The sound of the German grandfather’s clock can be heard marking off time throughout our hundred-year-old house. Outside the rain came down heavily from ash-colored clouds. The rain and the clock were the only sounds that could be heard. All else is silence. No radio. No television. No Spotify playing from the computer. To have any of these on would profane the silence with unwanted noise.
Seated on our couch, my only companions for the afternoon were a cup of coffee and copies of Thoreau’s Walden and Mary Oliver’s poetry. Both were welcome and dear friends, as only those writers whose works we dearly cherish can be.
When I open the collection of poems, the opening line of the first poem begins: All afternoon it rained, then . . .
Mary Oliver and I, in that moment, were in the same space (even though I know she resides in Florida). Words and reality met to my delight. On such a dreary day, only poetry will do as I need to be revived by language. As another of my favorite poets, Emily Dickinson, wrote:
He ate and drank the precious words, / His spirit grew robust . . .
And mine does whenever I spend time in the richness and beauty of language and metaphor and imagery that is only found in poetry. Poetry draws me out, calls to me in a way that nothing else can because it makes me stop, pay attention, and truly see beyond the words to the world which offers itself only to those who are aware of its miraculous aspect that is only found in the mundane, humble, and often overlooked such as a raindrop on a leaf.
Poets like Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson make me awakened and aware to such tender revelations. Their words make me look and listen and cherish. They bring me to mindfulness so that I don’t take the simplest of things for granted, but find an inner gratitude to stand at our kitchen window and watch as the birds, like young children, delight in playing in the rain. Poetry helps me to see the grand unfolding of the world around me.
I find myself beginning to wonder what it would be like to Mary Oliver and Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau and Annie Dillard as neighbors? Surely we would all be agreeable neighbors since we are, all of us, solitary in nature. It would be quite wonderful to have them all around my kitchen table, enjoying conversation and coffee and Emily’s coconut cake that she loved to bake. Can you imagine the discussion that would take place? Nourishing, no doubt. All of them are profound of thought and with deep probity of character.
If it weren’t raining, we could all enjoy a walk in nature. I would imagine such a walk a more slowly paced one than the walks most take on the green-way near our home. No power walking. Instead, it would be one communing with nature, stopping to notice and observing whatever we came across: birds and plants and stones and streams. To see a single place as the entire world, as Emily so intensely did from her own Amherst home.
But they are not here, except within the pages of the books that line my shelves. My house is chocked full of books, much to the chagrin of my family who compare my books taking over the rooms as it were an uncontrollable epidemic, like a zombie apocalypse. Yet, even within just the pages of books, they are all connoisseurs of the spirit, appreciators of the natural and spiritual world that are interconnected in ways that only those who pause, reflect and consider can see in the natural phenomena. It is why poetry, like science, can often be the best of theologies.
Alertness and appreciation are the greatest of gifts because they lead to wonder. This is what all of them offer to those who are open to the experience.
Poetry offers us the day like a prayer. Poetry examines and exalts, captivates and liberates, enters and opens the reader by waking them to the living dream around them.
The only thing that can break me free from the glorious words found in both of my companionable books is the crashing sound of a large branch that fell from the old oak beside our patio. I reluctantly get up from the sofa to check to see what damage has occurred. The last time such a limb fell, it smashed the glass-top table, causing the glass to resemble small pieces of ice on the brick patio below. This time, the limb has found rest on the glider that was once my grandparents’.
This is the world reminding me that it is not always quiet and passive, but can, at any moment, snap such a limb; reminding me that nature is not tame or controlled, but who would want it to be?
Such are the gifts of a rainy afternoon.