Further in Summer than the Birds
Pathetic from the Grass
A minor Nation celebrates
Its unobtrusive Mass.
No Ordinance be seen
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
Antiquest felt at Noon
When August burning low
Arise this spectral Canticle
Repose to typify
Remit as yet no Grace
No Furrow on the Glow
Yet a Druidic Difference
Enhances Nature now
“…one of the great poems of American literature. The statement of the poem is profound; it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time. The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world. She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception. But that, we reason, is enough. This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:
So gradual the Grace
A pensive Custom it becomes
But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others. The poem bespeaks a state of grace. In its precision, perception and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state. Words are indivisible with the highest realization of human being.”
~N. Scott Momaday from The Man Made of Words
On the first day I took his class on Native American Mythology and Lore in 1974 at Stanford, N.Scott Momaday strolled to the front, wrote the 60 words of this Dickinson poem on the blackboard. He told us we would spend at least a week working out the meaning of what he considered the greatest poem written — this in a class devoted to Native American writing and oral tradition. In his resonant bass, he read the poem to us many times, rolling the words around his mouth as if to extract their sweetness. This man of the plains, a member of the Kiowa tribe, loved this poem put together by a New England recluse poet — someone as culturally distant from him and his people as possible.
But grace works to unite us, no matter our differences, and Scott knew this as he led us, mostly white students, through this poem. What on the surface appears a paean to late summer cricket song doomed to extinction by oncoming winter, is a statement of the transcendence of man beyond our understanding of nature and the world in which we, its creatures, find ourselves.
As summer begins its descent into the dark death of winter, we, unlike the crickets, become all too aware we too are descending, particularly when the skies are filled with smoke from uncontrolled wildfires in the north, the east and the south. There is no one as lonely as an individual facing their mortality and no one as lonely as a poet facing the empty page, in search of words to describe the sacrament of sacrifice and perishing.
Yet the Word brings Grace unlike any other, even when the cricket song, pathetic and transient as it is, is gone. The Word brings Grace, like no other, to pathetic and transient man who will emerge transformed.
There is no furrow on the glow. There is no need to plow and seed our salvaged souls, already lovingly planted and nurtured by our Creator God, yielding a fruited plain.
… if you ran, time ran. You yelled and screamed and raced and rolled and tumbled and all of a sudden the sun was gone and the whistle was blowing and you were on your long way home to supper. When you weren’t looking, the sun got around behind you! The only way to keep things slow was to watch everything and do nothing! You could stretch a day to three days, sure, just by watching!
~Ray Bradbury from Dandelion Wine
Late summer is a time to slow down and just watch, to stretch the days out as long as possible.
I have a tendency to race through the hours granted to me, heedless of the sun settling low behind me; I don’t want to surrender the day to the advancing march of darkness.
So I choose for now to be observer and recorder rather than runner and racer, each moment preserved like so many jars of sweet jam on a pantry shelf.
The sun may be setting, but I want it to take its time.
The daylight is huge.
Five a.m. and the sky already
blushing gray. Mornings so full
of blue the clouds almost sheepish
as they wisp over hills.
High noon only happens in June,
mid-day a tipping point, the scale
weighed down on both sides
with blazed hours. And the evenings—
so drawn out the land lies stunned
by that shambling last light.
~Amy MacLennan “The Daylight is Huge” from The Body, A Tree.
May a sunrise or sunset never become so routine that I fail to stop what I’m doing and acknowledge it and be stunned:
the richness of the backdrop where the paint is splashed though the foreground remains unchanged.
the timing being all its own, whether slow simmer that never reaches full boil, or a burst and explosion that is over in a matter of minutes.
the expanse and drama of unique color and swirl, layers and uniformity, gentle yellows and purples and pinks or glaring reds and oranges.
May a sun be ripe for picking, to grasp briefly and hold on to and then let go – too hot to handle, too remote to tuck away in my pocket for another day.
“Once I saw a chimpanzee gaze at a particularly beautiful sunset for a full 15 minutes, watching the changing colors [and then] retire to the forest without picking a pawpaw for supper.”
~Adriaan Krotlandt, Dutch ethologist
Now all the doors and windows
are open, and we move so easily
through the rooms. Cats roll
on the sunny rugs, and a clumsy wasp
climbs the pane, pausing
to rub a leg over her head.
All around physical life reconvenes.
The molecules of our bodies must love
to exist: they whirl in circles
and seem to begrudge us nothing.
Heat, Horatio, heat makes them
put this antic disposition on!
This year’s brown spider
sways over the door as I come
and go. A single poppy shouts
from the far field, and the crow,
beyond alarm, goes right on
pulling up the corn.
~Jane Kenyon, “Philosophy in Warm Weather” from Otherwise
Whether weather is very or very cold, so go our molecules — indeed our very atoms are constantly awhirl to keep us upright whenever we sweat or shiver.
This summer my doors and windows have been flung wide open; I’m seeing and hearing and feeling all that I can absorb, never to forget the gift of being human witness to it all.
Like a dog trying to catch its tail, I’m whirling in circles, trying to grab what will always elude me.
There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.
It is too easy to become blinded to the glory surrounding us if we perceive it to be routine and commonplace.
I can’t remember the last time I celebrated a blade of grass, given how focused I am mowing it into conformity.
Too often I’m not up early enough to witness the pink sunrise or I’m too busy to take time to watch the sun paint the sky red as it sets or to witness the ever-changing cloud formations above.
I didn’t notice how the light was illuminating our walnut tree until I saw the perfect reflection of it in our koi pond — I had marveled at a reflection instead of the real thing itself.
I miss opportunities to rejoice innumerable times a day. It takes only a moment of recognition and appreciation to feel the joy, and in that moment time stands still. Life stretches a little longer when I stop to acknowledge the intention of creation as an endless reservoir of rejoicing. If a blade of grass, if a palette of color, if a chance reflection, if a movement of clouds — if all this is made for joy, then maybe so am I.
Even colorless, plain and commonplace me, created an image-bearer and intended reflector of light.
Maybe so am I.
How often do we miss the fainter note
Or fail to see the more exquisite hue,
Blind to the tiny streamlet at our feet,
Eyes fixed upon some other, further view.
What chimes of harmonies escape our ears,
How many rainbows must elude our sight,
We see a field but do not see the grass,
Each blade a miracle of shade and light.
How then to keep the greater end in eye
And watch the sunlight on the distant peak,
And yet not tread on any leaf of love,
Nor miss a word the eager children speak?
Ah, what demand upon the narrow heart,
To seek the whole, yet not ignore the part.
~Philip Britts “Sonnet 1”
We are born nearly blinded with our sole focus on our hunger to be filled and held. As we grow, our focus sharpens to marvel and fall in love with those who feed and nurture us.
The world is almost too much to take in — a miracle of shade and light.
With age, we scan for detail within the whole. Time’s a wasting (and so are we) if we don’t capture it all with the lenses of our eyes.
Too soon the end of life, when once again our vision blurs and the world fades from view. We hunger again to be filled and held.
Heaven will be almost too much to take in – our hearts full to bursting.