The poet Helen Pinkerton mailed photocopies of two Melville-related essays she published in Sewanee Review and included a “poem-card” of “Early Morning” by her “dear, longtime friend” Janet Winters:
The spider makes through the air,
Until the light touches it.
The light takes through the air,
Until it finds the spider’s web.”
In a note Pinkerton explains she was prompted to send Lewis’ “charming (profound?)” poem because of a recent post of mine about spiders. “Early Morning,” with its delicate evocation of light, reminds me of another charming, profound poem about light, Pinkerton’s own “Degrees of Shade.” I’ve written about it (here) and the epigraph from Aquinas she appends to it: “…every creature stands in relation to God as the air to the light of the sun.”
Because of something I had written about trees she suggested a poem by Robert Bridges, friend of Hopkins and his posthumous editor. She assured me, “It is worth looking up.” I didn’t know the poem but she’s right:
“The hill pines were sighing,
O'ercast and chill was the day:
A mist in the valley lying
Blotted the pleasant May.
“But deep in the glen's bosom
Summer slept in the fire
Of the odorous gorse-blossom
And the hot scent of the brier.
“A ribald cuckoo clamoured,
And out of the copse the stroke
Of the iron axe that hammered
The iron heart of the oak.”
“Odorous gorse-blossom” and “ribald cuckoo clamoured” are pleasing, as is the echo of iron, and the final lines recall the offstage sound of axe blows in the final scene of The Cherry Orchard. Pinkerton’s envelope in the mailbox fulfills, in human terms, the concluding lines of her poem “The Gift”:
“Grace is the gift. To take it my concern—
Itself the only possible return.”