Thursday, July 02, 2009

`In the Still Sunshine'

After the mountains, some streaked with snow, we drove through a grass-covered piece of Nebraska grafted onto central Washington, and then through a valley of vineyards and fruit trees along the river. The mountains around Lake Chelan are soft and brown with dry grass that looks like sand from a distance. The sky is a blue bowl and the landscape reminds us of Baja California. Fifteen years ago my wife worked for a year in Barcelona on a Fulbright, and she says this place looks like Spain but for the absence of olive trees. Instead, we have apples, peaches, cherries and apricots.

At the urging of David Myers I read Janet Lewis’ austerely beautiful novel The Wife of Martin Guerre (1941) and have moved on to The Ghost of Monsieur Scarron (1959). I’m also rereading The Selected Poems of Janet Lewis and feel as though I have discovered a clairvoyant sister. Her poems echo the landscape around us. Here is a late one -- Lewis lived from 1899 to 1998 -- “Dios No Se Muda”:

“Doves call in the orchard where
Arbutus and magnolia replace
Cherry and nectarine
And the heavy peach.
Everything changes, Saint Teresa reminds us,
Save the presence of God.
I could name tree after tree
That has grown in this earth.
Borne its sweet fruit in sequence
In accord with the loving hand
That planted it and vanished.
What presence embraces me now
In the still sunshine?”

In his notes, R.L. Barth tells us Lewis took her title from a poem by Santa Teresa de Ávila (1515-1582), as translated from the Spanish by Lewis‘ husband Yvor Winters:

“Nothing move thee;
Nothing terrify thee;
Everything passes;
God never changes.
Patience be all to thee.
Who trusts in God, he
Never shall be needy.
God alone suffices.”

1 comment:

D. G. Myers said...


Monsieur Scarron represents something of a falling-off. Lewis’s second-best is The Trial of Soren Qvist, although I am also partial to Against a Darkening Sky, a rare novel about being a wife and mother. It is also her only “contemporary” novel.