As I have noted here before, an awareness of one's mortality within the ever-turning, never-ending round of the seasons and the universe can be a source of serenity and equanimity. This will all go on without me. A comforting thought. It can be quite exhilarating as well. And an occasion for gratitude on a daily basis.
Poems can be reminders of this mortality within Eternity. This past week, I have been reading the poetry of Janet Lewis. I have long been fond of this:
Kayenta, Arizona, May 1977
I fall asleep to the sound of rain,
But there is no rain in the desert.
The leaves of the trader's little cottonwoods
Turn, turn in the wind.
Janet Lewis, in R. L. Barth (editor), The Selected Poems of Janet Lewis (Swallow Press/Ohio University Press 2000).
Lewis' poem always brings this to mind:
The riverbed, dried-up, half-full of leaves.
Us, listening to a river in the trees.
Seamus Heaney, The Haw Lantern (Faber and Faber 1987). The poem is untitled.
What would we do without the sound of the wind in the leaves? My wish is to spend Eternity lying on the grass, looking up into swaying green boughs and the blue, cloud-dappled sky, as the leaves flutter and flicker in sunlight and shadow, rustling and sighing in the wind. Not likely, you say? Consider this: "If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration but timelessness, then eternal life belongs to those who live in the present." (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Proposition 6.4311, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) (translated by David Pears and Brian McGuinness).)
Dudley Holland (1915-1956), "Winter Morning" (1945)
Here is another of my favorite poems by Lewis:
The spider makes through the air,
Until the light touches it.
The light takes through the air,
Until it finds the spider's web.
Janet Lewis, in R. L. Barth (editor), The Selected Poems of Janet Lewis.
I often return to the fragments of blank verse found in William Wordsworth's Alfoxden notebook, which he kept between January and March of 1798. In one fragment he writes: "In all forms of things/There is a mind." (Ernest de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (editors), The Poetical Works of William Wordsworth, Volume Five (Oxford University Press 1949), page 340.) For a few charmed years, Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were thinking the same thoughts. Thus, it is not surprising to discover this in one of Coleridge's notebooks: "The paradise of Flowers' & Butterflies' Spirits." (Kathleen Coburn (editor), The Notebooks of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Volume 1: 1794-1804 (Pantheon Books 1957), Notebook Entry 1736 (December 1803).)
An outmoded way of looking at the World, some moderns might say. Oh, I don't know. Who is in a position to exclude any possibility? Wittgenstein again: "We feel that even when all possible scientific questions have been answered, the problems of life remain completely untouched." (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Proposition 6.52 (italics in the original), Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (translated by David Pears and Brian McGuinness).) And this: "There are, indeed, things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical." (Ibid, Proposition 6.522 (italics in the original).)
But I have gone too far afield. Poems can bring us back to what is in front of us at each moment, if we pay attention. A gossamer and timeless World.
Drops of dew
strung on filaments
of spider web --
such are the trappings
that deck out this world.
Saigyō (1118-1190) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Saigyō: Poems of a Mountain Home (Columbia University Press 1991), page 200.
Charles Dawson (1863-1949), "Accrington from My Window" (1932)