Wednesday, July 09, 2008

To Die For

“I died for beauty, but was scarce
Adjusted to the tomb,
When one who died for truth was lain
In an adjoining room.

“He questioned softly why I failed?
‘For beauty,’ I replied.
‘And I for truth, - the two are one:
We brethren are,’ he said.

“And so, as kinsmen met a night,
We talked between the rooms,
Until the moss had reached our lips,
And covered up our names.”

- Emily Dickinson, #448

Although it’s the beginning of this poem that echoes Keats (“I died for beauty”) the more famous last stanza of Dickinson’s poem evokes a tombstone slowly being engulfed in moss. The eons rush by, passing in a dizzying fast forward, as we watch the moss swallow the stone, creeping up to the surprised lips of the talking friends. At this faster rate, the growth of the moss is freakish, but sublime – a peaceful scene so beautiful it is “to die for”. But at last, the moss will place a gentle finger on the lips, softly murmuring “shhhh”. In the end all is silent – peace reigns.

You win again, nature. Placidly residing in even the most humble garden, I sometimes stumble over Peace, nodding her head on the shoulder of a kindly tree root. Rushing through like I did today, just to take the compost out, turn and water it, I was taken by some new blooms, unrecognized flowers of seed sown months ago and name forgotten. The compost is cooking and liking it, which is more than I can say for the flowers who are also cooking, but not so enthusiastically.

I don’t flatter myself that the garden I build will stand the test of the ages. I know that in the end, my garden will be redesigned by nature and no trace will be left of me. Nature always has the last word, even if it’s “shhhh.” The interesting thing is that my garden is here today. Someday soon, we may look back at this summer as the time we reached the tipping point. We may have already surrendered our once-undisputed claim to running this place. Whether we recognize it yet, we may be past the point of no return. Man is beginning to lose the battle. Nature has started to fight back.

And I’m ok with that because nature has much more experience in running things than man, and it’s almost time for mankind to stop sowing, and start reaping. It might take nature longer to clean up than it took man to make dirty, but the tide will turn. Man might not be at the top of the food chain after the next spin of Natural Selection wheel. It’s ok with me that the next time there’s a garden where I now live, it will be a more sustainable one, in a more generous climate, and with a more generous caretaker. By then, even the moss and stone will be gone, although I’m betting truth and beauty survive. I think it’s not a bad cause to die for.

1 comment:

kate smudges said...

So true ... nature always wins out. Our gardens would no longer be recognisable after a few years left to their own devices. We've arrogantly assumed that we are the masters and even when the earth reminds us otherwise, we don't seem to take heed.

The Dickinson poem is beautiful ... as is your Datura photo with the V. Sackville-West quote. I liked coming upon them this aft...

I hope you enjoyed the Great Lake Swimmers ... their tunes have incredible lyrics ... I can listen to them endlessly and hear something new every time. And their banjo player is a whiz.