Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Life

On my walk yesterday afternoon (a clear, warm day, with a brisk wind), I came across a dead mole lying on its back at the side of the path.  He or she was a small, dark-brown thing, about eight inches long, its pinkish-white, fleshy front paws open to the sky.  It was those tiny, outspread paws that particularly touched me.

We were in the shade beneath the rustling leaves and swaying boughs of an avenue of trees, a bright canopy of blue and yellow and green flickering overhead, a patchwork of light and shadow moving on the ground.  Birdsong surrounded us, near and far.

That's all.

                  A Dead Mole

Strong-shouldered mole,
That so much lived below the ground,
Dug, fought and loved, hunted and fed,
For you to raise a mound
Was as for us to make a hole;
What wonder now that being dead
Your body lies here stout and square
Buried within the blue vault of the air?

Andrew Young, Speak to the Earth (Jonathan Cape 1939).

William Birch (1895-1968)
"Morning in June, the Vale of Dedham, Essex"


James Owens said...

This, too.

Seamus Heaney, from "Bone Dreams"


One morning in Devon
I found a dead mole
with the dew still beading it.
I had thought the mole

a big-boned coulter
but there it was,
small and cold
as the thick of a chisel.

I was told, ‘Blow,
blow back the fur on his head.
Those little points
were the eyes.

And feel the shoulders.’
I touched small distant Pennines,
a pelt of grass and grain
running south.

littlemancat said...

There is something so intimate,almost too much so, in witnessing the wild ones' remains, it seems to me. The poem is wonderful - that reversal of below the earth and sky facing, directly in opposition, mole and man.
At least this small one was not on a busy roadway. The poor creatures that die on the horribly busy, scary highways fill me with sadness. I wonder if you've heard of the book "Apologia" by Barry Lopez? He would carry a small spade or shovel in his trunk to move the animal off the road. I have done that in the past, too. It seemed better for them to be placed in the grass than left on the road.

sunt_lacrimae_rerum said...

Thank you. What a moving poem. Here's one that I like about a mole:

by Wyatt Prunty

For weeks he’s tunneled his intricate need
Through the root-rich, fibrous, humoral dark,
Buckling up in zagged illegibles
The cuneiforms and cursives of a blind scribe.

Sleeved by soft earth, a slow reach knuckling,
Small tributaries open from his nudge—
Mild immigrant, bland isolationist,
Berm builder edging the runneling world.

But now the snow, and he’s gone quietly deep,
Nuzzling through a muzzy neighborhood
Of dead-end-street, abandoned cul-de-sac,
And boltrun from a dead-leaf, roundhouse burrow.

May he emerge four months from this as before,
Myopic master of the possible,
Wise one who understands prudential ground,
Revisionist of all things green;

So when he surfaces, lump-like, bashful,
Quizzical as the flashbulb blind who wait
For color to return, he’ll nose our green-
rich air with the imperative poise of now.

The vocabulary here is rich and sometimes ornate; but it provides a nice counterpoint to the poem you wrote.
Thank you!

David Gouldstone said...

A few years ago, I visited Withyham church, East Sussex, to see the Thomas Sackville monument by Caius Gabriel Cibber (1677) ( It was locked, but a keyholder was listed, so I went to find him. He came back to the church with me, and when we stepped down into the porch (the ground having risen a little over the centuries) we saw something scurrying around on the floor, obviously frightened by our approach. It was - a mole. I think this is the only time I've ever seen one alive. Slightly comical and cuddly looking, but also slightly alien and almost sinister. The keyholder picked it up (I suppose I'd have had the courage to do so had I been alone, but I can't be sure) and put it on the grass. It scuttled away, and was gone.

Sherry said...

I read your poetic essays and commentaries of life from time to time. Love how you find connections between your personal observations and the artistic works. It just reminds us that art is life, and life is art.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Owens: Thank you very much for sharing this, which is new to me. Lovely. I had to look up "coulter," which, not surprisingly, is an inspired word choice by Heaney. The lines about the shoulders, the "small distant Pennines," are wonderful.

Thank you again.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mary: Thank you very much for those thoughts. As I mentioned in my previous post, I recently returned from a road trip (over 2,000 miles), so your comments about the animals that die on the highways resonate with me: I saw them often. I hadn't heard of "Apologia." Reading it would be too sad for me. That being said, I certainly understand, and appreciate, his (and your) kind impulses. It's a wonderful thing to do.

I agree with you about Young's poem: the reversal is lovely, isn't it? I have long been fond of that poem, but I never thought that I would come upon such a scene myself.

As ever, thank you for visiting. It is always a pleasure to hear from you.

Stephen Pentz said...

sunt_lacrimae_rerum: It's good to hear from you again. I'm pleased you liked the poem.

Thank you for sharing Prunty's poem, which is new to me. I agree that it provides a nice complement to Young's poem. It is a lovely evocation of a life that is a mystery to us. I particularly like "myopic master of the possible."

As always, thank you very much for stopping by. I greatly appreciate your long-time presence here.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Gouldstone: Thank you very much for sharing that wonderful experience. It is a shock to come upon one of them, alive or dead: they carry on their lives in their own world, and one doesn't expect to encounter one of them. Your description is perfect. But withal they seem fragile when out of their element. I doubt that I would have had the presence of mind to pick it up and send it on its way, as the keyholder did.

Thank you as well for the link to the photo of Cibber's monument, which I was not aware of. It is marvelous.

Thank you very much for visiting. I hope you'll return soon.

Stephen Pentz said...

Sherry: I greatly appreciate your kind words about the blog. Thank you very much.

Your final sentence is, coincidentally, apt: I had originally thought to title this post "Life as Art, Art as Life." But I changed my mind, deciding that "A Life" said enough. However, I agree with your observation.

Thank you for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

fridayam said...

A favourite poem of mine, and a favourite poet who love to invert things for poetic enlightenment. Thank you for your lovely blog.

Stephen Pentz said...

fridayam: You're welcome. I'm pleased to hear the poem is a favorite of yours; it is for me as well. Your comment about Young "invert[ing] things for poetic enlightenment" nicely articulates a key part of his appeal and charm. Here is a poem by him that, coincidentally, I read just this morning, before seeing your comment (not the best example, but illustrative, perhaps, of your observation):

A Mountain Graveyard

Sheep-fold, I thought -- till by the dyke
I saw it lying deep in dock
And knew he never whistled tyke,
The herd who folded that quiet flock.

But, as you know, there are scores of other instances. A better example is this, another favorite of mine:

The Last Leaf

I saw how rows of white raindrops
From bare boughs shone,
And how the storm had stript the leaves
Forgetting none
Save one left high on a top twig
Swinging alone;
Then that too bursting into song
Fled and was gone.

Those are, for me at least, lovely instances of "invert[ing] things" -- although you may have something entirely else in mind.

Thank you very much for your kind words, and for visiting again.

Pliny said...

So nice to have you back in the blogosphere — what a needed oasis of sanity this site is!

I hope you enjoyed your recent trip!

Stephen Pentz said...

Pliny: Thank you very much for your kind words. An "oasis of sanity": that's quite nice of you to say. I can only hope that is the case, in some tiny way. I do know that, given all the distractions that surround us on a daily basis, I am ever in search of an oasis of tranquility and serenity. The poems and paintings that appear here are the products of that search.

Thank you again.

Half-heard in the Stillness said...

I agree completely with your other commenter Pliny....I come here regularly in search of tranquility from this mad striving ‘modern’ world. Your story about the little mole reminded me of a tiny mole I was once given by my brother. He had discovered it dead on a walk, cleaned it and dried it. It’s fur was incredibly soft to touch, and it’s tiny hand-like paws a revelation. Oh! how I had it still. Alas it disappeared from my shelves one afternoon when a rabble of schoolboy friends of my daughters came home with her after school.

Stephen Pentz said...

Jane: I apologize for the delay in responding to your comment. Thank you very much for your kind words about the blog. I greatly appreciate your long-time presence here.

What a lovely anecdote about the mole given to you by your brother. Thank you. Yes, the fur: I didn't have the nerve to touch the mole's fur, but I was taken by its deep color, and what appeared to be its thick softness. You have confirmed that. It is a pity that yours disappeared, but, of course, you have the memory.

As ever, thank you for visiting.