feel so uncomfortably New England to this Californian – it is as if the ghost of Robert Frost were cursing a whole new generation of poetry readers. But that is precisely the thing: as loathsomely lyrical as Frost’s poems are, many of them are also (shit, I really hate to say it!) excellent. It’s like craving the Patty Smyth, but always setting your iPod to Schubert.
So I confess: Mary Oliver is the bomb.
And among her many lovely, unerringly true poems, Morning Poem, from her 1986 collection, Dream Works, has always been my favorite. It affirms that our lives are things of beauty and instruments of joy. It also acknowledges that many people are blind to the world’s grace; but it does so in a way which neither faults, nor patronizes those who fail to apprehend. At the very least, a kernel of understanding of the world’s perfection can be found in each of us; and in this grain of instinct lays the promise that everyone might someday see the beauty and feel the joy.”
William Carlos Williams
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
-from Spring and All (1923)
“This stark, elegant piece always reminds me of the versatility of poetry and the agility of precision-crafted writing.
The poem’s opening couplet (“so much depends upon”) starts the reader on a traditional poetic journey into desires or physical imperatives which must be satisfied. This is what poetry is good at: finding emotional fault lines, tracing needs and wants, describing action or setting in a way intended to convey something conceptually more complex – more meaningful. Or I should say, this is what we do easily with poetry.
But somewhere between the second and third couplets, the poem makes a shift. (Actually, this is when the reader makes the shift. The poem itself transforms with the phrase a wheelbarrow, rather than calling out the wheelbarrow.) The language is not a high-flying metaphor or parable for anything. It does not teach, complain, exalt, condemn – or do any of those other didactic things poems usually do. Instead, the poem settles in to an intensely visual sensibility; and though the descriptive elements are really quite scant – a red wheelbarrow, wetness, white chickens – the resulting still-life has a rich, painterly quality. Williams does not so much describe an image as create one.
Still, the powerful opening couplet refuses to let the reader simply take in the scene, as if it were depicted on a canvass. There is a temporal, narrative element – and an urgency – quite apart from the visual snapshot. The mundane object and unremarkable birds are presented without the hint of action or any trace of expressive quality; and yet, we ache to know: who or what depends on a wheelbarrow, and why?
The beauty of this tension, and of the interplay of discursive strategies within the fourteen spare words of the poem, has kept me returning to this poem for years.
My deepest thanks to my lifelong friend Eric Zakim for introducing me to this poem.”
The mundane nature of the scene and the clear, simple language Carlos Williams uses to create this image reminds me of van der Rohe (and of course, as he puts it, “God is in the details”) .
Carlos Williams on pō’ĭ-trē – The Dance