Shelter-in-place advisories may be restricting the time we spend outdoors, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t enjoy it. With a face mask and a good six feet of distance, we can luxuriate in walks along the river, afternoons in the park, hikes in the woods—even if it’s only for a few hours. For the rest of the time indoors, the words of poets bring us back outside in the mind’s eye, revealing corners of the natural world we may have missed. In our third installment of this year’s National Poetry Month series, marvel at the beauty of nature in the poetry of Melissa Range, Jay Parini, and Mary Oliver!
Melissa Range’s “Cento: Natural Theology” from Scriptorium
Partly like the sun and partly like the air,
the earth—just like a body
if it had no bones. As if by veins
it is held together so it does not crumble.
Like a lamb sucking milk, the plants
suck up the green; place the emerald
in their mouth and the spirit will revive,
a fire of burning mountains
which is difficult to put out,
like the thunder’s eye. It cannot be caught.
It ministers to those who bear it,
coming from the mystery of God
like limestone from stone, one drop
of dew found on clean grass. All its matter
is from the fresh greenness of the air,
the sharpness of the water, flame
in the heavens. God does not wish to cure it.
Jay Parini’s “A Night in the Field” from New and Collected Poems: 1975-2015
I didn’t mean to stay so late
or lie there in the grass
all summer afternoon and thoughtless
as the kite of sun caught in the tree-limbs
and the crimson field began to burn,
then tilt way.
I hung on
handily as night lit up the sky’s black skull
and star-flakes fell as if forever—
fat white petals of a far-off flower
like manna on the plains.
A ripe moon lifted in the east,
its eye so focused,
knowing what I knew but had forgotten
of the only death I’ll ever really need
to keep me going.
Did I sleep to wake or wake to sleep?
I slipped in seams through many layers,
soil and subsoil, rooting
in the loamy depths of my creation,
where at last I almost felt at home.
But rose at dawn in rosy light,
beginning in the dew-sop long-haired grass,
having been taken, tossed,
having gone down, a blackened tooth
in sugary old gums, that ground
where innocence is found, unfound,
making my way toward the barn,
its beams alight,
its rafters blazing in the red-ball sun.
Mary Oliver’s “When I Am Among the Trees” from Thirst
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light ﬂows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”