Saturday, March 06, 2010

`The Dark Exactitude That Light Delivered'

Locals warn me to be grateful for the sunshine but not to mistake it for true spring. Forsythia, cherries, tulips and daffodils have blossomed. From a distance budding maples are smears of rufous-gray, and moss and grass are voluptuously green. The earth smells of minerals and rot. They warn a frost is certain to wither flowers and drive away migrating birds but I’m not listening.

Friday morning, for a lesson in crosswalk protocol, we escorted nine special-education students, three of them in wheelchairs, on an hour-long walk through the neighborhood. Some removed jackets in the sunshine. Some shouted at escaping squirrels and cats lolling on sun-warm pavement. Despite the calendar I sensed that all of us sensed spring, the season that brings out the proselytizer in some of us: “Do you feel the sun on your face? Can you smell the cedars?” But you have to be there and you must be amenable. In “Words” (from Moly, 1971) Thom Gunn recognizes the futility of efforts to capture such experiences in language:

“The shadow of a pine-branch quivered
On a sunlit bank of pale unflowering weed.
I watched, more solid by the pine,
The dark exactitude that light delivered,
And, from obsession, or from greed,
Laboured to make it mine.

“In looking for the words, I found
Bright tendrils, round which that sharp outline faltered:
Limber detail, no bloom disclosed.
I was still separate on the shadow's ground
But, charged with growth, was being altered,
Composing uncomposed.”

The best we can hope for in our “obsession” or “greed” is to encourage in others a comparable attentiveness to the glory of creation: “Look around. Take it in.” Some writers are greedy for the joy of the world and the joy of sharing it with others, and I remembered a passage in my favorite column by Theodore Dalrymple, “Reasons to be cheerful,” published more than six years ago in The Spectator:

“Thanks to the fact that I write, my life is satisfactory: I can inhabit gloom and live in joy. When something unpleasant happens to me, provided only that is potentially of literary use, my first thought is ‘How best can I describe this?’ I thereby distance myself from my own displeasure or irritation. As I tell my patients, much to their surprise — for it is not a fashionable view — it is far more important to be able to lose yourself than to find yourself.”

1 comment:

Gary Baldridge said...

So very good. Lovely. Thanks.