Richard Wilbur’s Poetry Captures Our Days

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Last night I read a poem that showed me in a flash why I save evening-time for listening to classical music while I knit, or browsing through an art book, or reading fine poems like this one.

I’ve said in a previous post that I keep a volume of poems by my bed for evening reading. But I hadn’t known why until, with Richard Wilbur’s New and Collected Poems the current volume, I opened last night to his poem “C Minor.”

The poem begins with Wilbur and (presumably) his wife having breakfast while the radio plays something of Beethoven’s. Something passionate and angst-ridden; something typical of the C minor tonality which was Beethoven’s favorite for expressing dark, turbulent moods.

The poet’s wife turns off the radio. He writes: “You are right to switch it off and let the day / Begin at hazard…”

What follows for most of the poem is an account of some typical “hazards”—that is, chance happenings of a day.

The morning’s newspaper will present “sad / Or fortunate news.” Then:

The day’s work will be disappointing or not,
Giving at least some pleasure in taking pains.
One of us, hoeing in the garden plot
(Unless, of course, it rains)
[Read more…]

Purple Light in Sarajevo

Sarajevo MountainsMy fellowship liaison, Sevko, drove, and his gaze flicked across teenagers spilling over the sidewalks. The center of town spread within the cradle of the mountains, lit by the pink and blue haze of underground clubs. Gray office and apartment buildings faced the street, many of them gashed open, levels of exposed brick and wood open to view.

As we drove, it was hard not to notice that this place was beautiful and that the air tasted like all air that lives near mountains. It was hard not to notice that the mountains were built with cemeteries, ridges and floes of graves cupping the city.

I was in Sarajevo as part of a month-long fellowship to study environmental policy. I’d grown uncomfortable with the lack of humanism in environmental debates in the U.S., and I wanted love of people and love of nature in the same breath. [Read more…]

A Holy Habitation for Life’s Story

By Allison Backous Troy

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May the Lord bless thee out of Zion; and so shalt thou behold the good things of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. —St. Gregory of Palamas

Last night, I dreamed that I was in Montana. My neighborhood looked like the one I live in—same Tudor house, same cul-de-sac, same wooded corner where I take my dog for morning walks. But there were mountains to the south, gray and wide, and the grass was a rust-colored brush, dry and prickly beneath my feet. [Read more…]

Seamus Heaney: Poet of Holy Saturday

Guest Post by Conor McDonough

The late, great Seamus Heaney understood the sadness of the Irish landscape. He was a poet of bogs, reeds, wells, dripping things, and “mossy places.” He deliberately contrasted his native environment with more fiery regions: “We have no prairies / To slice a big sun at evening.” Instead, in the bog, “The wet centre is bottomless.”

For those whose knowledge of Irish culture is based on Bing Crosby songs, casting such a “grey eye” on Ireland might seem excessively morose. What happened to the carefree little characters of the Emerald Isle and their smiling eyes?

Heaney’s work is a truer expression of the atmosphere of the island and people of Ireland. Yes, there are glorious exceptions to the sorrowful mysteries of the Irish landscape—bright fuchsia in a dark green hedge, shocking white bog-cotton on a dirty bed of turf—but these are exceptions to the rule of lachrymosity.

And all this despite the fact that the Irish people are (or have been) a Christian people. For 1500 years, the saving events of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection have been central to the Irish story, so why is our mood so dark? Are our tearful tendencies simply unredeemed? Is our Christianity just a patina of orthodoxy on a solid mass of fatalistic paganism?

I certainly don’t think so: Irish Christianity has always been solidly orthodox in belief, but it can’t be denied that, emotionally, it leans more toward Good Friday than Easter Sunday.

[Read more…]


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