Tuesday, September 02, 2014
Morning Thanks--"The Summer Ends"
I am thankful, this morning, for Wendell Berry's poem "End of Summer" because it reminds me I'm not the only one who's depressed. It's five a.m., and ye old cat is howling, which is, after a fashion, my alarm clock as of late. He seems to know when I should be up-and-at-it, darn thing.
And what's so depressingly notable at five these days is that the whole world is inky dark, not a trace of dawn, not a hint, not a ray, no pale suggestion that something is rising anywhere. It's midnight outside, even though it's already five. Once the sun begins its annual arc to the south, it doesn't seem to inch along, it freefalls. Just yesterday, it seems, I'd rise to the morning. Now what's out there is desperately black.
And very sad.
The Summer Ends
The summer ends, and it is time
To face another way. Our theme
Reversed, we harvest the last row
To store against the cold, undo
The garden that will be undone.
We grieve under the weakened sun
To see all earth's green fountains dried,
And fallen all the works of light.
You do not speak, and I regret
This downfall of the good we sought
As though the fault were mine. I bring
The plow to turn the shattering
Leaves and bent stems into the dark,
From which they may return. At work,
I see you leaving our bright land,
The last cut flowers in your hand.
Wendell Berry speaks for me this morning because, although I hate to admit it, the thrill is off the tomatoes. Big fat beans--what's left of the pickins--hang from scrawny plants like a lynched cluster of cattle thieves. My wife says that any day now I can just clean up the whole patch, a chore I'll have to push myself to do because the joy is long gone.
Somehow we escaped the torrent of heat that can melt man and animal this summer, so some of the relief we ordinarily feel when the weather moves northwest doesn't come with as great a joy as it can; instead, it just feels like fall. The clouds stop looking mid-summer, because it's not. "We grieve under the weakened sun," he says. Yes, we do.
Nice of him to offer hope the way he does with the last handful of the cut flowers. And a zillion poets at least have found some joy in the cycle of things, the the way the plow turns "the shattering/Leaves and bent stems into the dark,/From which they may return." That's nice too. It helps. Not a lot right now, but it helps.
Besides, I know morning midnights won't stay forever. Northwest winds will shake the place, make it shiver and rattle; but eventually they'll give in, once again, to warmth rising bountifully from the south.
Daylight is in freefall right now, every single day's slice of light noticeably thinner, as if the starving season 'twill soon be upon us. Those long January shadows will stretch across the day only because there won't be much day to stretch. It's coming.
It's not difficult to understand why the Lakota would point a line of rocks at the exact position of the morning sun on solstice. They didn't want to miss the day to remember that, come morning, nothing gold can stay. Darkness was coming.
The voice in the poem is telling us the most precious message of all humankind can tell each other--that we are not alone. I'm sure this poem didn't make Mr. Wendell Berry a rich man, but what his voice makes clear is priceless.
And now out east, the Creator's canvas takes on some pastels that do more than hint there will soon be a dawn, the gospel of the morning.
Wendell Berry's "End of Summer" is this morning's featured poem on The Writer's Almanac.