Thursday, July 27, 2006

Duke Altum's Poem of the Week #36

These two gems, breathtaking in the elegance of their form and expression, represent the great American poet Richard Wilbur at the top of his game. Both poems gave me that rare, goosebump-inducing sensation at the end, when you reach the final lines and just feel their rightness wash over you in a wave of sheer appreciation… which feels strangely close to joy. All the more appropriate in this case, since the themes explored here are the mysteries of God’s boundless, and unmerited, mercy and grace… and the gift of life that blesses us to have a share in them.

(Note on the poem "The Proof": "Stet," for those who may not know, is an editor's/typographer's term... literally, it means "let it stand"... it is written in the margin next to a correction that the editor made but wants to retract -- an indication to ignore what's there and act as if the correction were never made.)



In somber forest, when the sun was low,
I saw from unseen pools a mist of flies
In their quadrillions rise
And animate a ragged patch of glow
With sudden glittering -- as when a crowd
Of stars appear,
Through a brief gap of black and driven cloud,
One arc of their great round-dance showing clear.

It was no muddled swarn I witnessed, for
In entrechats each fluttering insect there
Rose two steep yards in air,
Then slowly floated down to climb once more,
So that they all composed a manifold
And figured scene,
And seemed the weavers of some cloth of gold,
Or the fine pistons of some bright machine.

Watching those lifelong dancers of a day
As night closed in, I felt myself alone
In a life too much my own,
More mortal in my separateness than they --
Unless, I thought, I had been called to be
Not fly or star
But one whose task is joyfully to see
How fair the fiats of the caller are.

The Proof

Shall I love God for causing me to be?
I was mere utterance; shall these words love me?

Yet when I caused his work to jar and stammer,
And one free subject loosened all his grammar,

I love him that he did not in a rage
Once and forever rule me off the page,

But, thinking I might come to please him yet
Crossed out delete and wrote his patient stet.

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