Friday, May 27, 2011

Poetry Friday: Annie Dillard

There's a real power here. It is amazing that trees can turn gravel and bitter salts into these soft-lipped lobes, as if I were to bite down on a granite slab and start to swell, bud, and flower. Trees seem to do their feats so effortlessly. Every year a given tree creates absolutely from scratch ninety-nine percent of its living parts. Water lifting up tree trunks can climb one hundred and fifty feet an hour; in full summer a tree can, and does, heave a ton of water every day. A big elm in a single season might make as many as six million leaves, wholly intricate, without budging an inch; I couldn't make one. A tree stands there, accumulating deadwood, mute and rigid as an obelisk, but secretly it seethes; it splits, sucks, and stretches; it heaves up tons and hurls them out in a green, fringed fling. No person taps this free power; the dynamo in the tulip tree pumps out ever more tulip tree, and it runs on rain and air. (p. 114)

Along with intricacy, there is another aspect of the creation that has impressed me in the course of my wanderings...Look, in short, at practically anything--the coot's foot, the mantis's face, a banana, the human ear--and see that not only did the creator create everything, but that he is apt to create anything. He'll stop at nothing.  (p.138)

What I aim to do is not so much learn the names of the shreds of creation that flouish in this valley, but to keep myself open to their meanings, which is to try to impress myself at all times with the fullest possible force of their very reality. I want to have things as multiply and intricately as possible and visible in my mind. Then I might be able to sit on the hill by the burnt books where the starlings fly over, and see not only the starlings, the grass field, the quarried rock, the viney woods, Hollis Pond, and the mountains beyond, but also, and simultaneously, feathers' barbs, springtails in the soil, crystal in rock, chloroplasts streaming, rotifers pulsing, and the shape of the air in the pines. And, if I try to keep my eye on quantum physics, if I try to keep up with astronomy and cosmology, and really believe it all, I might ultimately be able to make out the landscape of the universe. Why not? (p.141)

from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard.

Yes, I'm playing a little fast and loose with the idea of poetry here, but I've been listening to Pilgrim at Tinker Creek on my commute to and from school for the past few weeks, and Annie Dillard's words are the poetry I've been hearing as I drive through this wet, green, lush, pulsing, growing spring. The mystery of the earth re-making itself has pushed to the back of my mind the (too much) to-do lists that come with the end of the school year.

And now, suddenly, it is here. The end of the school year. Our last day. The mystery and miracle of watching children accumulate another year of knowledge, skills, manners, personality will be put on hold until the end of August. All of my intimate knowledge of the intricacies of this group of children -- their handwriting, the way their smiles come slow or fast, how much I need to suggest or tease or pressure them to do their very best -- this all will be lost by the end of the summer, in order to make room for the next batch, brood, class.

Heidi has the Poetry Friday roundup today at my juicy little universe.


  1. That's lovely, Mary Lee. Seems like poetry to me!

    Hope you have a nourishing and recharging summer!

  2. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is definitely poetry. I couldn't read a paragraph without stopping to savor it. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Oh, yes. These words are definitely poetry. Definitely. Congratulations on completing another year. Relax and enjoy the summer. Stop by my blog and read the end of school poem I posted. It's a lovely image of the process of starting over again and again and again.

  4. Hi, Mary Lee. I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in college and it has always stuck with me. What beautiful language. I can see the snake-face in that butterfly wing. Amazing!

  5. Laura (AA), I first read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in college, too. I've reread it several times since, but it's a new experience to LISTEN to it. The text is so dense sometimes that I'm GLAD I've read it...which brings me back to the idea that it's really an extended prose poem, and it NEEDS to be read and reread to be fully/mostly understood!

  6. I adore Annie Dillard and I need to listen to Pilgrim! Thanks so much for sharing this. I love how you describe a year at school too. It's my last week at a school where I've been librarian for 11 years. I'm getting downsized so I won't be there next year to see these children grow another year. This week is going to be excruciatingly sweet, sad, painful, short, long... I am going to pull out my Dillard to sooth my soul.

  7. Mary Lee, I wish you could come over for some mint tea this week. We'd watch the poppies all pop open together. Your words about the end of the year have me feeling wistful for teachers and students everywhere. The handwriting...sigh... Thank you for these lovely words. I need to pull out Annie Dillard too. A.


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