Saturday, February 27, 2010

`An Interior Matter'

Weather and its attendant moods feel powerful and permanent. If you’ve grown up in a temperate zone where the seasons are forever turning, this shouldn’t be the case. An attentive observer after a brief walk in the woods can calculate the day of the year without resort to a calendar. But let a cloud obscure the sun or an abrupt wind shake the leaves on the poplars, and the day is transformed. Perhaps we’re answering to instincts that have lost their usefulness, or like birds we’re unknowingly sensing shifts in polarity or barometric pressure. Sensitivity ought to have limits. Kay Ryan has published “Clouds” in the February issue of Poetry:

“A blue stain
creeps across
the deep pile
of the evergreens.
From inside the
forest it seems
like an interior
matter, something
wholly to do
with trees, a color
passed from one
to another, a
to which they
submit unflinchingly
like soldiers or
brave people
getting older.
Then the sun
comes back and
it’s totally over.”

The first image is homey, even homely: a stain spreading across a carpet -- an indoor conceit lent to the outdoors. It is an “interior / matter” but in us not the trees. I remember hiking in Schoharie County, N.Y., a region of low craggy mountains and flat valleys. On the peaks and on the farmland below drifted fleets of cloud-shadows, visible only because of the expanse. They looked absurdly ominous in bright sunshine.

The blue stain is visible only from outside the forest. Thoreau and Nabokov noticed that shadowed snow appears blue but we call it white. What is the color of a river or lake? In Saratoga County, N.Y., Lake Desolation (named allegorically, like nearby Lake Lonely) is the color of strong tea.

Ryan’s ear is, as always, tuned to the music of words but she also pays attention to the demotic: “it’s totally over,” spoken like a teenager numb to words using my least favorite adverb, a tic without meaning. In his journal for Sept. 7, 1851, Thoreau writes:

“The most beautiful thing in nature is the sun reflected from a tearful cloud.”

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