A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts
The difficulty to think at the end of day,
When the shapeless shadow covers the sun
And nothing is left except light on your fur --
There was the cat slopping its milk all day,
Fat cat, red tongue, green mind, white milk
And August the most peaceful month.
To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time,
Without that monument of cat,
The cat forgotten in the moon;
And to feel that the light is a rabbit-light,
In which everything is meant for you
And nothing need be explained;
Then there is nothing to think of. It comes of itself;
And east rushes west and west rushes down,
No matter. The grass is full
And full of yourself. The trees around are for you,
The whole of the wideness of night is for you,
A self that touches all edges,
You become a self that fills the four corners of night.
The red cat hides away in the fur-light
And there you are humped high, humped up,
You are humped higher and higher, black as stone --
You sit with your head like a carving in space
And the little green cat is a bug in the grass.
Wallace Stevens, Parts of a World (Alfred A. Knopf 1942).
I will not attempt to pick apart this thing of beauty. Long-time readers of this blog may recall my position on these matters: Explanation and explication are the death of poetry. As it happens, it appears that Stevens may share my view: "once a poem has been explained it has been destroyed." (Wallace Stevens, letter to Hi Simons (January 9, 1940), in Holly Stevens (editor), Letters of Wallace Stevens (Alfred A. Knopf 1966), page 346.) However, despite this statement, Stevens wrote several letters to critics and translators responding to their inquiries about what certain of his poems "mean." This gives me license to offer two tentative thoughts. First, it may be helpful to recall Stevens' references in "An Old Man Asleep" (which appeared in my previous post) to "the two worlds": "the self and the earth." Second, think of "A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts" and "The River of Rivers in Connecticut" (which also appeared in my previous post) as a lovely, complementary pair. The self and the earth.
But we mustn't get carried away. Consider this. "A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts" was first published in the October, 1937, issue of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. Five months earlier, Stevens wrote this in a letter: "One side of my bed there is nothing but windows; when I lie in bed I can see nothing but trees. But there has been a rabbit digging out bulbs: instead of lying in bed in the mornings listening to everything that is going on, I spend the time worrying about the rabbit and wondering what particular thing he is having for breakfast." (Wallace Stevens, letter to Ronald Lane Latimer (May 6, 1937), in Holly Stevens, Letters of Wallace Stevens, page 321.) A rabbit. Just a rabbit. Or not.
Albert Woods (1871-1944), "A Peaceful Valley, Whitewell"
On a hot and windless afternoon, birdsong nearly ceases. The swallows vanish. But, if you walk beside a meadow, you can hear the clicking and crackling of grasshoppers, unseen, jumping in the tall grass. If you enter a dark wood, you may notice rustling in the bushes beyond the path. The source of the sound remains a mystery. Everything is in its place.
One Almost Might
Wouldn't you say,
Wouldn't you say: one day,
With a little more time or a little more patience, one might
Disentangle for separate, deliberate, slow delight
One of the moment's hundred strands, unfray
Beginnings from endings, this from that, survey
Say a square inch of the ground one stands on, touch
Part of oneself or a leaf or a sound (not clutch
Or cuff or bruise but touch with finger-tip, ear-
Tip, eyetip, creeping near yet not too near);
Might take up life and lay it on one's palm
And, encircling it in closeness, warmth and calm,
Let it lie still, then stir smooth-softly, and
Tendril by tendril unfold, there on one's hand . . .
One might examine eternity's cross-section
For a second, with slightly more patience, more time for reflection?
A. S. J. Tessimond (1902-1962), Collected Poems (edited by Hubert Nicholson) (Bloodaxe Books 2010).
Reginald Brundrit (1883-1960), "The River" (1924)
"To be, in the grass, in the peacefullest time." To "examine eternity's cross-section/For a second, with slightly more patience, more time for reflection." Easier said than done, of course. All of the ordinary days intervene.
"I wonder if you are haunted to the extremity that I am by this half-peaceful half-fretting sense of the incessant insecurity & fugitiveness of everything. Every moment of the present wears a vaguely surmised suggestion that it is only pretending, that the conspiracy is just coming to an end. I always seem to be on the brink of something; & so the future is hateful because it can't possibly come, or if it does, will only lead to other futures that can't. And I long to get things over, to have them safe in memory -- beyond the guessings of foreboding and anxiety. Even you are almost best in memory, where I cannot change you, nor you yourself."
Walter de la Mare, letter to Naomi Royde-Smith (April 24, 1911), in Theresa Whistler, Imagination of the Heart: The Life of Walter de la Mare (Duckworth 1993), page 183.
De la Mare wrote the passage in the letter the day before his thirty-eighth birthday. In his eightieth year, this poem was published:
The longed-for summer goes;
To its last rose,
Its narrowest day.
No heaven-sweet air but must die;
Its final note.
Oh, what dull truths to tell!
Now is the all-sufficing all
Wherein to love the lovely well,
Walter de la Mare, O Lovely England and Other Poems (Faber and Faber 1953).
De la Mare died in June of 1956. Eleven months prior to his death, he said this: "My days are getting shorter. But there is more and more magic. More than in all poetry. Everything is increasingly wonderful and beautiful." (Theresa Whistler, Imagination of the Heart: The Life of Walter de la Mare, page 443.)
John Lawson (1868-1909), "An Ayrshire Stream" (1893)