From the Reading Journal, #30

“The poem carries love and terror, or it carries nothing.”

– from the poem “Like an Ant Carrying Her Bits of Leaf and Sand” in the volume Given Sugar, Given Salt by Jane Hirshfield.

I first came across Hirshfield’s work in the anthology she devised called Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women. Both that anthology and the present book of Hirshfield’s own poems are marvelous. I find myself reading and re-reading her poems, savoring the balance of direct and mysterious discourse. This particular copy of Given Sugar, Given Salt, purchased used, is made more precious by it being signed by the author, with the note:

“For Sara,

The only secret is to write the poem.”

We persist in thinking there is some other secret, and go in search of it, but there is no need to find anything else.

From the Reading Journal, #21

Imagine a Carthage sown with salt, and all the sowers gone, and the seeds lain however long in the earth, till there rose finally in vegetable profusion leaves and trees of rime and brine. What flowering would there be in such a garden? Light would force each salt calyx to open in prisms, and to fruit heavily with bright globes of water — peaches and grapes are little more than that, and where the world was salt there would be greater need of slaking. For need can blossom into all the compensations it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweet as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is foreshadowing — the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.

– from the novel Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, quoted by Christian Wiman in his book My Bright Abyss. Wiman comments:

This seemed (and seems) to me, besides being prose of consummate clarity and beauty, to so perfectly articulate not only the sense of absence that for years I felt permeating every spiritual aspect of my life, but also, and more important, to bestow upon it an energy and agency, a prayerful but indefinable promise: “the world will be made whole.”

I just finished reading Housekeeping, and while I at first resisted the book for the simple reason of its deep sadness, the “consummate clarity and beauty” brought me in. I came to like it nearly as much as Robinson’s Gilead, one of my very favorite novels.

I heard about Wiman’s book in The New Yorker earlier this year, and it is on my fall reading list, along with finishing Robinson’s When I was a Child I Read Books, a collection of non-fiction pieces with insights on matters cultural, political and religious couched in Robinson’s clear, subtle, and luminous prose.

From the Reading Journal, #6

“I thought a good deal about Forrest Junior and wondered where he was buried and if anybody knew even where. I imagined that soldiers who are killed in war just disappear from the places where they are killed. Their deaths may be remembered by the comrades who saw them die, if the comrades live to remember. Their deaths will not be remembered where they happened. They wil not be remembered in the halls of government. Where do dead soldiers die who are killed in battle? They die at home – in Port William and thousands of other little darkened places, in thousands upon thousands of houses like Miss Gladdie’s where The News comes, and everything on the tables and shelves is all of a sudden a relic and a reminder forever.”

-from the novel Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry