Here in eastern Maine, it’s not uncommon to hear many of us, myself included, complaining about the weather in springtime. We lose the first few weeks of spring to the death throes of winter, and then we get a couple months of mud, cold rain, and, finally, blackflies. Anyone attempting to live a philosophical life, however, must examine the attitude with which we treat these months. And so I asked myself, “What would Epictetus say about this?” (Incidentally, this is a good question to apply to just about anything.) The result is a Stoic-Christian poem in nine stanzas. Enjoy.
Springtime in Eastern Maine: A Stoic Dialogue in Poetic Form
Think not on what you’d have the weather be;
Rejoice in what it is.
But we have skies of unrelenting gray, you say!
I say we have blankets of life-giving dew
O’erwrapping our rocky hideaway—
Skies for which many a land
Would trade their cloudless azure domes,
Which lift the spirit for a day,
Then render desolate what they have charmed.
But the rain is cold, you say, and miserable!
No more cold, say I,
Than the snow two-fortnight past;
And a good deal less miserable besides.
But we are all Israel in the desert,
Forgetting the lessons of miseries past
In the face of new discomforts.
And besides, cold gray rain is better matched
With sipping tea, and playing piano,
And writing poetry from inchoate thoughts
Than any other weather I know.
But what of spring in warmer climes,
Where the earth responds to winter’s death
In a riot of resurrection,
Of verdure and birdsong and flowering trees?
First, comparisons do no service for the truth:
Our Maker is more artist than machine,
And what he makes of you
Is not what he makes of another.
To compare yourself, your homeland,
To another self, another land,
Is to miss the splendor of his craftsmanship,
Which spins a billion different worlds
Whose greatest glory is to be themselves,
Just as he has made them.
Second, an admission:
Our spring may not be sublime, it’s true.
It’s rather more like prayer than paradise:
Inviting us to step out and breathe deep,
To wait in grateful patience
Through short, infrequent glimpses
Of the blessings yet to come;
To build up perseverant virtue
In the crucible of time;
Learning to walk in step with what is now
And leaning hopeward
Toward what is yet to come:
This is prayer, and this is Maine.
And further, while other climes rejoice
In paradisiacal spring,
There awaits for them a passage
Through Hades’ outer humidor,
Known as summer in the southward lands.
And while they sweat and toil
In heavy, sultry air,
Or retreat into the false refrigeration of their homes,
Then we shall have our paradise!
But still, you protest, when leaves do come,
We still must endure, every year,
The third and fourth plagues on Egypt!
And here it’s fit to teach ourselves
That we are neighbors in a land
Not meant for us alone.
If you want a land that’s been designed
To cater to human whims alone,
Then what you want
Is the unmitigated tedium of concrete suburbs,
Where chastened nature is tamed
Toward whatever pleases us.
But here, where we must persevere
Through blackflies and mosquitoes,
We also share a quiet invitation
To rejoice with brother warbler, sister trout,
In the flood of God’s beneficence,
Which descends in buzzing clouds
Like holy manna every May and June.
I would not wish these plagues away
If I must also say farewell
To the warbler and the trout,
The swallow and the spider,
The quiet bat and croaking frog.
For them, and for my love of them,
I gladly bear the burden
Of our communal life.
In all these things, spring teaches us
To be more than we are now,
To reduce not this great world
To our delights alone.
The secret of spring is in walking slow,
In letting our world
Simply be herself,
And to learn her wiser ways.
We cannot forget to speak our thanks
To this slow and rugged corner of the earth,
And to love her for what she is
And for what she was made to be,
Rather than asking her to be less
Than the glory of what Providence grants her.
So bring on the mud and rain and gray-cast skies,
And teach me the grace,
As Maine knows it,
Of waking up slowly, patiently,
And breathing deep
Before paradise returns.