Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lake and Maple

I thought I had posted the poem "Lake and Maple" by Jane Hirshfield before, but I couldn't find it here, and it is certainly the right season for it. I re-read it today at an ADD-inducing children's museum (carrying a book of poetry and sneaking in one poem a day changes my whole outlook, and gives me the wonderful secret feeling of touching beauty even in places and at moments where it is hard to detect otherwise). The line "I want the fish," in the middle of the poem, is just heart-stopping to me. Lalla Ded, to whom the poet refers at the end, was a fourteenth-century Kashmiri poet and mystic. We can never have the lake, of course; all we can have on this side of heaven is the song. But how beautiful, as in this poem, that song can be.

I want to give myself
as this maple
that burned and burned
for three days without stinting
and then in two more
dropped off every leaf;
as this lake that,
no matter what comes
to its green-blue depths,
both takes and returns it.
In the still heart that refuses nothing,
the world is twice-born --
two earths wheeling,
two heavens,
two egrets reaching
down into subtraction;
even the fish
for an instant doubled,
before it is gone.
I want the fish.
I want the losing it all
when it rains and I want
the returning transparanence.
I want the place
by the edge-flowers where
the shallow sand is deceptive,
where whatever
steps in must plunge,
and I want that plunging.
I want the ones
who come in secret to drink
only in early darknes,
and I want the ones
who are swallowed.
I want the way
the water sees without eyes,
hears without ears,
shivers without will or fear
at the gentlest touch.
I want the way it
accepts the cold moonlight
and lets it pass,
the way it lets
all of of it pass
without judgment or comment.
There is a lake.
Lalla Ded sang, no larger
than one seed of mustard,
that all things return to.
O heart, if you
will not, cannot, give me the lake,
then give me the song.


Melanie B said...

I read this when I was up at 3 am, insomniac after Ben had nursed and gone back to sleep in his bassinet. Oh heartachingly beautiful. I couldn't ruin the moment by commenting then. But I've just re-read it. You are right, that line: "I want the fish," that line opens a pit in the middle of my being that threatens to swallow me. Thank you, thank you for sharing.

Melanie B said...

In fact, I think that "I want the fish" comes close to speaking that "language beyond language" that you and Betty were discussing here. Precisely, I think, because the words are so prosaic. Taken out of context they might be said by a person choosing an option for dinner. But the setting of the poem makes them into something more.

Pentimento said...

You're so right, Melanie -- Hirshfield's use of the most mundane, prosaic language there transforms those words into something numinous. Oh, to be able to write like that!

Amy said...

This is just beautiful. Thank you for posting it.

Pentimento said...

You're welcome!

It's from Jane Hirshfield's book The Lives of the Heart, which is pretty uniformly wonderful.