If This Night Is Other Than Night
by Galway Kinnell (1927 – 2014)
If this night is other than night,
Come back to life, distant beneficent voices, wake
The heaviest clay in which grain ever slept.
Speak: I was no more than craving earth,
Now at last have come the words of dawn and rain.
But speak, that I may be propitious earth,
Speak if it is still a buried day.
Rare is the poet that can speak with voices both human and inhuman. Galway Kinnell denied that he was a nature poet and certainly humanity takes center stage in his voluminous writing, but Kinnell’s writing is edged with all forces on earth, including animals and the world in which we and them inhabit. Kinnell won the Pulitzer prize in 1980 for Selected Poems, as much for his consistency in my opinion as for his seminal brilliance for specific poems. Kinnell, along with fellow Princeton classmate, M. S. Merwin, both had long and fruitful writing careers, neither stretching the boundaries of form much, rather developing distinctive styles and perspective.
I am currently visiting Durango, Colorado, having flown into Albuquerque, New Mexico and driven over through the deserts of the Southwest. We stopped and stretched our legs on a BLM nature preserve path and were struck by the abundance of flowers, a recent rain storm having coaxed forth blooms on perennials, succulents and annuals in the reddish, brownish clay of the desert. When I was researching this blog entry, my sister sat down and I read her the opening poem and asked her what she thought. She said, “I don’t understand it, what does it mean to you?” I said, “I love this poem, and the key to my relating to it is the line; The heaviest clay in which grain ever slept. It makes me think like a seed in the ground, lying for possibly decades in that dry clay, waiting to speak with the voices of rain, wind, night and sun to awaken my potential to grow.” I had her close her eyes and stop thinking human and I read it to her again, twice. She said, “my goodness, maybe I need to stop thinking human when I read poetry, more often.”
Exactly, you got it Sis! But not too often.
I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry-eating in late September.