CROW’S NESTS.

I was thinking of posting one of my favorite winter poems, Wallace Stevens’s “The Snow Man” (since it’s finally snowy and wintry around here), but you probably all know it already (and if you don’t, you can read it at the always readworthy wood s lot, where you will also find Klee’s “Angelus Novus” and Walter Benjamin’s famous meditation on it). Instead, I’m posting a poem by perhaps my favorite living poet, Richard Wilbur (from his 2000 collection Mayflies), which I found at the always readworthy Avva (Anatoly Vorobey’s blog, in Russian):

Crow’s Nests
That lofty stand of trees beyond the field,
Which in the storms of summer stood revealed
As a great fleet of galleons bound our way
Across a moiled expanse of tossing hay,
Full-rigged and swift, and to the topmost sail
Taking their fill and pleasure of the gale,
Now, in this leafless time, are ships no more,
Though it would not be hard to take them for
A roadstead full of naked mast and spar
In which we see now where the crow’s nests are.

(Also from Avva: a video of Wilbur reading the title poem from the book.)
And a happy new year to all.

Comments

  1. Thanks, I love that.

  2. marie-lucie says:

    Me too!

  3. Marc Leavitt says:

    Herewith two haiku about winter, which I wrote many years ago.
    On the ice-blue lake, sun dances silver-bright and sings through the cold air.
    Thunder rumbles in the snow sky, while small children stand still in wonder.
    Best wishes for the new year.
    Marc Leavitt at Marc Leavitt’s Blog

  4. Trond Engen says:

    I love that.
    Both Hat and Crown are posting on trees today. If there’s a connection, it’s over my head. Maybe I could ask the Log.
    Happy new year! And back to the party.

  5. Happy new year, everybody!

  6. And a very happy new year to you, snowy Hat.
    To continue the theme: a seasonal rhyme from R.L. Stevenson.

  7. The RLS is good stuff: written for children?

  8. marie-lucie says:

    The depth of winter in the North of Scotland, it must be, with only a couple of hours of sunshine. And no modern amenities: bathing in a freezing room, brrr.
    I like Stevenson, not only as a writer but as a person.

  9. I like Stevenson, not only as a writer but as a person.
    Same here.

  10. Trond Engen says:

    Very good. It gave me shivers. First I thought it was the description of a wintery morning, then I realised it was a deeper cold, and a longer winter, introduced by the word nurse. Maybe it’s just me.

  11. Stevenson’s family were lighthouse engineers, and they knew “all that there was to be knowed” about living and working under God-awful conditions of wet and cold from Hell. His grandfather Robert and his father Thomas built a whole series of lighthouses on inconsiderable (but deadly) rocks out in the ocean, notably the Bell Rock (better known as the Inchcape Rock) in the Firth of Tay, which is only exposed at all during the lowest of low tide. The good old abbot of Aber-brothok was doing well to put even a bell there, never mind Robert’s solid and substantial construction, so much so that it stands unchanged today, except for the replacement of the lights with electric ones and the introduction of blessèd automation in 1988. Thomas built one of his two-dozen-odd lighthouses in the Out Skerries off Shetland, and another on Dubh Artach off the Isle of Earraid (where David Balfour was wrecked), which is pounded regularly by hundred-foot waves.
    But not RLS, who spent most of his brief adult life trying to find a climate that would not kill him off in a few years. He had a chronic lung condition thought in his own lifetime to be tuberculosis, but which was probably irreversible dilation of the lungs from a bacterial infection of some sort. He wrote this rather self-justifying verse about it when he was 27:

    Say not of me that weakly I declined
    The labours of my sires, and fled the sea,
    The towers we founded and the lamps we lit,
    But rather say: In the afternoon of time
    A strenuous family dusted from its hands
    The sand of granite, and beholding far
    Along the sounding coast its pyramids
    And tall memorials catch the dying sun,
    Smiled well content, and to this childish task
    Around the fire addressed its evening hours.

    He finally died at age 44 on the island of Upolu in Samoa, and is buried there on a hill, with an epitaph according to his poem “Requiem” written when he was 30:

    Under the wide and starry sky,
    Dig the grave and let me lie.
    Glad did I live and gladly die,
    And I laid me down with a will.
    This be the verse you grave for me:
    Here he lies where he longed to be;
    Home is the sailor, home from [the] sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill.

    These are not typical Stevenson, nor is the Child’s Garden of Verses from which “Winter-Time” is taken. My personal favorites are his long ballads Ticonderoga, a legend of the Western Highlands with a partly American plot (okay, it telegraphs its punch to Americans who studied the battle in school), and The Song of Rahéro, a traditional Samoan story written as if it were a Highland ballad. And of course his story Thrawn Janet, an attempt to write a serious story entirely (except for the introduction) in Scots, at a time when Scots was considered of no literary value for anything but broad comedy.

  12. Sir JCass says:

    Happy New Year!
    “The New Year” by Edward Thomas (1915)
    He was the one man I met up in the woods
    That stormy New Year’s morning; and at first sight,
    Fifty yards off, I could not tell how much
    Of the strange tripod was a man. His body,
    Bowed horizontal, was supported equally
    By legs at one end, by a rake at the other:
    Thus he rested, far less like a man than
    His wheel-barrow in profile was like a pig.
    But when I saw it was an old man bent,
    At the same moment came into my mind
    The games at which boys bend thus, High-Cockalorum,
    Or Fly-the-garter, and Leap-frog. At the sound
    Of footsteps he began to straighten himself;
    His head rolled under his cape like a tortoise’s;
    He took an unlit pipe out of his mouth
    Politely ere I wished him “A Happy New Year,”
    And with his head cast upward sideways muttered-
    So far as I could hear through the trees’ roar-
    “Happy New Year, and may it come fastish, too,”
    While I strode by and he turned to raking leaves.

  13. Interesting; it reads much like his friend Frost, except that the meter is far looser than Frost would ever have permitted.

  14. Sir JCass says:

    the meter is far looser than Frost would ever have permitted
    Although Frost is one of the main reasons why the meter is that way. From a long and interesting article about Thomas and Frost:
    “He gave me standing as a poet,” Frost said of Thomas, “he more than anyone else.” But Frost would more than repay the favour that summer, recognising an innate poetry within Thomas’s prose writings, and imploring his friend to look back at his topographic books and “write them in verse form in exactly the same cadence”.

  15. And it was in the sky, and not upon the earth, that I was surprised to find a change. Explain it how you may, and for my part I cannot explain it at all, the sun rises with a different spendour in America and Europe. There is more clear gold and scarlet in our old-country mornings; more purple, brown and smoky orange in those of the new. It may be from habit, but to me the coming of day is less fresh and inspiriting in the latter; it seems to fit some subsequential, evening epoch of the world, as though America were in fact, and not merely in fancy, farther from the orient of Aurora and the springs of day.
    A favored example of RLS’s observational acuity, painter-like, possessed by only the best travel (with a donkey) writers.

  16. Elizabeth Kendall says:

    Somehow the Wilbur seems to echo yet another Frost: “These pools that, though in forests still reflect/the total sky almost without defect..”
    Happy New Year All!

  17. I think it’s well-explained by the fact that in the New World since the conquest, something is pretty much always on fire.

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