Monday, October 12, 2009

`A Swatch of Consequence the Mind Weaves'

My first word-association with the verb “to glean” is not literary but artistic – Millet’s The Gleaners. I think of gleaning as culling the choice from the mediocre, gold from the dross, and vaguely associate it, perhaps because of Millet’s painting, with agriculture. The Online Etymological Dictionary confirms the linkage:

“c.1330, from O.Fr. glener, from L.L. glennare `make a collection,’ from Gaulish (cf. O.Ir. do-glinn `he collects, gathers,’ Celt. glan `clean, pure’). Figurative sense was earlier in Eng. than the literal one of `gather grain left by the reapers’ (c.1385).”

I happened upon a young poet new to me, Morri Creech, and his 2006 collection Field Knowledge. His verse is formal and luxuriant, like the late Anthony Hecht’s, without being fulsome. The final poem in the book, dedicated to Creech’s daughter Hattie, is “Gleanings”:

“To see them for what they are, not to make
more of them than the afternoon allows:
starlings among the sweet gum limbs, a rake
propped beneath those leaves the wind will take,
my child gathering feathers beside the house –
a sleight of season, when some moment scatters
its riches across the lawn. Nothing to do
with dates or futures and, I’d guess, small matter
in the year’s turning.

“But I remember, too,
a thousand starlings in my father’s yard,
his Chevy in the drive, a smell of leaves
clear as the feather in my daughter’s hand –
a swatch of consequence the mind weaves
from history and chance, so that it’s hard,
watching it all, not to construe some meaning
from starling, rake, limb, leaf, the child who stands
gathering feathers beneath the shade of wings.”

I sense in Creech the urge to paint a still life with materials – objects, people, memories – that refuse to remain still. Life is motion; art, stasis (or simulated motion). Thus, that lovely line: “a swatch of consequence the mind weaves / from history and chance.” And he’s right: From such things, inconsequential and precious, we strive “to construe some meaning.” How will Creech, who is 39, read this poem in the future when his daughter is a woman, perhaps a mother?

Writing and reading are acts of gleaning. On the day I read Creech’s poem, two readers independently suggested poems by Thomas Hardy. I pulled out the Bible concordance-sized Complete Poems, read them (“The Darkling Thrush,” “I Looked Up from My Writing”) and browsed amidst the bounty (947 poems, 954 pages). It’s tough to stop reading Hardy’s poems (unlike his fiction) once you’ve started. I enjoyed his villanelle, “The Caged Thrush Freed and Home Again,” and found these central stanzas in his six-stanza poem:

“`When I was borne from yonder tree
In bonds to them, I hoped to glean
How happy days are made to be,

“`And want and wailing turned to glee;
Alas, despite their mighty mien
Men know but little more than we!’”

1 comment:

Lincoln Hunter said...

"When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain.....

John Keats