Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Loon's Cry

A friend mentioned to me his interest in Wordsworth. He suggested I read Intimations of Immortality. As I read through the poem, my mind immediately jumped forward in time to Howard Nemerov's poem, "The Loon's Cry". There are similar images and themes - that common objects have seemed suffused with internal light and meaning - and that it has been lost. Wordsworth, of course, finds a hopeful resolution; not so much so.
Ever since finding Nemerov's poetry I have connected with his disappointed realization that he has 'fallen from the symboled world" and that our modern knowing exhausts things of their truth. It is a difficult place to come to. There is simultaneously the knowing that while this end can't be right that it wasn't wrong to come to it. So how do your regain a symboled and illumined world? I think Nemerov didn't see a way, and instead just tried to make the best of where he was. Wordsworth claimed to have made it back or nearly enough. But the romantic resolution feels a bit thin and affected to me.
While Intimations is readily available on the web, I couldn't find the Loon's Cry. So I've added it here.

The Loon's Cry

On a cold evening, summer almost gone,
I walked alone down where the railroad bridge
Divides the river from the estuary.
There was a silence over both the waters,
The river's concentrated reach, the wide
Diffusion of the delta, marsh and sea,
Which in the distance misted out of sight.

As on the seaward side the sun went down,
The river answered with the rising moon,
Full moon, its craters, mountains and still seas
Shining like snow and shadows on the snow.
The balanced silence centered where I stood,
The fulcrum of two poised immensities,
Which offered to be weighed at either hand.

But I could think only, Red sun, white moon,
This is a natural beauty, it is not
Theology. For I had fallen from
The symboled world, where I in earlier days
Found mysteries of meaning, form, and fate
Signed on the sky, and now stood but between
A swamp of fire and a reflecting rock.

I envied those past ages of the world
When, as I thought, the energy in things
Shone through their shapes, when sun and moon no less
Than tree or stone or star or juman face
Were seen bu as fantastic Japanese
Lanterns are seen, sullen or gray colors
And lines revealing the light that they conceal.

The world a stage, its people maskers all
In actions largely framed to imitate
God and His Lucifer's lond debate, a trunk
From which, complex and clear, the eoisodes
Spread out their branches. Each life played a part,
And every part consumed a life, nor dreams
After remained to mock accomplishment.

Under the austere power of the scene,
The moon standing balanced against the sun,
I simplified still more, and though that now
We'd traded all those mysteries in for things,
For essences in things, not understood-
Reality in things! and now we saw
Reality exhausted all their truth.

As answering my thought a loon cried out
Laughter of desolation on the river,
A savage cry, now that the moon went up
And the sun down--yet when I hear him cry
Again, his voice seemed emptied of that sense
or any other, and Adam I became,
Hearing the first loon cry in paradise.

For sometimes, when the world is not our home
Nor have we any home elsewhere, but all
Things look to leave us naked, hungry, cold,
We suddenly may seem in paradise
Again, in ignorance and emptiness
Blessed beyond all that we thought to know:
Then on sweet waters echoes the loon's cry.

I thought I understood what that cry meant,
That its contempt was for the forms of things,
Their doctrines, which decayed--the nouns of stone
and adjectives of glass--not for the verb
Which surged in power properly eternal
Against the seawall of the solid world,
Battering and undermining what it built,

And whose respeaking was the poet's act,
Only and always, in whatever time
Stripped by uncertainty, despair, and ruin,
Time readying to die, unable to die
But damned to life again, and the loon's cry.
And now the sun was sunken in the sea,
The full moon high, and stars began to shine.
The moon, I though, might have been such a world
As this one is, till it went cold inside,
Nor any strength of sun could keep its people
Warm in their palaces of glass and stone.
Now all its craters, mountains and still seas,
Shining like snow and shadows on the snow,
Orbit this world in envy and late love.

And the stars too? Worlds, as the scholars taught
So long ago? Chaos of beauty, void,
O burning cold, against which we define
Both wretchedness and love. For signatures
In all things are, which leave us not alone
Even in the though of death, and may by arts
Contemplative be found and named again.

The loon again? Or else a whistling train,
Whose far thunders began to shake the bridge.
And it came on, a loud bulk under smoke,
Changing the signals on the bridge, the bright
Rubies and emeralds, rubies and emeralds
Signing the cold night as I turned for home,
Hearing the train cry once more, like a loon.

Howard Nemerov
from Mirrors and Windows (1958)


Anonymous said...

This is a great poem. I see a thread of light here,'envy and late love' and thank God they can be 'found and named again'. These poems balance eachother I think the immortality ode and the loons cry. W's poem fills the mouth like wine, along with the pathos comes the beauty. Nemerov gives us the raw truth, I have a place for both.

Why is Will so good? said...

There was one time growing up a judge who lived next door to the people who were in our carpool and the judge had had enough of the woodpecker that would come each day to the side of the house and go "PAP PAP PAP PAP PAP" starting pretty early and so one day he couldn't take it and went off at the little thing with some birdshot from about 12 feet away as he was leaning out of the window. I took some of the pretty red feathers off its head to show and tell and I was reminded of that time when I read this poem about the loon that you put here.

Anonymous said...

Loons is some good eatin.

Anonymous said...

You don't eat a loon you fool. Loons are display birds. You stuff em and put em on the mantle.

Anonymous said...

You are so wrong. Loons ain't mantle birds. Loons are table birds. You put owls on the mantle. Or hawks. A loon goes on a coffee table or a end table. Just like in the song.

Anonymous said...

What song? Freebird? HAHAHAHA

Mr.Troll said...

Only Hitler would put a stuffed loon on an end table.

Anonymous said...

I hate trolls as much as I love loons. Winston Churchill loved loons too. He put them everywhere. He even had a loon on the dashboard of the mini submarine he used to infiltrate the Wehrmacht in '44. He challenged Hitler to a fight. They fought hand-to-hand and tete-a-tete in a bunker below Flanders to decide the fate of Europe. Churchill kicked Hitler's ass using his famous British Boiled Beef move. Unfortunately he didn't wear regulation tights so he had to give up part of Europe to Stalin as a penalty. Stalin was obsessed with window treatments and built a giant curtain around his new territory so that the Allies couldn't peek in. Reagan pretended to be from the cleaners and came by and took down the curtain for cleaning.

Loon Master said...

I take offense at your comment, Mr. Troll. I have a pair of origami loon sitting on my nightstand. I made them as part of a job skill workshop and, having mastered the loon, moved on to the more complicated grebe. The secret is to use thinner paper or you will never capture the graceful form of the loon. I once made one and loaded its rectum with a tiny little firework that shot little phosphorous poo poo balls and everyone delighted to it at our New Years celebration.

F. Darcy said...

Bravo! The pen and ink-styled drawing you have here of the locomotive is one of the most provocative images I have seen posted on the internet. I truly love these "magic" drawings that appear one way, but the longer you stare at them they reveal something quite different, especially when the prize is a scene as alluring as this one! Do tell, where did you find this bawdy picture. You must give us an encore!