Sunday, June 4, 2017

These Diminished Things

Robert Frost's poem "The Oven Bird" ends with the phrase, "what to make of a diminished thing." John Ciardi's luminous poem "The Catalpa" ends with the line, "What should I keep if averages were all?" These two questions (though in the Frost poem, it isn't actually posed as a question) keep playing in my mind as I walk in the late spring woods and as I watch the all-day news.

What to make of a diminished thing?
What should I keep if averages were all?

Frost, of course, is known as a nature poet; Ciardi, not so much, although many of his poems use images from the natural world to create modern metaphysical conceits like a 20th-century American John Donne. "The Oven Bird" and "The Catalpa" make one realize how even seemingly non-political poems are, in fact, political.

Think of our world today and all we see being destroyed: human lives; regard for truth and beauty; the noble experiment of democracy. Diminished, all. And yet, still we hope (and thus protest, argue, witness albeit in disbelief, write, teach, read...); still we ask, each in our own way, "What should I keep if averages were all?" and wait for some sign that this, too, shall pass, and that perhaps the diminishment is temporary and the golden age will return again. One thing I learned in my college statistics and probability course was that there is no such thing as average—average never describes the reality in one's hand, in front of one's eyes.

And if there is not to be another golden age in our lifetime, well, then, like good Stoics, we shall ponder what to make of this diminished thing, and write poems, and make music, and eat chocolate.

And still, we shall rage against the dying of the light.
Funny how all these lines of poetry describe our times, yes?


nest building—
don't they read the papers,
these birds?

No comments:

Post a Comment