The dust motes float
and swerve in the sunbeam,
as lively as worlds,
and I remember my brother
when we were boys:
"We may be living on an atom
in somebody's wallpaper."
Why all the embarrassment
about being happy?
Sometimes I'm as happy
as a sleeping dog,
and for the same reasons,
and for others.
What is one to make of a life given
to putting things into words,
saying them, writing them down?
Is there a world beyond words?
There is. But don't start, don't
go on about the tree unqualified,
standing in light that shines
to time's end beyond its summoning
name. Don't praise the speechless
starlight, the unspeakable dawn.
Well, we can stop
for a while, if we try hard enough,
if we are lucky. We can sit still,
keep silent, let the phoebe, the sycamore,
the river, the stone call themselves
by whatever they call themselves, their own
sounds, their own silence, and thus
may know for a moment the nearness
of the world, its vastness,
its vast variousness, far and near,
which only silence knows. And then
we must call all things by name
out of the silence again to be with us,
or die of namelessness.
Given the solemn river,
given the trees along the banks,
given the summer warmth,
the evening light--what
could have foretold the sudden
apparition of these two
speeding by as if late
for the world's end, their engine
shaking the air, breaking
the water's mirrors?
The trees and the sky hush
with dismay, and then,
upon the return of reflection,
with sorrow. How many years
of labor to become completely
What a consolation it is, after
the explanations and the predictions
of further explanations still
to come, to return unpersuaded
to the woods, entering again
the presence of the blessed trees.
A tree forms itself in answer
to its place and to the light.
Explain it how you will, the only
thing explainable will be
your explanation. There is
in the woods on a summer's
morning, birdsong all around
from guess where, nowhere
that rigid measure which predicts
only humankind's demise.
We travelers, walking to the sun, can't see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brighly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.
The cherries turn ripe, ripe,
and the birds come: red-headed
and red-bellied woodpeckers,
blue jays, cedar waxwings,
robins--beautiful, hungry, wild
in our domestic tree. I pick
with the birds, gathering the red
cherries alight among the dark
leaves, my hands so sticky
with juice the fruit will hardly
drop from them into the pail.
The birds pick as I pick, all
of us delighted in the weighty heights
--the fruit red ripe, the green leaves,
the blue sky and white clouds,
all tending to flight--making
the most of this sweetness against
the time when there will be none.
SOME FURTHER WORDS
Let me be plain with you, dear reader.
I am an old-fashioned man. I like
the world of nature despite its mortal
dangers. I like the domestic world
of humans, so long as it pays its debts
to the natural world, and keeps its bounds.
I like the promise of Heaven. My purpose
is a language that can repay just thanks
and honor for those gifts, a tongue
set free from fashionable lies.
Neither this world nor any of its places
is an "environment." And a house
for sale is not a "home." Economics
is not "science," nor "information" knowledge.
A knave with a degree is a knave. A fool
in a public office is not a "leader."
A rich thief is a thief. And the ghost
of Arthur Moore, who taught me Chaucer,
returns in the night to say again:
"Let me tell you something, boy.
An intellectual whore is a whore."
The world is babbled to pieces after
the divorce of things from their names.
Ceaseless preparation for war
is not peace. Health is not procured
by sale of medication, or purity
by the addition of poison. Science
at the bidding of the corporations
is knowledge reduced to merchandise;
it is a whoredom of the mind,
and so is the art that calls this "progress."
So is the cowardice that calls it "inevitable."
I think the issues of "identity" mostly
are poppycock. We are what we have done,
which includes our promises, includes
our hopes, but promises first. I know
a "fetus" is a human child.
I loved my children from the time
they were conceived, having loved
their mother, who loved them
from the time they were conceived
and before. Who are we to say
the world did not begin in love?
I would like to die in love as I was born,
and as myself of life impoverished go
into the love all flesh begins
and ends in. I don't like machines,
which are neither mortal nor immortal,
though I am constrained to use them.
(Thus the age perfects its clench.)
Some day they will be gone, and that
will be a glad and a holy day.
I mean the dire machines that run
by burning the world's body and
its breath. When I see an airplane
fuming through the once-pure sky
or a vehicle of the outer space
with its little inner space
imitating a star at night, I say,
"Get out of there!" as I would speak
to a fox or a thief in the henhouse.
When I hear the stock market has fallen,
I say, "Long live gravity! Long live
stupidity, error, and greed in the palaces
of fantasy capitalism!" I think
an economy should be based on thrift,
on taking care of things, not on theft,
usury, seduction, waste, and ruin.
My purpose is a language that can make us whole,
though mortal, ignorant, and small.
The world is whole beyond human knowing.
The body's life is its own, untouched
by the little clockwork of explanation.
I approve of death, when it comes in time
to the old. I don't want to five
on mortal terms forever, or survive
an hour as a cooling stew of pieces
of other people. I don't believe that life
or knowledge can be given by machines.
The machine economy has set afire
the household of the human soul,
and all the creatures are burning within it
"Intellectual property" names
the deed by which the mind is bought
and sold, the world enslaved. We
who do not own ourselves, being free,
own by theft what belongs to God,
to the living world, and equally
to us all. Or how can we own a part
of what we only can possess
entirely? Life is a gift we have
only by giving it back again.
Let us agree: "the laborer is worthy
of his hire," but he cannot own what he knows,
which must be freely told, or labor
dies with the laborer. The farmer
is worthy of the harvest made
in time, but he must leave the light
by which he planted, grew, and reaped,
the seed immortal in mortality,
freely to the time to come. The land
too he keeps by giving it up,
as the thinker receives and gives a thought,
as the singer sings in the common air.
I don't believe that "scientific genius"
in its naive assertions of power
is equal either to nature or
to human culture. Its thoughtless invasions
of the nuclei of atoms and cells
and this world's every habitation
have not brought us to the light
but sent us wandering farther through
the dark. Nor do I believe
.artistic genius" is the possession
of any artist. No one has made
the art by which one makes the works
of art. Each one who speaks speaks
as a convocation. We live as councils
of ghosts. It is not "human genius"
that makes us human, but an old love,
an old intelligence of the heart
we gather to us from the world,
from the creatures, from the angels
of inspiration, from the dead--
an intelligence merely nonexistent
to those who do not have it, but --
to those who have it more dear than life.
And just as tenderly to be known
are the affections that make a woman and a man
their household and their homeland one.
These too, though known, cannot be told
to those who do not know them, and fewer
of us learn them, year by year.
These affections are leaving the world
like the colors of extinct birds,
like the songs of a dead language.
Think of the genius of the animals,
every one truly what it is:
gnat, fox, minnow, swallow, each made
of light and luminous within itself.
They know (better than we do) how
to live in the places where they live.
And so I would like to be a true
human being, dear reader-a choice
not altogether possible now.
But this is what I'm for, the side
I'm on. And this is what you should
expect of me, as I expect it of
myself, though for realization we
may wait a thousand or a million years.