What Is It You Plan to Do?

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean --
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down --
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

Guest Observation: Henry Reed

From “Naming of Parts“:

“They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
          For to-day we have naming of parts.”

Wonderful poem, which I encountered in a junior college composition class I needed to take to get into Berkeley. Wonderful class, too: the instructor was a poet who lived up in the Richmond hills. I groped, as I often do, for what this poem was saying. Seems pretty obvious now. (And if one wants to read more on Henry Reed, who seems worth the time, here’s a wonderful website dedicated to his work. That’s three “wonderfuls” in the same paragraph. I’m out.)

Guest Observation: Dylan Thomas

The closing lines of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” My favorite part of one of my favorite poems. Merry Christmas, wherever you are on this Christmas night.

“… Always on Christmas night there was music.

An uncle played the fiddle, a cousin sang

‘Cherry Ripe,’ and another uncle sang ‘Drake’s Drum.’

It was very warm in the little house.

Auntie Hannah, who had got on to the parsnip

wine, sang a song about Bleeding Hearts and Death,

and then another in which she said her heart

was like a Bird’s Nest; and then everybody

laughed again; and then I went to bed.

“Looking out my bedroom window, out into

the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow,

I could see the lights in the windows

of all the other houses on our hill and hear

the music rising from them up the long, steadily

falling night. I turned the gas down, I got

into bed. I said some words to the close and

holy darkness, and then I slept.”

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‘The Old Knot of Contrariety’

And while we’re considering the reflective life, the musing life, the self-conscious life (OK, I was considering it — you don’t have to), there’s this from Walt Whitman:

“It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,

The dark threw patches down upon me also;

The best I had done seem[d to me blank and suspicious;

My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?

It is not you alone who know what it is to be evil;

I am he who knew what it was to be evil;

I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,

Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d,

Had guile, anger,lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,

Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant;

The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me;

The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,

Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting.

I was call’d by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,

Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,

Saw many I loved in the street, or ferry-boat, or public assembly, yet never told them a word,

Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,

Play’d the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,

The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like,

Or as small as we like, or both great and small. “

Crossing Brooklyn Ferry