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Poetry of Nature | Late Spring | Geoff Oelsner

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Dear PON Friends,

This day is a gift. This May is a gift.

Let’s take a imaginal walk into the terrain of May with two great English poets, Andrew Marvell and the less appreciated John Clare, and the Kentucky farmer, agronomist/environmental activist, essayist, novelist and poet Wendell Berry. Then, I will invite myself and you to put aside our digital devices, rest awhile from our anxieties and concerns for the Earth and if possible walk into some green place in our own necks of the woods.

Lingering here, we might be ambushed by some native joy and peace, as Marvell puts it so wonderfully:

“Annihilating all that’s made

To a green thought in a green shade.”

Below are three poems of green places. First let’s go to…

The Garden

How vainly men themselves amaze

To win the palm, the oak, or bays;

And their uncessant labors see

Crowned from some single herb or tree,

Whose short and narrow-vergèd shade

Does prudently their toils upbraid;

While all the flowers and trees do close

To weave the garlands of repose.

Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,

And Innocence, thy sister dear!

Mistaken long, I sought you then

In busy companies of men:

Your sacred plants, if here below,

Only among the plants will grow;

Society is all but rude,

To this delicious solitude.

No white nor red was ever seen

So amorous as this lovely green;

Fond lovers, cruel as their flame,

Cut in these trees their mistress’ name.

Little, alas, they know or heed,

How far these beauties hers exceed!

Fair trees! wheresoe’er your barks I wound

No name shall but your own be found.

When we have run our passion’s heat,

Love hither makes his best retreat:

The gods who mortal beauty chase,

Still in a tree did end their race.

Apollo hunted Daphne so,

Only that she might laurel grow,

And Pan did after Syrinx speed,

Not as a nymph, but for a reed.

What wondrous life is this I lead!

Ripe apples drop about my head;

The luscious clusters of the vine

Upon my mouth do crush their wine;

The nectarine and curious peach

Into my hands themselves do reach;

Stumbling on melons as I pass,

Insnared with flowers, I fall on grass.

Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,

Withdraws into its happiness:

The mind, that ocean where each kind

Does straight its own resemblance find;

Yet it creates, transcending these,

Far other worlds, and other seas;

Annihilating all that’s made

To a green thought in a green shade.

Here at the fountain’s sliding foot,

Or at some fruit-tree’s mossy root,

Casting the body’s vest aside,

My soul into the boughs does glide:

There like a bird it sits and sings,

Then whets and combs its silver wings;

And, till prepared for longer flight,

Waves in its plumes the various light.

Such was that happy garden-state,

While man there walked without a mate:

After a place so pure and sweet,

What other help could yet be meet!

But ‘twas beyond a mortal’s share

To wander solitary there:

Two paradises ‘twere in one

To live in Paradise alone.

How well the skillful gard’ner drew

Of flowers and herbs this dial new;

Where from above the milder sun

Does through a fragrant zodiac run;

And, as it works, th’ industrious bee

Computes its time as well as we.

How could such sweet and wholesome hours

Be reckoned but with herbs and flowers!

~ Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

A green glade at Devil's Den state park, Winslow, AR
A green glade at Devil's Den state park, Winslow, AR

And here is dear John Clare’s poem…

Home Pictures in May

The sunshine bathes in clouds of many hues

And morning's feet are gemmed with early dews,

Warm daffodils about the garden beds

Peep through their pale slim leaves their golden heads,

Sweet earthly nuns of Spring; the gosling broods

In coats of sunny green about the road

Waddle in extasy; and in rich moods

The old hen leads her flickering chicks abroad,

Oft scuttling 'neath her wings to see the kite

Hang wavering o'er them in the spring's blue light.

The sparrows round their new nests chirp with glee

And sweet the robin Spring's young luxury shares

Tootling its song in feathery gooseberry tree

While watching worms the gardener's spade unbares.

~ John Clare (1793-1864)

French geese, relaxing in southwestern France.
French geese, relaxing in southwestern France.

Finally from Wendell Berry, a truly sage elder:

Planting Trees

In the mating of trees,

the pollen grain entering invisible

the domed room of the winds, survives

the ghost of the old forest

that was here when we came. The ground

invites it, and it will not be gone.

I become the familiar of that ghost

and its ally, carrying in a bucket

twenty trees smaller than weeds,

and I plant them along the way

of the departure of the ancient host.

I return to the ground its original music.

It will rise out of the horizon

of the grass, and over the heads

of weeds, and it will rise over

the horizon of men’s heads. As I age

in the world it will rise and spread,

and be for this place horizon

and orison, the voice of its winds.

I have made myself a dream to dream

of its rising, that has gentled my nights.

Let me desire and wish well the life

these trees may live when I

no longer rise in the mornings

to be pleased by the green of them

shining, and their shadows on the ground,

and the sound of the wind in them.

~ Wendell Berry

Now consider taking a not-all-who-wander-are-lost walk through your own home terrain. As a possible prompt: sketch out some notes, or actually write a poem about what you find. See whether writing your observations deepens your sense of connection with your place of earth. This can really happen.

Lifting out of despair and proactively responding to this environmentally fraught and increasingly dangerous time calls for our best energy and efforts. Nature can help renew and energize us to make those efforts, whatever they may be. May we find some beauty and renewal in these three poems, and in our own.

Mother, may we?

Mais oui! Yes, we may.

Please Touch the Earth with Love,

Geoff Oelsner


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