Poetry Corner

by Arthur Mampel

Theodore Roethke, a superb teaching poet who influenced many contemporary poets and during the fifties and sixties taught at the University of Washington, wrote in his book On the Poet and His Craft (1965):

For there is a God, and He’s here, immediate, accessible. I don’t hold with those thinkers that believe in this time He is farther away – that in the Middle Ages, for instance, He was closer. He is equally accessible now, not only in works of art or in the glories of a particular religious service, or in the light, the aftermath that follows the dark night of the soul, but in the lowest forms of life, He moves and has His being. Nobody has killed off the snails. Is this a new thought? Hardly. But it needs some practicing in Western society. Could Reinhold Niebuhr love a worm? I doubt it. But I - we- can.

What I find in this writing is the wise advice that we should not limit the universality of God — not pantheism as some might think. I would agree with George Herbert in his poem about the creation of our species: He advises that “we rest not in nature, but in the God of nature.”

Still, when we believe that lower life comes from God and is loved by God, we can be more sensitive to all of nature. This is not a bad idea in a world where our careless use of its resources portents the destruction of life everywhere. Knowing that God loves all of life and not just one species can make us sensitive to the glories of all creation. Perhaps this is why poetry can be so valuable to humankind. In poetry we are made aware of the least significant in nature by observing it, by seeing all of the tiny things of this earth with a close eye. Yes, even the snail. (Personally, I do believe that Dr. Niebuhr could “love a worm.”)

A poet I continually draw upon when talking about nature is Wendell Berry. His poem “Enriching the Earth” shows such respect and love for the land he works and gives back to:

To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass
to grow and die. I have plowed in the seeds
of winter grains and of various legumes,
their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
All of this serves the dark. I am slowly falling
into the fund of things. And yet to serve the earth,
not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness
and a delight to the air, and my days […]

When people ask directions to our home on Beacon Hill, I tell them to turn right on Ferdinand Street and look for the only home on the block that is in a forest. Presently as I look out the window and see the bare branches of the birch trees that surround this property, I find myself wanting to be spirited away to that season of new life that is already sending its signals.

The Whisper Of Spring

Twenty-seven birch trees
holding hand
around this homestead will
once more leave
their barren beauty
to put on the finest green
from nature’s closet
dressing again
in new inspiring wear
that sweeps surprise into
each dark corner
that plain winter may
have lessened
with its cold long wear
of somber sameness
—A.G. Mampel