Poetry Friday: Poems for the (Post-) Apocalypse
What would you remember, what would you hope for, what would you want to preserve?
After last week’s audio note on Shakespeare, I thought to share three poems from a book called The Great Year. It takes place a century or so from now and follows a group of travelers from Eastern Europe to Iceland. Along the way they tell each other stories from myth, but sometimes they tell stories about themselves. The text of each poem is below.
Let me know what you think of these in the comments. Are there specific poets you’d like to hear from on Fridays?
And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to check out my post from earlier this week, The Mythology of Children.
The Autumn Village There is a place just inland from the sea whose lulling wind still smells of salt and sun and whose ground still drinks water and sleeps wet and dark and loosens under every tool and gives potatoes, peas and cabbage, leeks and lettuce, watercress and carrots, all for the filled soup pot, the fall table, radishes and parsnips and brussel sprouts, steam and broth and bowl smelling of garlic and looking like every dirty color, brown green, brown orange, dirty purple and orange red. There’s a place that smells of manure and compost and where milk jars are corked with paper, a place of wheels and carts and wooden toys, corn dolls and carved gourds and dressed-up branches played with and cared for and left in the fields for passing spirits to pick up and love. There are apples in the cool evenings and pomegranates that lay burst and glittering in the yellow light and the lazy wind while pears sit cherished in the hands of everyone exhausted from the harvest, pears and plums and round yellow quince with a pinched face, the land and sky still giving, if erratic, still moody but still generous, overflowing, still given to extremes of heat and cold, drought or flood or just strangeness, the strangeness of harshness and ease, of comings and goings, how it marks and celebrates and meditates, the frozen pond and the song of the spring thaw, the winter cold and the early-born child, or falling in love with someone suddenly, someone you’ve seen every day of your life but not this way, and now all of it is new, the earth and air and tree and every lake. There is a place where there are still people and they dance and love before the bonfire and children still spill into the wide world and they’re taught about the floor and the byre, the stove and the door, the earth and the road, the sea and the sky and the smell of rain, and they teach the stories, they teach the songs and they are still hopeful for the future, and they are not afraid.
“I was in Iceland centuries ago” I was in Iceland centuries ago and helped new settlers there explore the land. Between the shore and the mountain were great marshlands where I disappeared for weeks, or I went south with them to hunt seal, fish, and find the edges of the old forests. There were lava fields, and there were rivers we followed back to the mountains or out to sea; we named the peninsula and we named the marshland and the lagoons, we named the bay, the district, the farmsteads, and by the second spring new families were arriving and the land was filling with stories – stories of swans by the shore and ducks in the bay, stories of long nights and the names given to the seasons and winds. Where the rivers crossed or where natural boundaries occurred, land was given to a man and his family. Hayfield walls were put up, and sheds for the animals, and a timber hall walled with turf and stone. There were benches, fires, and storage barrels. My home was in the smithy, kept separate from animal and family, as always. There were nights, there were days, there were seasons, and the ideas only came later. The ones who did it, they were too busy for philosophy, for explanation, for saying anything superhuman or world-historical was going on. They were curious, and they were hungry, they had families, they wanted to survive, they wanted a modest hall to fill with smoke, to sleep and rise and know their animals. That’s the solitude of founding, the joy, precariously accumulated, leaving the forest to pause and to see, in the valley and between the rivers, evening smoke, lazy, from a distant hall.
Smith Looks Up the Long Road I fell from the Anatolian sky and lived a second life on the middle sea; I’ve hobbled down the shore and up the peak, I’ve hewn a home out of stones with these hands, and all of these years have been deathless for me as I watched everyone – and now the world – die. All that I’ve felt affection for, every art, every thought, all that was new, I’ve watched disappear beyond mind and heart, everything eventually in the ground. But here is a last place to go: across, across the dead land and over the boiled water to the island that the whole world will become: impossible ice, awful ice, Thule, where the rusting sun rises and freezes and cracks the firmament to set daily into a ground frozen generations down. A last huge labor I can’t see beyond, a final huge walk across the old yard and into a place where I might be allowed to rest this leg and rest this heart, at last. And are these two the ones who will take me there? I look ahead toward the road through the trees where this girl and woman walk together, and where they stop and turn and wait for me, where the girl pockets some stones and old leaves. Is this why I’ve lasted so long, to know these shapes going forward in a dead wood? Was I swept along from Greece to Ireland, from enormous winters and boiling sand, was this why I lived to see sail and rail, the wheel and flight and rising up to space? Was this why I lived to see it crumble, monument and metropolis, ocean and forest, lake and sky and plain, mountain and river and road – all cemeteries for every ambition, every love, the landscape a scattered, broken language the three of us will walk through, and attempt to preserve in our memories, a huge gift with no one but ourselves to receive it? Is this the meaning of my twelve thousand years?