Saturday, December 10, 2011

Margins of Error

The bells jostle in the tower
The lonely night amid.
And on my tongue the taste is sour
Of all I ever did.
- A.E. Houseman

The days are getting shorter, but soon they will begin to grow marginally longer. There is something about December that makes one think of endings more than beginnings. I always take a deep breath of relief when I make it to the winter solstice. It feels to me like I have rounded the racetrack once more and crossed the finish line to begin another lap. Right now though, tonight is the last full moon of 2011, and I'm not quite at the line, and sorrow dogs my steps.

Right now, as I approach the end of the final lap of the lunar year, the doubts and regrets I carry are heavy, and I keep my thoughts from freezing only by blowing on the last coal of slowly smoldering anger deep inside. If I can hold on another ten days, we can chuckle at the tired family joke – always told on 22 December – about how the days seem to be getting longer.

I came across an old poem I’d saved many years ago on a similar dim December day, and I imagine its speaker must have been writing it on a similar day. It’s a sort of science fiction imagining of a post-apocalyptic future, and it has seeped into my restless dreams, accompanied by the mysterious thumps and squeaks the dark house makes in the night.

I know I should lighten up, just like Houseman should have. It's going to be close this year, but I estimate I have just enough energy left to make it to the solstice. I can only hope my estimate is within the margin of error. After that, things will begin to look up. Which is more than you can say for the people who left this epistle behind.

Blogger removes the lovely spacing of this poem and makes it into solid blocks below. You should really appreciate the poem as the author wrote it by clicking on the link at the end of the poem.

...It is colder now
there are many stars
we are drifting
North by the Great Bear
the leaves are falling
The water is stone in the scooped rock
to southward
Red sun grey air
the crows are
Slow on their crooked wings
the jays have left us
Long since we passed the flares of Orion
Each man believes in his heart he will die
Many have written last thoughts and last letters
None know if our deaths are now or forever
None know if this wandering earth will be found

We lie down and the snow covers our garments
I pray you
you (if any open this writing)
Make in your mouths the words that were our names
I will tell you all we have learned
I will tell you everything
The earth is round
there are springs under the orchards
The loam cuts with a blunt knife
beware of
Elms in thunder
the lights in the sky are stars
We think they do not see
we think also
The trees do not know nor the leaves of the grasses hear us
The birds too are ignorant
do not listen
Do not stand at dark in the open windows
We before you have heard this
they are voices
They are not words at all but the wind rising
Also noone among us has seen God
(... We have thought often
the flaws of sun in the late and driving weather
pointed to one tree but it was not so.)
As for the nights I warn you the nights are dangerous
The wind changes at night and the dreams come

It is very cold
there are strange stars near Arcturus
Voices are crying an unknown name in the sky

Archibald MacLeish, Epistle To Be Left In The Earth

1 comment:

Katie Swanberg said...

Excellent post and poem. I clicked on the link and the spacing reminded me of how William Shatner might read it. December tricked me into being ok with November ending and then dragging me under. I too look forward to the solstice, but my deep breath is usually on New Year's Eve. Hugs to you this December.