James Schuyler Poems >>
Hymn To Life

The wind rests its cheek upon the ground and feels the cool damp
And lifts its head with twigs and small dead blades of grass
Pressed into it as you might at the beach rise up and brush away
The sand. The day is cool and says, "I'm just staying overnight."
The world is filled with music, and in between the music, silence
And varying the silence all sorts of sounds, natural and man made:
There goes a plane, some cars, geese that honk and, not here, but
Not so far away, a scream so rending that to hear it is to be
Never again the same. "Why, this is hell." Out of the death breeding
Soil, here, rise emblems of innocence, snowdrops that struggle
Easily into life and hang their white enamel heads toward the dirt
And in the yellow grass are small wild crocuses from hills goats
Have cropped to barrenness. The corms come by mail, are planted.
Then do their thing: to live! To live! So natural and so hard
Hard as it seems it must be for green spears to pierce the all but
Frozen mold and insist that they too, like mouse-eared chickweed,
Will live. The spears lengthen, the bud appears and spreads, its
Seed capsule fattens and falls, the green turns yellowish and withers
Stretched upon the ground. In Washington, magnolias were in bud. In
Charlottesville early bulbs were up, brightening the muck. Tomorrow
Will begin another spring. No one gets many, one at a time, like a long
Awaited letter that one day comes. But it may not say what you hoped
Or distraction robs it of what it once would have meant. Spring comes
And the winter weather, here, may hold. It is arbitrary, like the plan
Of Washington, D.C. Avenues and circles in asphalt web and no
One gets younger: which is not, for the young, true, discovering new
Freedoms at twenty, a relief not to be a teen-ager anymore. One of us
Had piles, another water on the knee, a third a hernia-a strangulated
Hernia is one of life's less pleasant bits of news-and only
One, at twenty, moved easily through all the galleries to pill
Free sleep. Oh, it's not all that bad. The sun shines on my hand
And the myriad lines that criss-cross tell the story of nearly fifty
Years. Sorry, it's too long to relate. Once, when I was young, I
Awoke at first light and sitting in a rocking chair watched the sun
Come up beyond the houses across the street. Another time I stood
At the cables of a liner and watched the wake turning and
Turning upon itself. Another time I woke up and in a bottle
On a chest of drawers the thoughtful doctor had left my tonsils. I
Didn't keep them. The turning of the globe is not so real to us
As the seasons turning and the days that rise out of early gray
-The world is all cut-outs then-and slip or step steadily down
The slopes of our lives where the emotions and needs sprout. "I
Need you," tree, that dominates this yard, thick-waisted, tall
And crook branched. Its bark scales off like that which we forget:
Pain, an introduction at a party, what precisely happened umpteen
Years or days or hours ago. And that same blue jay returns, or perhaps
It is another. All jays are one to me. But not the sun which seems at
Each rising new, as though in the night it enacted death and rebirth,
As flowers seem to. The roses this June will be different roses
Even though you cut an armful and come in saying, "Here are the roses,"
As though the same blooms had come back, white freaked with red
And heavily scented. Or a cut branch of pear blooms before its time,
"Forced." Time brings us into bloom and we wait, busy, but wait
For the unforced flow of words and intercourse and sleep and dreams
In which the past seems to portend a future which is just more
Daily life. The cat has a ripped ear. He fights, he fights all
The tom cats all the time. There are blood gouts on a velvet seat.
Easily sponged off: but these red drops on a book of Stifter's, will
I remember and say at some future time, "Oh, yes, that was the day
Hodge had a torn ear and bled on the card table?" Poor
Hodge, battered like an old car. Silence flows into my mind. It
Is spring. It is also still really winter. Not a day when you say,
"What a beautiful spring day." A day like twilight or evening when
You think, "I meant to watch the sun set." And then comes on
To rain. "You've got to take," says the man at the store, "the rough
With the smooth." A window to the south is rough with raindrops
That, caught in the screen, spell out untranslatable glyphs. A story
Not told: so much not understood, a sight, an insight, and you pass on,
Another day for each day is subjective and there is a totality of days
As there are as many to live it. The day lives us and in exchange
We it: after snowball time, a month, March, of fits and starts, winds,
Rain, spring hints and wintry arrears. The weather pays its check,
Like quarreling in a D.C. hotel, "I won't quarrel about it, but I made
No local calls." Strange city, broad and desolating, monuments
Rearing up and offices like monuments and crowds lined up to see
The White House inside. "We went to see the White House. It was lovely."
Not so strange though as the cemetery with guttering flame and
Admirals and generals with bigger gravestones than the lesser fry
Below Lee's house, false marble pillars and inside all so
Everyday, in every room a shawl tossed untidily upon a chair or bed
Created no illusion of lived-in-ness. But the periwinkles do, in beds
That flatten and are starred blue-violet, a retiring flower loved,
It would seem, of the dead, so often found where they congregate. A
Quote from Aeschylus: I forget. All, all is forgotten gradually and
One wonders if these ideas that seem handed down are truly what they were?
An idea may mutate like a plant, and what was once held basic truth
Become an idle thought. like, "Shall we plant some periwinkles there
By that bush? They're so to be depended on." The wind shakes the screen
And all the raindrops on it streak and run in stems. It's colder.
The crocuses close up. The snowdrops are brushed with mud. The sky
Colors itself rosily behind gray-black and the rain falls through
The basketball hoop on a garage, streaking its backboard with further
Trails of rust, a lovely color to set with periwinkle violet-blue.
And the trees shiver and shudder in the light rain blasts from off
The ocean. The street wet reflects the breakup of the clouds
On its face, driving over sky with a hissing sound. The car
Slides slightly and in the west appear streaks of different green:
A lid lifted briefly on the spring. Then the moon burns through
Racing clouds, its aureole that of rings of oil on water in a harbor
Bubbling up from an exhaust. Clear the sky. Beside a rim of moon.
Three stars and only three and one planet. So under lilacs unleaved
Lie a clump of snowdrops and one purple crocus. Purple. A polka-dotted
Color little girls are fond of: "See my new dess!" and she twirls
On one foot. Then, crossed, bursts into tears. Smiles and rain, like
These passing days in which buds swell, unseen as yet, waiting
For the elms to color their further out most twigs, only the willow
Gleams yellow. Life is hard. Some are strong, some weak, most
Untested. These useless truths blow about the yard the day after
Rain the soft sunlight making softer shadows on the faded lawn.
The world looks so old in the spring, laid out under the sky. One
Gull coasts by, unexpected as a kiss on the nape of the neck. These
Days need birds and so they come, a flock of ducks, and a bunch of
Small fluffy unnamed balls that hide in hedges and make a racket.
"The gift of life," as though, existing in expectancy and then
Someone came up and said, "Here," or, "Happy Birthday." It is more
Mysterious than that, pierced by blue or running in the rain
Or simply lying down to read. Writing a postponed letter which may
Bring no pleasure: arduous truths to tell. And if you thought March was bad
Consider April, early April, wet snow falling into blue squills
That underneath a beech make an illusory lake, a haze of blue
With depth to it. That is like pain, ordinary household pain,
Like piles, or bumping against a hernia. All the signs are set for A OK
A day to visit the National Gallery-Vel