Dreaming the Streambottom Tides

Simcha posted this today. I clicked on it idly, needing to work but exhausted. Exhausted not by the endless work of each day, but the turmoil beneath it all. The tension we all inhabit, now, with the government and the economy, the Church and Pope Francis, the culture, the world, these uncertain, esoteric times. Days like today, when I glance out the window I am surprised to see the sun shining and the grass growing. I’m surprised that the world keeps turning like always when the spirit of the age has caught me up in a whirlwind of chaos. I’m surprised that the trees just stand there, their branches responding serenely to the movement of the wind. I wish I could do that.

Listen to the crickets.

My junior poet was Richard Wilbur, which means I fell in love with him and found, in his poetry, an answer to every question, every mood, every state of being. There is a poem called “Water Walker” that has enchanted me for years, in part because the more I read it, the less I understand it. I read it just now, while I listened to the crickets, and now I know. I don’t understand, you know, I couldn’t explain it with words, but I know what it means. It’s the same thing the crickets mean, the same thing the trees mean, the same thing the world means by turning, turning, steadily turning. I think if I could know this always, in every moment, then I would know the still point of the turning world.

…Armored the larva rests


Dreaming the streambottom tides,

Writhing at times to respire, and

Sealing to him flat stones,

He closely abides, abides:

One night

I sat till dawn on a porch, rocked in a cane-bottom chair,

In Geneseo, in Illinois,

Rocking from light to light;


Silent and out of sight


I saw the houses sleep

And the autos beside them sleeping,

The neat plots, the like trustful houses,

Minute, armoreal, deep;

Wind went

Tamely and samely as puppies, tousling the Japanese maples,

Lawnsprays and tricycles waited for sun,

Shyly things said what they meant:


An old man stitching a tent


Could have been Saul in Tharsos,

Loved and revered; instead

He carried Jew visions to Greeks

For adoration or curses;

For he

Troubled them; whether they called him “babbler” or hailed him “Mercurios”

(Scarcely restrained from killing him oxen),

His wasn’t light company:


Still pearled with water, to be


Ravished by air makes him grow

Stranger to both, and discover

Heaven and hell in the poise

Betwixt “inhabit” and “know”;

I hold

Here in my head Maine’s bit speech, lithe laughter of Mobile blacks,

Opinions of salesmen, ripe tones of priests,

Plaints of the bought and sold:


Can I rest and observe unfold


The imminent singletax state,

The Negro rebellion, the rise

Of the nudist cult, the return

Of the Habsburgs, watch and wait

And praise

The spirit and not the cause, and neatly precipitate

What is not doctrine, what is not bound

To enclosured ground; what stays?


Lives that the caddis fly lays


Twixt air and water, must lie

Long under water — how Saul

Cursed once the market babblers,

Righteous could watch them die!

Who learns

How hid the trick is of justice, cannot go home, nor can leave,

But the dilemma, cherished, tyrannical,

While he despairs and burns


Da capo da capo returns.


(Richard Wilbur, Collected Poems 1943-2004)

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