by Robert Bly from Silence in the Snowy Fields, 1962
After many strange thoughts,
Thoughts of distant harbors, and new life,
I came in and found the moonlight lying in the room.
Outside it covers the trees like pure sound,
The sound of tower bells, or of water moving under the ice,
The sound of the deaf hearing through the bones of their heads.
We know the road; as the moonlight
Lifts everything, so in a night like this
The road goes on ahead, it is all clear.
I’ve been wondering why I am drawn to passages about night. This poem helps me understand. Night comes after working. My days of work do indeed contain many strange thoughts. At night, when the kids are asleep, there is something like moonlight that clears away the strangeness and allows me to see the road ahead.
“It was a night made for hard thoughts. Sharp stars pierced singly through the blackness, not sweeps of them or clusters or Milky Ways as there might have been in the South, but single, chilled points of light, as unromantic as knife blades. Devon, muffled under the gentle occupation of the snow, was dominated by them; the cold Yankee stars ruled this night. They did not invoke in me thoughts of God, or sailing before the mast, or some great love as crowded night skies at home had done; I thought instead, in the light of those cold points, of the decision facing me.”
— from A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The narrator’s decision had to do with enlisting in the military. Take a closer look at the imagery in this paragraph. War imagery. And yet, it is handled so deftly that a person not facing a war-like decision still can relate. I know I’ve squinted into black nights, thinking hard thoughts.
“We went from paths into pathlessness. The woods has many doors going in and out. It is full of rooms opening into one another, shaped by direction and viewpoint. Many of these rooms are findable only once, from a certain direction on a certain day, in a certain light, at a certain time. They could not be returned to either now, after years, or then, after an hour. Windows opened in the foliage, through which, maybe, we would see a hawk soaring or a distant treetop suddenly shaken by a gust of wind. Sometimes these walks and rooms and vistas seemed arranged for us, for our pleasure, as in a human garden. But these, of course, do not constitute the woods, which is not a garden and is not understandable or foretellable even so much as a garden is.”
— from Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
Woods enchant me, too. One wooded nature trail we walk opens up to a stand of pine trees, planted in rows. The ground is spongey with fallen needles. The branches are well above our heads, creating a room-like atmosphere. I usually lose the trail here, and I have to search for it. But I never mind. It’s a nice place to stop and look around.
Haymaking is much different now, but some things remain the same. When I picked up my children from a tractor ride in the hay field, my five-year-old son bent down to lift up the mown hay and feel the underside. As this painting suggests, there is something intimate between the farmer and the hay.
“There was a stirring in the great boughs overhead. They were full of little birds and beasts that seemed to be wide awake, and going about their world, or else saying good-night to each other in sleepy twitters. Sylvia herself felt sleepy as she walked along. However, it was not much farther to the house, and the air was soft and sweet. She was not often in the woods so late as this, and it made her feel as if she were a part of the gray shadows and the moving leaves.”
— from “A White Heron” by Sarah Orne Jewett
I have resolved to take my children on a walk at twilight. Everyone ought to have memories like this.