Friday, October 29, 2010

Poetry Friday: Big Weather, Continued

Yesterday I posted a photo of a terrifying but beautiful scene, thinking at the time, "Isn't it remarkable that something can be built of such seemingly contradictory elements - beauty and terror?" The photo shows a storm cloud/tornado over a peaceful landscape, and it seemed to me that this photo produced what a good novel or a good poem can produce - thoughts of lives lived under (or changed quickly by) the special circumstances evoked.  Literature does this - conjures up stories where human lives intersect with mysterious, uncontrollable forces.  Here's the photo again, in case you missed it.
Today, for Poetry Friday, I hunted up a poem titled "A Hermit Thrush" by Amy Clampitt which I remembered from a few years back - I first read it after a big wind storm in Seattle. It's the final four stanzas of the poem which stuck with me:

the longest day take cover under
a monk's-cowl overcast,

with thunder, rain and wind, then waiting,
we drop everything to listen as a
hermit thrush distills its fragmentary,
hesitant, in the end

unbroken music. From what source (beyond us, or
the wells within?) such links perceived arrive--
diminished sequences so uninsistingly
not even human--there's

hardly a vocabulary left to wonder, uncertain
as we are of so much in this existence, this
botched, cumbersome, much-mended,
not unsatisfactory thing.
I love those adjectives at the end, especially the surprise of the very last one: botched, cumbersome, much-mended, not unsatisfactoryDespite the flaws, we love life. Despite that storm cloud, a hermit thrush's unbroken song.

The whole poem can be read here. Notice the first line, too - "Nothing's certain." I'd like my creative writing students at Vermont College of Fine Arts to think about that a  bit, because writing for children, which is what I teach, can be a little pedantic - a little too certain of the rightness of the message.  Maybe I'll lecture on the value of uncertainty (negative capability = living in uncertainty) next July.

Poetry Friday today is being hosted today by Toby Speed (oops, I mean by her cat, Kashi) over at The Writer's Armchair.You'll find there what other people are posting around the Web!


  1. Beautiful poem, Julie (and photo, too). The poem underscores how we drop everything, all our doubts, in favor of listening to that unbroken music. Thanks for sharing!

  2. That poem simply blew me away. Gorgeous, gorgeous.

  3. I love that ending, too, Julie. And the break between the second and third stanzas here. It's fragmentary and hesitant and (despite the break) unbroken music. Gorgeous.

  4. Hi, Julie. Thanks for sharing that gorgeous poem. I love this image: "Watching the longest day take cover under a monk's-cowl." Poetry should take us surprising places.

  5. Lots of things to think about in your post today, Julie. What a photo. Kind of like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    "Not unsatisfactory" is a startling, powerful word choice.

    Uncertainty as it relates to children (and writing for them) is an interesting, overlooked thing to consider.

  6. What a wonderfully spooky yet almost affirming poem.

    I loved the image of
    a monk's-cowl overcast,

  7. This is gorgeous. Thank you. The thrush's "fragmentary,/ hesitant, in the end/ unbroken music"---how that cuts to the heart.

  8. I'm so glad all of you were as impressed as I was by this poem and what it evoke - and by the technical skill with which Clampitt structures line breaks! Thanks for commenting -

  9. Wow. Great photo. Perfect pairing with the poem.

    I'm thinking about this line:

    hardly a vocabulary left to wonder..."

    Have we lost the vocabulary needed for wonder, or have we stopped wondering about the vocabulary of our uncertain existence?


  10. Beautiful! thanks so much for posting this.

  11. Mary Lee - I'm giving my daughter Rachael Carson's book A SENSE OF WONDER for Christmas. Great book for thinking about the answers to the questions you ask. Plus, one of the best parenting books around! Hard to believe it was published more than 30 years ago, because it seems so timely.

  12. I write about the biggest uncontrollable force in our history--but that picture you posted is still, to me, the scariest thing I've seen this Halloween!

  13. To all who read this: Go take a look at Shelley's remarkable website: