Silence in the Snowy Fields: Poems / Edition 1 available in Paperback
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- Wesleyan University Press
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ELEVEN POEMS OF SOLITUDE
THREE KINDS OF PLEASURES
Sometimes, riding in a car, in Wisconsin Or Illinois, you notice those dark telephone poles One by one lift themselves out of the fence line And slowly leap on the gray sky —
And past them, the snowy fields.
The darkness drifts down like snow on the picked cornfields In Wisconsin: and on these black trees Scattered, one by one,
Through the winter fields —
We see stiff weeds and brownish stubble,
And white snow left now only in the wheeltracks of the combine.
It is a pleasure, also, to be driving Toward Chicago, near dark,
And see the lights in the barns.
The bare trees more dignified than ever,
Like a fierce man on his deathbed,
And the ditches along the road half full of a private snow.
RETURN TO SOLITUDE
It is a moonlit, windy night.
The moon has pushed out the Milky Way.
Clouds are hardly alive, and the grass leaping.
It is the hour of return.
We want to go back, to return to the sea,
The sea of solitary corridors,
And halls of wild nights,
Explosions of grief,
Diving into the sea of death,
Like the stars of the wheeling Bear.
What shall we find when we return?
Friends changed, houses moved,
Trees perhaps, with new leaves.
WAKING FROM SLEEP
Inside the veins there are navies setting forth,
Tiny explosions at the water lines,
And seagulls weaving in the wind of the salty blood.
It is the morning. The country has slept the whole winter.
Window seats were covered with fur skins, the yard was full Of stiff dogs, and hands that clumsily held heavy books.
Now we wake, and rise from bed, and eat breakfast! —
Shouts rise from the harbor of the blood,
Mist, and masts rising, the knock of wooden tackle in the sunlight.
Now we sing, and do tiny dances on the kitchen floor.
Our whole body is like a harbor at dawn;
We know that our master has left us for the day.
HUNTING PHEASANTS IN A CORNFIELD
What is so strange about a tree alone in an open field?
It is a willow tree. I walk around and around it.
The body is strangely torn, and cannot leave it.
At last I sit down beneath it.
It is a willow tree alone in acres of dry corn.
Its leaves are scattered around its trunk, and around me,
Brown now, and speckled with delicate black.
Only the cornstalks now can make a noise.
The sun is cold, burning through the frosty distances of space.
The weeds are frozen to death long ago.
Why then do I love to watch The sun moving on the chill skin of the branches?
The mind has shed leaves alone for years.
It stands apart with small creatures near its roots.
I am happy in this ancient place,
A spot easily caught sight of above the corn,
If I were a young animal ready to turn home at dusk.
SURPRISED BY EVENING
There is unknown dust that is near us,
Waves breaking on shores just over the hill,
Trees full of birds that we have never seen,
Nets drawn down with dark fish.
The evening arrives; we look up and it is there,
It has come through the nets of the stars,
Through the tissues of the grass,
Walking quietly over the asylums of the waters.
The day shall never end, we think:
We have hair that seems born for the daylight;
But, at last, the quiet waters of the night will rise,
And our skin shall see far off, as it does under water.
THINKING OF WALLACE STEVENSON THE FIRST SNOWY DAY IN DECEMBER
This new snow seems to speak of virgins With frail clothes made of gold,
Just as the old snow shall whisper Of concierges in France.
The new dawn sings of beaches Dazzling as sugar and clean as the clouds of Greece,
Just as the exhausted dusk shall sing Of the waves on the western shore.
This new strength whispers of the darkness of death,
Of the frail skiff lost in the giant cave,
Just as in the boat nearing death you sang Of feathers and white snow.
SUNSET AT A LAKE
The sun is sinking. Here on the pine-haunted bank, the mosquitoes fly around drowsily, and moss stands out as if it wanted to speak. Calm falls on the lake, which now seems heavier and inhospitable. Far out, rafts of ducks drift like closed eyes, and a thin line of silver caused by something invisible slowly moves toward shore in the viscous darkness under the southern bank. Only a few birds, the troubled ones, speak to the darkening roof of earth; small weeds stand abandoned, the clay is sending her gifts back to the center of the earth.
Because it is the first Sunday of pheasant season, men gather in the lights of cars to divide pheasants, and the chickens, huddling near their electricity, and in some slight fear of the dark, walk for the last time about their little hut, whose floor seems now so bare.
The dusk has come, a glow in the west, as if seen through the isinglass on old coal stoves, and the cows stand around the barn door; now the farmer looks up at the paling sky reminding him of death, and in the fields the bones of the corn rustle faintly in the last wind, and the half moon stands in the south.
Now the lights from barn windows can be seen through bare trees.
September. Clouds. The first day for wearing jackets.
The corn is wandering in dark corridors,
Near the well and the whisper of tombs.
I sit alone surrounded by dry corn,
Near the second growth of the pigweeds,
And hear the corn leaves scrape their feet on the wind.
Fallen ears are lying on the dusty earth.
The useful ears will lie dry in cribs, but the others, missed By the picker, will lie here touching the ground the whole winter.
Snow will come, and cover the husks of the fallen ears With flakes infinitely delicate, like jewels of a murdered Gothic prince Which were lost centuries ago during a great battle.
DRIVING TOWARD THE LAC QUI PARLE RIVER
I am driving; it is dusk; Minnesota.
The stubble field catches the last growth of sun.
The soybeans are breathing on all sides.
Old men are sitting before their houses on carseats In the small towns. I am happy,
The moon rising above the turkey sheds.
The small world of the car Plunges through the deep fields of the night,
On the road from Willmar to Milan.
This solitude covered with iron Moves through the fields of night Penetrated by the noise of crickets.
Nearly to Milan, suddenly a small bridge,
And water kneeling in the moonlight.
In small towns the houses are built right on the ground;
The lamplight falls on all fours in the grass.
When I reach the river, the full moon covers it;
A few people are talking low in a boat.
POEM IN THREE PARTS
Oh, on an early morning I think I shall live forever!
I am wrapped in my joyful flesh,
As the grass is wrapped in its clouds of green.
Rising from a bed, where I dreamt Of long rides past castles and hot coals,
The sun lies happily on my knees;
I have suffered and survived the night Bathed in dark water, like any blade of grass.
The strong leaves of the box-elder tree,
Plunging in the wind, call us to disappear Into the wilds of the universe,
Where we shall sit at the foot of a plant,
And live forever, like the dust.
A strange unrest hovers over the nation:
This is the last dance, the wild tossing of Morgan's seas,
The division of spoils. A lassitude Enters into the diamonds of the body.
In high school the explosion begins, the child is partly killed,
When the fight is over, and the land and the sea ruined,
Two shapes inside us rise, and move away.
But the baboon whistles on the shores of death—
Climbing and falling, tossing nuts and stones,
He gambols by the tree Whose branches hold the expanses of cold,
The planets whirling and the black sun,
The cries of insects, and the tiny slaves In the prisons of bark:
Charlemagne, we are approaching your islands!
We are returning now to the snowy trees,
And the depth of the darkness buried in snow, through which you rode all night With stiff hands; now the darkness is falling In which we sleep and awake—a darkness in which Thieves shudder, and the insane have a hunger for snow,
In which bankers dream of being buried by black stones,
And businessmen fall on their knees in the dungeons of sleep.
We are approaching sleep: the chestnut blossoms in the mind Mingle with thoughts of pain And the long roots of barley, bitterness As of the oak roots staining the waters dark In Louisiana, the wet streets soaked with rain And sodden blossoms, out of this We have come, a tunnel softly hurtling into darkness.
The storm is coming. The small farmhouse in Minnesota Is hardly strong enough for the storm.
Darkness, darkness in grass, darkness in trees.
Even the water in wells trembles.
Bodies give off darkness, and chrysanthemums Are dark, and horses, who are bearing great loads of hay To the deep barns where the dark air is moving from corners.
Lincoln's statue, and the traffic. From the long past Into the long present A bird, forgotten in these pressures, warbling,
As the great wheel turns around, grinding The living in water.
Washing, continual washing, in water now stained With blossoms and rotting logs, Cries, half-muffled, from beneath the earth, the living awakened at last like the dead.
POEM AGAINST THE RICH
Each day I live, each day the sea of light Rises, I seem to see The tear inside the stone As if my eyes were gazing beneath the earth.
The rich man in his red hat Cannot hear The weeping in the pueblos of the lily,
Or the dark tears in the shacks of the corn.
Each day the sea of light rises I hear the sad rustle of the darkened armies,
Where each man weeps, and the plaintive Orisons of the stones.
The stones bow as the saddened armies pass.
POEM AGAINST THE BRITISH
The wind through the box-elder trees Is like rides at dusk on a white horse,
Wars for your country, and fighting the British.
I wonder if Washington listened to the trees.
All morning I have been sitting in grass,
Higher than my eyes, beneath trees,
And listening upward, to the wind in leaves.
Suddenly I realize there is one thing more:
There is also the wind through the high grass.
There are palaces, boats, silence among white buildings,
Iced drinks on marble tops, among cool rooms;
It is good also to be poor, and listen to the wind.
WHERE WE MUST LOOK FOR HELP
The dove returns: it found no resting place;
It was in flight all night above the shaken seas;
Beneath ark eaves The dove shall magnify the tiger's bed;
Give the dove peace.
The split-tail swallows leave the sill at dawn;
At dusk, blue swallows shall return.
On the third day the crow shall fly;
The crow, the crow, the spider-colored crow,
The crow shall find new mud to walk upon.
REMEMBERING IN OSLO THE OLD PICTURE OF THE MAGNA CARTA
The girl in a house dress, pushing open the window,
Is also the fat king sitting under the oak tree,
And the garbage men, thumping their cans, are Crows still cawing,
And the nobles are offering the sheet to the king.
One thing is also another thing, and the doomed galleons,
Hung with trinkets, hove by the coast, and in the blossoms Of trees are still sailing on their long voyage from Spain;
I too am still shocking grain, as I did as a boy, dog tired,
And my great-grandfather steps on his ship.
SUMMER, 1960, MINNESOTA
After a drifting day, visiting the bridge near Louisberg,
With its hot muddy water flowing Under the excited swallows,
Now, at noon We plunge through the hot beanfields,
And the sturdy alfalfa fields, the farm groves Like heavy green smoke close to the ground.
Inside me there is a confusion of swallows,
Birds flying through the smoke,
And horses galloping excitedly on fields of short grass.
Yet, we are falling,
Falling into the open mouths of darkness,
Into the Congo as if into a river,
Or as wheat into open mills.
WITH PALE WOMEN IN MARYLAND
With pale women in Maryland,
Passing the proud and tragic pastures,
And stupefied with love And the stupendous burdens of the foreign trees,
As all before us lived, dazed With overabundant love in the reach of the Chesapeake,
Past the tobacco warehouse, through our dark lives Like those before, we move to the death we love With pale women in Maryland.
DRIVING THROUGH OHIO
We slept that night in Delaware, Ohio:
A magnificent and sleepy country,
Oak country, sheep country, sod country.
We slept in a huge white tourist home With National Geographics on the table.
North of Columbus there is a sort of torpid joy:
The slow and muddy river,
The white barns leaning into the ground,
Cottonwoods with their trunks painted white,
And houses with small observatories on top,
As if Ohio were the widow's coast, looking over The dangerous Atlantic.
Now we drive north past the white cemeteries So rich in the morning air!
All morning I have felt the sense of death;
I am full of love, and love this torpid land.
Some day I will go back, and inhabit again The sleepy ground where Harding was born.
AT THE FUNERAL OF GREAT-AUNT MARY
Here we are, all dressed up to honor death!
No, it is not that;
It is to honor this old woman Born in Bellingham.
The church windows are open to the green trees.
The minister tells us that, being The sons and daughters of God,
We rejoice at death, for we go To the mansions prepared From the foundations of the world.
Impossible. No one believes it.
Out on the bare, pioneer field,
The frail body must wait till dusk To be lowered In the hot and sandy earth.
ON THE FERRY ACROSS CHESAPEAKE BAY
On the orchard of the sea, far out are whitecaps,
Water that answers questions no one has asked,
Silent speakers of the grave's rejoinders;
Having accomplished nothing, I am travelling somewhere else;
O deep green sea, it is not for you This smoking body ploughs toward death;
It is not for the strange blossoms of the sea I drag my thin legs across the Chesapeake Bay;
Though perhaps by your motions the body heals;
For though on its road the body cannot march With golden trumpets — it must march —
And the sea gives up its answer as it falls into itself.
Excerpted from "Silence in the Snowy Fields"
Copyright © 1962 Robert Bly.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsELEVEN POEMS OF SOLITUDE
Three Kinds of Pleasures
Return to Solitude
Waking from Sleep
Hunting Pheasants in a Cornfield
Surprised by Evening
Thinking of Wallace Stevens on the First Snowy Day in December
Sunset at a Lake
Driving toward the Lac Qui Parle River
Poem in Three Parts
Poem against the Rich
Poem against the British
Where We Must Look for Help
Remembering in Oslo the Old Picture of the Magna Carta
Summer, 1960, Minnesota
With Pale Women in Maryland
Driving through Ohio
At the Funeral of Great-aunt Mary the Ferry Across the Chesapeake Bay
A Man Writes to a Part of Himself
Driving to Town Late to Mail a Letter
Getting Up Early
A Late Spring Day in My Life
"Taking the Hands"
Images Suggested by Medieval Music
Solitude Late at Night in the Woods
Watering the Horse
In a Train
SILENCE ON THE ROADS
The Clear Air of October
Laziness and Silence
September Night with an Old Horse
After Drinking All Night with a Friend, We Go Out in a Boat at Dawn to See Who Can Write the Best Poem
Late at Night during a Visit of Friends
Snowfall in the Afternoon