Sunday, October 21, 2012

`Still Clinging to the Idea of Being Summer'

It’s a dry time but not a drought, at least in the short term. The stones leading to our front door are littered with gray-green leaves from the water oaks. Ours survived in what looks like vigorous good health, though I heard the other day that last year’s drought was hardest on water oaks and pines. Acorns are plentiful, a restorative response to so many dead and dying trees. We have few maples, beech or poplar here, so the fall palette is narrow and the leaf fall sparse. In Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (2012), David Ferry has a poem called “October”: 

“The day was hot, and entirely breathless, so
The remarkably quiet remarkably steady leaf fall
Seemed as if it had no cause at all.

“The ticking sound of falling leaves was like
The ticking sound of gentle rainfall as
They gently fell on leaves already fallen,

“Or as, when as they passed them in their falling,
Now and again it happened that one of them touched
One or another leaf as yet not falling,

“Still clinging to the idea of being summer:
As if the leaves that were falling, but not the day,
Had read, and understood, the calendar.”

In twelve lines, some form of “fall” appears eight times. If it has a theme, Bewilderment is about old age, coming to terms with its diminishments, how all eras in our lives remain alive in memory. Ferry turned eighty-eight this year. I thought of the memory of the childhood tree in “The Lesson,” Ferry’s translation from the Latin of Dr. Johnson’s In Rivum a Mola Stoana Lichfieldiae Diffuentem, and how Ferry has returned so often in his work to Johnson. In an interview collected in Talking With Poets (edited by Harry Thomas, 2002), Ferry says: 

“I tend to be a hero-worshipper of some writers, and Dr. Johnson is one of them. So I was very interested in everything of his that I could find…”

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