XXXI

My stiff-spread arms
Break into sudden gesture;
My feet seize upon the rhythm;
My hands drag it upwards:
Thus I create the dance.

I drink of the red bowl of the sunlight:
I swim through seas of rain:
I dig my toes into earth:
I taste the smack of the wind:
I am myself:
I live.

The temples of the gods are forgotten or in ruins:
Professors are still arguing about the past and the future:
I am sick of reading marginal notes on life,
I am weary of following false banners:
I desire nothing more intensely or completely than this present;
There is nothing about me you are more likely to notice than my being:
Let me therefore rejoice silently,
A golden butterfly glancing against an unflecked wall.

—John Gould Fletcher (1886–1950), Irradiations, 1915

Stoic

I searched the history of grass,
Beneath hawk-shadows blowing past.

I learned the timelessness of stone;
Saw forest-flesh and forest-bone
Reach briefly up, go swiftly down,
Crash in green, dissolve to brown.

Taught by decay and schooled by molder,
I can turn a stoic shoulder
To beauty spiking searching eyes
And breasts defenselessly unwise.

Against impermanence I lock
My soul, confiding it to rock.

—Frances M. Frost (1905–1959), “Stoic,” Hemlock Wall, 1929

A curious glimmering thing

“Time has proved that the function of poetry is not to impart messages, but to explore the depths of emotion.

The poet is never a teacher, but always a learner. His poem is a venture at perilous discovery. The fact of writing is not the recording of something already known to the poet; it is his method of bringing to the light things that were previously in darkness for him.

The aim of poetry is to capture those rare moments of the poet’s experience when, for good or for evil, the consciousness of life sweeps through him like a flame… the moments when he becomes passionately aware of the crises of his spirit’s secret drama, and sees a pattern taking shape in the void, and words of utterance come singing to his lips.

Out of that dizzy instant he emerges, bewildered but excitedly hopeful, bringing with him his poem. Here, he says, is a curious glimmering thing that I discovered far down in the sea of my dimly conscious spirit:  perhaps it will have a fascination for you, too; perhaps you, too, will see in its pale sphere some hint of the iridescent lights that played on its surface when in those vast deeps I found it.”

—Arthur Davison Ficke (1883–1945), “The Nature of Poetry,” 1926

I Vowed that I Would Be a Tree

I vowed that I would be a tree.
      I went up to an oak and said,
“What shall I do that I might be
A beech, an oak, or any tree,
      With branches leafing from my head?”

There was a sound of sap that ran,
      There was a wind of leaves that spoke.
“So you would cease to be a man,
And be a green tree, if you can,
      A pine, a beech, an oak?”

I answered, “I am tired of men,
      As tired as they of me.
I fain would not return again
To the perplexity of men,
      But straightway be a tree.”

There was a sound of winds that went
      To summon every oldest tree,
To hold their austere Parliament
About the thing had craved to be
      Elect of their calm company.

There was a sound of bursting tide,
      There was a wash of clanging foam,
A crumbling shore, a bursting tide.
There came a thunder that outcried,
      “Go, wretched mortal, get thee home!

“Who art thou that would be a tree,
      Least of the weeds that shoot and pass?
Bide till a Wisdom come, and see
Before a mortal be a tree,
      He first must be a blade of grass!”

—Louis Golding (1895–1958), Sorrow of War, 1919

I Prepare to Face Fifty

      “I am middle-aged. Fifty is upon me. And I am faced by a grim reaper. But it is not youth I want. It is time. And there’s too little left. What shall I do about it? Shall I waste these remaining years on people who bore me, squander them on employments that satisfy no desires, sacrifice them to the ideas of others? No. I have wasted hours upon hours on nothing but waiting, days upon days on routine that led nowhere, and a tally of weeks on nonsense and so-called diversion.

      “I had an idea that in middle age somehow I should reach a hill and beyond it would lie a promised land. Enough merely to be climbing up. Suddenly now I realize the crown of that hill is age fifty. And I know that if there is a promised land it has got to be in front of me. If I don’t find it now I never shall. So I had better face this fifty, acknowledge it is gone — whether squandered or treasured — forever, and plan what to do with this promised land, how to spend these last precious years left to me.

      “From the brow of that fifty hill, suddenly I am beginning to compute time. Do I wish to spend so much of it in my remaining years on the pursuit of youthful looks, on this cult of youth? Perhaps I am a miser with my years, but I must confess that I can no longer see value received from pursuing youth. It will bring me no higher price for my work. It will make my husband no fonder; for affection after fifty rests on something other than complexion. It will not add to my emotional satisfaction nor to the pleasures of my mind. No, I shall not waste any of my remaining years on the pursuit of smooth pink cheeks. Nor will I waste my time or worry with weight, counting calories, or other such psychological-gastronomic engagements!

      “Frankly, I do not feel the same as I did twenty years ago. Moreover, I do not want to feel the same. These new feelings — may they not be an asset instead of a liability? I will not be satisfied if my remaining years are a mere repetition of those that have gone before. I want something different. I will not spend this time in an effort to produce an illusion to myself. I will be content to look my age, to dress my age, to live my age. I will appreciate all that life has brought me. I will face fifty cheerfully.

      “Do not take this to mean that I am negating its challenges. Fifty does not mean freedom from family demands nor from the things that we are tied to by duty. Fifty brings no alchemy that enables one to plan one’s life as one might try an uncharted sea. We will always have personal and financial limitations, and we can only alter our course according to the wheel in our hands, the craft under us, the shoals and currents around us. But what we may do is decide which direction to steer and how to get the maximum of enjoyment in the steering.

      “I must be economical of time. Each day must count. I must plan for the satisfaction that is possible here, now. In youth, always before us was that will-o’-the-wisp, perfection, because there was always the hope of time to reach it. That it was always to be to-morrow did not affect our attitude of mind — that of preparing, improving, developing. But gradually it has been made plain to me that this to-morrow will never come, that as I am to-day so shall I be twenty years from now. Yes, I may improve or grow in that time, but it will be along the line already laid out — I shall not change my style, my type, my talk. In the difference between acceptance of this fact and the belief that ‘all things are possible’ lies the difference between thirty and fifty, between youth and middle-age. To those of my contemporaries who still look for the Prince to ride up and disclose a crown beneath his fedora, who still expect pumpkins to turn to coaches, this seems a tragic difference.

      “May the acceptance of the truth of fifty bring its own joys. No longer do I need to pretend. I may say things frankly. I can accept myself as middle-aged, and therefore enjoy myself. I can squeeze the utmost out of what I am and what I have. I can relax from the struggle. I shall no longer punish myself. Instead of competing, I can create. I may choose what I like, including the colors that please me — that do something to my brain, if not indeed to my soul — rather than attempting to express the best in taste and fashion. No longer do I need to try to take everything as it comes, but select what I want. And please understand:  I am not retiring — I am attaining.”

—Emily Newell Blair (1877–1951), “I Prepare to Face Fifty,” 1926, abridged

Quiet desert

“The desert was quiet. The coyotes were not howling yet. I was my own howling coyote. Outwardly a comfortable-looking man in an arm-chair, smoking a pipe, I was inside a half-starved little coyote, out there on the dark desert, howling to the stars.”

—J. B. Priestley (1894–1984), Midnight on the Desert: A Chapter of Autobiography, 1917

Charged

suddenly my life feels
like the air before a storm
silent, searching, charged
an imminent disaster
with destructive beauty
bright sun here and now
dark clouds at my horizon

electrified waiting
a whirlwind of stillness
it’s building, billowing
but to i know not where
and possibly to nothing
no body to forecast
whether or whether not
my future lies ahead

feeling ghosts in the wind
restlessness & anticipation
i dread this storm
but somehow
more than that
i welcome it, ache for it

oh i sorely need to become
sodden, grounded
struggle bedraggled
so i can revive
regrow vibrant —

dead branches torn away
old beliefs ripped from roots
worry whipped to shreds
powerful bolts striking
stronger than anything
i can create myself

blind me — enflame my entire sky
i want to look at the world anew
and that starts
with my own vision
i’m ready
for a new version

my being has become torrential
yet minimal — nearly imperceptible
not yet in a crisis, still
i’m bordering one, circling it
crying out for that flash point
beckoning it, to break —
to shatter my former self
and my current nothingness
into a mended calm
risen from the storm

rain, gales, hail —
i don’t care
just let it come
i need to be reborn
from the wild remains
of my inner tempests —
no, i do not want to die
but only to live again

—Terri Guillemets

Wilderness pathways

“The wilderness has the power to exert enormous influence on the mind of a man freshly arrived from civilization, especially if he lives alone and has but little contact with other people; some that I have known could not take the solitude, the absence of comfort and reassurance offered by the presence of other humans.

Such men have become effete in terms of personal survival in the face of natural challenges, the city is too much with them, and they don’t last. There are also those who go too far the other way, becoming misanthropes… these are the withdrawers, and they are found sprinkled loosely wherever there is a forest or a jungle, like seeds that have lost the ability to germinate in cultivated soil.

But between the quitters and the lone stayers, there is a third kind — indeed, there may be more than that, for all I know — in whom the wilderness acts as a catalyst and who, after they have experienced both the wild and the civilized, begin to form new values, to explore unknown pathways, and to realize that nature is an endlessly patient teacher with an infinite capacity to stimulate thought and to sharpen the hunger for knowledge. That is how the wilderness affected me…”

—R. D. Lawrence (1921–2003), The North Runner, 1979