Friday, July 02, 2010

`Their Shadowy Fate's Unfathomable Design'

For those who remain attentive, dramas are no less dramatic for being small. Clear skies and brilliant sunlight are scarce and precious in the Pacific Northwest and our backyard is canopied with layers of foliage. On those rare golden days, late in the afternoon, I wait for light to pierce the darkest corner, where two wooden fences meet and a big-leaf maple keeps mulch and mushrooms moist. Anthony Hecht long ago observed such a scene and saw in it “fear and awe.” Here is “A Cast of Light” from The Venetian Vespers (1979):

“A maple bough of web-foot, golden greens,
Found by an angled shaft
Of late sunlight, disposed within that shed
Radiance, with brilliant, hoisted baldachins,
Pup tents and canopies by some underdraft
Flung up to scattered perches overhead,

“These daubs of sourball lime, at floating rest,
Present to the loose wattage
Of heaven their limelit flukes, an artifice
Of archipelagian Islands of the Blessed,
And in all innocence pursue their cottage
Industry of photosynthesis.

“Yet only for twenty minutes or so today,
On a summer afternoon,
Does the splendid lancet reach to them, or sink
To these dim bottoms, making its chancy way,
As through the barrier reed of some lagoon
In sea-green darkness, by a wavering chink,

“Down, neatly probing like an accurate paw
Or a notched and beveled key,
Through the huge cave-roof of giant oak and pine.
And the heart goes numb in a tide of fear and awe
For those we cherish, their hopes, their frailty,
Their shadowy fate’s unfathomable design.”

Hecht adds beneath his title, like an orienting dedication, “at a Father’s Day picnic.” He’s a poet unusually sensitive to light and darkness, brilliance and shade, and unashamedly reads into them emotion. This poem reminds me of the sun-and-shadow game Ada and Van play in Nabokov’s novel, sweet and sad for its evanescence. The poem, like the scene described, is dappled with brilliance and shade. We planned a party in the backyard Thursday to celebrate my middle son’s tenth birthday but moved it indoors when clouds and drizzle and shade never dissolved.

1 comment:

Shelley said...

This quiet post reminds me of having read somewhere that Henry James once said that one of the most beautiful words in the English language was "golden."
I believe the other phrase he found equally beautiful was "summer afternoon."