one thing to the next...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Charles Wright

After Reading Tu Fu,
I Go Outside to the Dwarf Orchard

East of me, west of me, full summer.
How deeper than elsewhere the dusk is in your own yard.
Birds fly back and forth across the lawn
                                                      looking for home
As night drifts up like a little boat.

Day after day, I become of less use to myself.
Like this mockingbird,
                             I flit from one thing to the next.
What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
                        Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

The sky dogs are whimpering.
Fireflies are dragging the hush of evening
                                                       up from the damp grass.
Into the world's tumult, into the chaos of every day,
Go quietly, quietly.


Charles Wright is an extraordinary writer of the now, of the here. He writes of the moment, the release of an enormous presence that you had missed or didn’t know was possible – “deeper than elsewhere”. Night’s drifting like a boat carries the passenger into something new.

The peaceful ease of the drifting boat becomes, in the poem’s middle lines, a voice of despair: “I become of less use to myself”. The only constant – a flitting from one bit of life to the next. Daily routine, perhaps, blinds one to hope:

What do I have to look forward to at fifty-four?
Tomorrow is dark.
                Day-after-tomorrow is darker still.

“Sky dogs” that whimper show life against the darkness of space – a marvelous phrasing for the constellations’ glimmering. The glow of the stars is paralleled by the glow of fireflies.

The hush of night becomes significant – once the weight of our days is lifted by the fireflies. We shed the routine, the deadening – all things that limit our being. Wright ends the poem with a paradox – we walk quietly into the “chaos” of the day.

Poetry does affect one’s understanding of all things. Reading Tu Fu can transform a simple walk in the yard to something more.

Let go the urgency of life. Move slowly. Each day.


SarahJane said...

beautiful poem. love du fu, too.

Peter said...

Love this poem. Love Wright's stuff. Though it is funny, "54" seems young to me now.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks Sarah and Peter. I know exactly what you mean, Peter.

C. E. Chaffin said...

This gives hope to a 52-year-old poet who still has some ambition but has not been fertile of late.

I can't help but hear a rejoinder to Dylan Thomas's "Do not go gently" in the last line.

Sam of the ten thousand things said...

That's true CE, and one can always look to Amy Clampitt as well.