"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

04 June 2006

Gardening for Poetry

Amongst the books for my summer reading, I bought volume one of Mary Oliver's New and Selected Poems. I turned to it for the first time today, and it opened about mid-book, to a poem entitled "Stanley Kunitz." Unfamiliar with Kunitz, I found a short biography on this poet, who died this year at age 100. Oliver's poem, of course, would be a metaphor for his creation of poetry, but also, of course, applies to any creative effort -- what it takes to be a friend, a spouse, a parent; to create a meal, a hand-carved table, a cross-stitch sampler -- a life. But I'll let Oliver say it in her so-much-better-than-I-ever-could way.

Stanley Kunitz

I used to imagine him
coming from the house, like Merlin
strolling with important gestures
through the garden
where everything grows so thickly,
where birds sing, little snakes lie
on the boughs, thinking of nothing
but their own good lives,
where petals float upward,
their colors exploding,
and trees open their moist
pages of thunder --
it has happened every summer for years.

But now I know more
about the great wheel of growth,
and decay, and rebirth,
and know my vision for a falsehood.
Now I see him coming from the house --
I see him on his knees,
cutting away the diseased, the superfluous,
coaxing the new,
knowing that the hour of fulfillment
is buried in years of patience --
yet willing to labor like that
on the mortal wheel.

Oh, what good it does the heart
to know it isn't magic!
Like the human child I am
I rush to imitate --
I watch him as he bends
among the leaves and vines
to hook some weed or other;
even when I do not see him,
I think of him there
raking and trimming, stirring up
those sheets of fire
between the smothering weights of earth,
the wild and shapeless air.


Cindy said...

Can you believe that I--of all people--hadn't applied this to life as a whole, yet? I'd be writhing in chagrin were I not so fascinated and heading out to copy this down a few times longhand to help it sink in. :)

Thanks, Beth!

alaiyo said...

I'm shocked, LuCindy! :) Not really, of course. All of us do this -- we see something one way and don't connect with all the other ways of seeing it. You will note, of course, that you made the same connections with the L'Engle quote you posted the other day, which I don't think I would have.

Connections. I should write about connections someday . . .



Cindy said...

"Everything is to the point."
---Dr. Nancy Walker