A November Poem in Chilly January
A November poem in January? But, honestly, what better time for any kind of poetry with the snowstorms and the freezing rain outside and warm blankets and steaming tea inside? So grab a cup and curl up for a good read (I hope!) and maybe some meditation to accompany it!
My blog was not up at the time when I wrote this poem, in November of this past year. It was a gorgeous, gorgeous November and my drive home through the dappled forest and my rusting neighborhood with its charming, leaf-strewn homes was just too much to handle for my poetic tendencies.
Poetry can be hard and confusing, I know, so I like to give a short explanation to accompany my poems. I will be putting the explanation after the poem for those of you who like to take it for what it is. For those of you who like to go in mentally prepared, skip to the notes and then you can go back and enjoy the poem, hopefully understanding it in a more profound way.
the noble trees, November-clad in remnants
are sending, strapped with shriveled wings, descendants
away they fly; we call---the world is rusting!
and brazen sighs on brazen heads are gusting.
we cry. as does the sky---the world is cold!
and grasses sweetly breath---our summer's old!
a stillness gathers, pooling in our lap
that we had cleared for harvest fruit and harvest sap.
how glorious is the sun in all the trees!
the sage and russet hues dazzle and please
and we forget, a moment, how to count our seed
and wonder if the frozen years we'll feed.
stately and beautiful the woods are lulled
our watch. our guide. and gently dulled
in barren wheat fields we seek sleep
the glow full-ripened on our cheek.
all weak things wan upon their Maker lying
the buttered skies and swallows swiftly flying
and all those dying. Beautiful! we sigh. so still--
the barrenness spreading o'er the hill.
M. P. Whittaker - November 2018
I've been exploring the theme of the winter of one's soul in my personal life and this November brought that home to me in a deeper, more spiritual, more painful way. In my personal life, I seem to be experiencing so much struggle, so many disappointments and little deaths. So much unfruitfulness and emptiness where I have expected growth and reward. Besides that, I have been allowing myself to grow immune to the beauty around me, sinking somehow into my own dark, safe hole where I can shut out the pain and most everything else. Somehow, on those sun-splashed, forested drives home, the beauty that surrounded me broke through the crust of my experiences. It was so glorious! It was as if Creation was shouting out its beauty, and I could hear it, loud and clear. But for what? I wondered. Fall is, after all, a preparation for winter---for death. This idea seemed to pierce me because of the little deaths I have been experiencing all around.
And so this poem was born, a sweet and bitter mix, of life and death, of beauty and decay. Why revel in autumnal glory when it is merely the flagrant sign-post of death? Especially when there there is so little to show for the blazing summer months of toil. Gazing at the beauty, we experience the emptiness it is married to---"A stillness gathers, pooling in our lap/that we had cleared for harvest fruit and harvest sap." In the poem, the glory that is thrilling in the viewer's soul serves almost as a distraction from the cold, hard truth, winter is coming, and the year has not been fruitful---"how glorious is the sun in all the trees!/the sage and russet hues dazzle and please/and we forget, a moment, how to count our seed/and wonder if the frozen years we'll feed." Throughout the Bible, creation is given the unique role of speaking to the Believer, wordlessly. And so though creation signals us this autumnal cause for anxiety, it is nature that also leads the way to a winter's peace. The viewer looks to nature for his answer, to the woods as his guide and notices that they are peacefully lulled, quietly accepting their demise. He mimics them and on the barren wheat fields, he too finds sleep. Not only sleep, but an answer. There is ripeness---there is harvest---but not on the wheat fields where he sought it. Rather, it is internal---"the glow full-ripened on his cheek."
What is this richness to be found within? "All weak things wan upon their Maker lying." It is the recognition of weakness, of the death within us. It is the surrendering to it. Not in despair, however, but in faith and in hope. Faith and hope are the fruit the viewer finds within which fills him with a richness despite the growing barrenness. It fills him with the peace and warmth to quietly accept the forthcoming "frozen years." And what is this faith and hope founded on but on Christ and His work? For the true Believer as well as for the fading flower, the falling seed in nature, surrender to death is the paradoxical key to new birth and new life. This knowledge of hope beyond the grave, life beyond death, of spring beyond winter, is what fills the viewer's heart to the brim with an overwhelming sense of awe. At the end of the poem, he has passed from bemoaning the transitory, passing beauty of autumn to worshipful consideration of the actual beauty in surrender to death only because of its entrance to a newer, qualitatively finer, richer life. "Beautiful!" we sigh. "So still (peaceful)---that barrenness spreading o'er the hill!"
Perhaps we too, dazed by our own personal winters, can choose to see the little deaths in our life in this way. Surrender to them, in hope of resurrection. Allow His painful and paradoxical work to be done, like the forests, filled with peace. In the knowledge that we may be weak, and wan, and dying, but we are on our Maker lying and He does take away life, but He can also give it, and give it with an eternal abundance.