Monday

Jul. 12, 2004

Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond

by Mary Oliver

MONDAY, 12 JULY, 2004
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Poem: "Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond," by Mary Oliver, from Owls and Other Fantasies. © Beacon Press. Reprinted with permission.

Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond

As for life,
I'm humbled,
I'm without words
sufficient to say

how it has been hard as flint,
and soft as a spring pond,
both of these
and over and over,

and long pale afternoons besides,
and so many mysteries
beautiful as eggs in a nest,
still unhatched

though warm and watched over
by something I have never seen—
a tree angel, perhaps,
or a ghost of holiness.

Every day I walk out into the world
to be dazzled, then to be reflective.
It suffices, it is all comfort—
along with human love,

dog love, water love, little-serpent love,
sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds
flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about

stopping, and lying down at last
to the long afterlife, to the tenderness
yet to come, when
time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,

and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death,
I can't wait to be the hummingbird,
can you?


Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of Buckminster Fuller, born in Milton, Massachusetts (1895). He was an inventor, engineer, architect, mathematician, poet and cosmologist; he once said "The only ones who don't get trained for specialization are artists, they want to be whole." He called himself a "Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Scientist" and many of his friends were artists. He said artists "keep the integrity of childhood alive until we reach the bridge between the arts and science. ... Artists frequently conceive of a pattern in their imagination before scientists find it in nature."

In 1927, when he was thirty-two, Fuller was about to throw himself into the freezing water of Lake Michigan. He was bankrupt and jobless with a wife and newborn daughter to support. There on the shore it struck him that his life belonged to the universe, not to himself, and he chose to devote his life to helping humanity. Before his death in 1983, he was awarded twenty-five U.S. patents, wrote twenty-eight books, received forty-seven honorary doctorates and numerous awards, and circled the globe fifty-seven times. His primary interest was shelter and housing, and he is best known for his invention of the geodesic dome.


It's the birthday of inventor and manufacturer George Eastman, born in Waterville, New York (1854). He began to study photography in 1877 while working at a bank, and the following year, with a camera he invented, he took his first dry-plate photograph, of a view of the Charles P. Ham building across the street from his window. He went on to develop the handheld camera, and he called it the Kodak because it was easy to remember and difficult to misspell.


It's the birthday of the lyricist and producer Oscar Hammerstein II, born in New York City (1895). Together with the composer Richard Rogers, he was part of the famous songwriting duo Rogers and Hammerstein. Their Broadway hits include the musicals Oklahoma! (1943), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951) and The Sound of Music (1959). He said of his partnership with Rodgers, "I hand him a lyric and get out of his way."


It's the birthday of poet and politician Pablo Neruda, born in Parral, Chile (1904). His collections include Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924), Residence on Earth (1933), and The Captain's Verses (1952). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.


It's the birthday of Henry David Thoreau, born David Henry Thoreau in Concord, Massachusetts (1817). He's the author of Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) and the essay "Civil Disobedience" (1849).

He became the first member of his family to go to college when he enrolled at Harvard in 1833 at age sixteen. He wasn't especially happy with the teaching methods used at Harvard. Ralph Waldo Emerson is said to have remarked that most of the branches of learning were taught at Harvard and Thoreau to have replied, "Yes, indeed, all the branches and none of the roots." He graduated in 1837, ninth in his class, and refused a diploma, thinking there were better ways to spend five dollars.

He changed his name to Henry David and became a teacher. When criticized by the supervisor of the local public school for not using corporal punishment on his students, Thoreau thrashed a random group of his pupils to illustrate the senselessness of it all and resigned from the school.

When Emerson moved to Concord, Thoreau lived with him and did odd jobs around the house. Emerson encouraged Thoreau to write poetry, and suggested that Thoreau keep a journal, both of which Thoreau continued to do his entire life.

In 1845, when Thoreau was twenty-seven, he built a small cabin on the edge of Walden Pond, a small lake near Concord, and moved there. His motto was "Simplify, simplify, simplify." He said that his goal was "to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach." And he said, "I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up." Walden was published in 1854.

Thoreau said, "Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something."

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