Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Poesy Post: Springtime in Eastern Maine

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.