time shall surely reap


Cole_Thomas_The_Garden_of_Eden_1828Click to Enlarge*

My mind is composting tonight; not enough vegetables to harvest just yet. I meant to stop by my parents’ house today and obtain some tomatoes – there are plenty and they look very good – but I forgot. This puts me in mind of a poem:

This is the Garden

This is the garden: colours come and go,
frail azures fluttering from night’s outer wing
strong silent greens serenely lingering,
absolute lights like baths of golden snow.

This is the garden: pursed lips do blow
upon cool flutes within wide glooms, and sing
(of harps celestial to the quivering string)
invisible faces hauntingly and slow.

This is the garden. Time shall surely reap
and on Death’s blade lie many a flower curled,
in other lands where other songs be sung;
yet stand They here enraptured, as among
the slow deep trees perpetual of sleep
some silver-fingered fountain steals the world.

— e e cummings

Isn’t that amazing? Read it aloud to yourself. Go ahead, it’s worth it, trust me. I did. Read it aloud several times.

Cummings was a master of his art.  And not the least bit shy about tackling the greatest common divisors of human life. After all, that’s the poet’s job, as it is the literary writer’s in any genre. As Stegner put it:

I am concerned with gloomier matters: the condition of being flesh, susceptible to pain, infected with consciousness and the consciousness of consciousness, doomed to death and the awareness of death. My life stains the air around me. I am a tea bag left too long in the cup, and my steepings grow darker and bitterer. [All The Little Live Things]

I’m saying we should not look away, those of us who choose to take the human condition as our reason for art. Nietzsche said when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you. And somebody said you should make the abyss blink first. I think that’s a motto of Twitter or something.

Actually, Nietzsche wrote, “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.” [Link]

Truer words were never writ. And Cummings has given us something like Heaven here in two stanzas; I couldn’t imagine it written more beautifully. But for me all this begs a question:

What is the abyss in life as we see it around us? I mean here, in the other world, where the slow deep trees may sleep, but fitfully for fear of our homuncular hammers and saws.

When I stare into the abyss, I see shoes. Old, worn, creased, dusty shoes. Ironing boards, cookie jars, jars of buttons and marbles. Old phone books with the numbers of the forgotten, scrawled on the covers in black ballpoint. I see dog collars, baseball gloves, oven mitts bearing the faces of animals as symbols of hope into the ever-retreating brave new world. I see the polished to glaring hell hallways of hospitals, peanut butter sandwiches and hummingbirds hovering before a rising sun.

How about you, fellow writer? What stares back at you, refusing to blink?


*Image: Thomas Cole The Garden of Eden,1828

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