Although our lives cannot occur except in an historical context, many contemporary lyrics are written as though only personal history matters. It’s a great joy to encounter a poem grounded in history as thoroughly as Elizabeth Bishop’s “Brazil: January 1, 1502”, particularly one that begins with a cymbal crash, the seeming non sequitur or unusual plural.
Stevens seems to have enjoyed facing the difficult dilemma of writing a poem knowing that, when it comes to the actual, “sense exceeds all metaphor” and it “exceeds the heavy changes of the light.” He loves struggling to come to terms with the limitations of language.
“Church Going” is an atheist’s poem, an ironic atheist’s poem, and a very good one.
Habit of mind: when I walk or snowshoe in the falling snow, or watch it descend from inside, lines from snow poems I love come to me. Inevitably, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Snowstorm”––first line tells us, the storm is “Announced by all the trumpets of the sky”.
In early winter, the grass in North America still retains a cast of its autumn green, but after a few nights of deep freeze have killed the last of the ticks and fleas, the green turns greenish-grey. It’s then I begin remembering Thomas Hardy’s moving, highly-compressed and resonant sixteen-liner, “Neutral Tones.”