For once, then, something

National Poetry Month, Day 12  //  Noticing God’s grandeur is always sure to bowl me over, but honestly the experience of it has been rare. Mostly what I see is God’s ordinariness, nothing like the “shining from shook foil” that George Manley Hopkins describes in “God’s Grandeur.” Annie Dillard writes that nature “conceals with a grand nonchalance” and that vision “is a deliberate gift, the revelation of a dancer who for my eyes only flings away her seven veils” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek). In my lifetime I can count on one hand – or two at most, with fingers left over – the number of times I’ve seen that kind of grandeur, and it has always surprised me when looking for it has been farthest from my mind.

Mostly, despite my perennially renewed resolution to tread lightly and observantly in life, I plod, mind wandering, senses dulled by routine. I daydream, seldom seeing past the surface of life. But once in a while the scrim thins and grants a glimpse of something more – of the “tree with the lights in it” (Annie Dillard again) in the old cemetery above Neely’s Landing on the banks of the Mississippi; of the perfect immanence of heaven on a highway in Newark, New Jersey; of the transcendent peace mediated by a conversation with a friend as we sat by a sheltered fire one autumn afternoon in the Shawnee Forest.

Such small, rare gifts can feed me through the longest famines of spirit, and, few as they have been, I count myself blessed to have had so many of them, when one would have been enough.

“For Once, Then, Something,” by Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

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