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Posts Tagged ‘Yeats’

There is an agonizing sweetness when I slip into the place between the worlds. When I look out the window at the street and the houses, and it could be fifty or a hundred years ago. The birds I hear as I lie awake in the early dawn could be singing in another time or place. I could have been alive for 150 years. And I feel outside of time, as if I could pass between the years at will. I don’t know whether this sweet agony is a yearning for the past, for something lost… or the sorrow of knowing I must, soon, snap back to the realities of the present moment… or whether it is, ultimately, a yearning for heaven, where all that is lost will be restored, when all nostalgia and longing will be abated because all will be as perfectly beautiful as the most long-cherished memory of childhood’s clearest summer day.

I say the agony is sweet because I want to follow to the mysterious somewhere to which it leads, like the child lured away in the poem by Yeats, “with a fairy hand in hand, for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” But my obligations in this life call me back… There is a pull toward dwelling forever in that twilight place where the past– the past of my youth and the more distant past of my ancestors– calls me to linger there. Or maybe it isn’t the past; but then, where is it?

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight…

woman in garden

And I wonder, If I just let myself keep going… going… shaking off the impatient tug of the present urging me to return, then, where would I…?

But the painful truth is, that to reach heaven, where this sweetness will last forever in an eternal present, when there will be no painful tearing away, there is no choice but to return to this life, to this time, no choice but to endure it. The only way out is through. And that is so painful, for the way is long and I am a stranger in a strange land where no stone under my foot speaks to me, no field or meadow knows my name, and even the trees sigh a foreign language.

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Beauty presses on, no matter what I do to thwart it.

I don’t mean to thwart it. In fact, I am always filled with desires and plans and ideas for bringing a little bit more beauty into the world. But somehow, it doesn’t often work out.

For example, one of my beautification programs concerns gardening. We have a tiny yard, too small for baseball games or other activities requiring a lot of space. I am always trying to think of ways to draw us, especially the children, into the outdoors, hence the chickens to tend, the swimming pool to play in, and, well, this gardening idea.

Every winter, I pore through gardening books and seed catalogs planning how to turn our tiny yard into a garden paradise. I am studying herbology, so winding paths passing through fragrant mounds of medicinal and culinary herbs appeal to me, along with blueberries and raspberries like those my mother tended at my childhood home in Branford, flowers for the butterflies, and maybe, perhaps next summer, a bee skep. Not an ordinary box-like beehive mind you, but one of those old fashioned spirally bee-skeps that Yeats must have envisioned when he wrote “The Lake Isle of Innisfree:”

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

This is perhaps my favorite poem. It encapsulates so many of my dreams as I “stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,” when my heart is away by the lapping water, the bee-loud glade, the evening full of linnet’s wings. In those winter hours spent perusing gardening books, I imagine turning our tiny yard into a haven of beauty, afresh with herbs and fruits and flowers, alive with lovely living things, where peace indeed comes dropping slow.

And when spring comes, I always make a start. I purchase some plants, turn over some soil, and manage to beautify one little corner, feeling hopeful and telling myself that soon I will do more. “Plant by plant” was the motto I adopted this year, the idea being that even if I could only manage a little at a time, by summer’s end my dream would be accomplished. Then, maybe this winter’s reading would be about the next step: beekeeping, in preparation for next spring…

But this year as every other, things stalled. The budget would not allow the purchase of more than a few plants. I saw some medicinal herbs I coveted– yarrow, mullein, comfrey– growing free for the taking by the roadway, but could not afford the composted manure to prepare a proper bed for them. The affordable Amish orchard from which I hoped to buy a few fruit trees had stopped selling for the season. The weeks-long drought made my little corner garden look weary and sad. Spring possibilities turned to midsummer dreams gone by.

I took a walk in the cool of one early morning, hoping to get in a little exercise before the heat set in. In a yard I pass often, a small pear tree had begun to bear fruit; tiny, burnished little pears had begun to develop on its boughs. Autumn is coming, I thought. Autumn will be here before I know it, home schooling will begin again, nature will fold its wings, and my garden dreams will die for another year. I had had grand plans, but I could not make them happen. I fought the discouraging voices that told me someone else could have managed it, someone more knowledgeable, more energetic, more skillful. In any case, I had failed to bring the beauty I dreamed of into the world. I had failed.

I looked at the pears, and for a moment, felt sad. Then I thought: Here I am, looking at these beautiful little burgeoning pears. Beauty presses on in spite of me. Life presses on. I smiled and thought of a verse from “How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” a verse that described the Grinch’s failure to stem the irrepressible arrival of Christmas Day:

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!
He HADN’T stopped Christmas from coming– IT CAME!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And I thought: someone else COULD manage it, someone more knowledgeable, more energetic, more skillful: God. God has filled this beautiful world with life and loveliness. What I could not do without plants or manure, God accomplishes season after season, year after year, all around me. He just can’t help it. Seeing my sorrow over my garden, He wanted to say: I will give you beauty. Here it is, all around you.

So my garden dreams will keep for another year. But our Father, who never fails to give his children what they need, has strewn this world with beauty. I hadn’t stopped beauty from coming– it came. Somehow or other, it came just the same.

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