Moving towards the solstice

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I interrupt my reminiscences on 2015 to bring you this poem, on this day, as I have for so many years in a row.  I’ve written so many things about this poem over the years, yet the same lines jump out at me every time I read it.

I am trying to hold in one steady glance all the parts of my life

The word steady, the various parts of my life, trying to hold it together – these all resonate with me.  An effort that still consumes me and one that will, I suspect, for all my days.

And there is so much here I still do not understand.

Still true.  The truth is as I get older I understand less, I think.  I’m certainly sure of less.

Toward the Solstice, 1977

The thirtieth of November.
Snow is starting to fall.
A peculiar silence is spreading
Over the fields, the maple grove.
It is the thirtieth of May,
Rain pours on ancient bushes, runs
Down the youngest blade of grass.
I am trying to hold in one steady glance
All the parts of my life.
A spring torrent races
On this old slanting roof,
The slanted field below
Thickens with winter’s first whiteness.
Thistles dried to sticks in last year’s wind
Stand nakedly in the green,
Stand sullenly in the slowly whitening,
Field.
My brain glows
More violently, more avidly
The quieter, the thicker
The quilt of crystals settles,
The louder, more relentlessly
The torrent beats itself out
On the old boards and shingles.
It is the thirtieth of May,
The thirtieth of November,
A beginning or an end.
We are moving towards the solstice
And there is so much here
I still do not understand.
If I could make sense of how
My life is tangled
With dead weeds, thistles,
Enormous burdocks, burdens
Slowly shifting under
This first fall of snow,
Beaten by this early, racking rain
Calling all new life to declare itself strong
Or die,
If I could know
In what language to address
The spirits that claim a place
Beneath these low and simple ceilings,
Tenants that neither speak nor stir
Yet dwell in mute insistence
Till I can feel utterly ghosted in this house.
If history is a spider-thread
Spun over and over though brushed away
It seems I might some twilight
Or dawn in the hushed country light
Discern its greyness stretching
From molding or doorframe, out
Into the empty dooryard
And following it climb
The path into the pinewoods,
Tracing from tree to tree
In the falling light, in the slowly
Lucidifying day
Its constant, purposive trail,
Till I reach whatever cellar hole
Filling with snowflakes or lichen,
Whatever fallen shack
Or unremembered clearing
I am meant to have found
And there, under the first or last
Star, trusting to instinct
The words would come to mind
I have failed or forgotten to say
Year after year, winter
After summer, the right rune
To ease the hold of the past
Upon the rest of my life
And ease my hold on the past.
If some rite of separation
Is still unaccomplished,
Between myself and the long-gone
Tenants of this house,
Between myself and my childhood,
Between the childhood of my children,
It is I who have neglected
To perform the needed acts,
Set water in corners, light and eucalyptus
In front of mirrors,
Or merely pause and listen
To my own pulse vibrating
Lightly as falling snow,
Relentless as the rainstorm,
And hear what it has been saying.
It seems I am still waiting
For them to make some clear demand
Some articulate sound or gesture,
For release to come from anywhere
But from inside myself.
A decade of cutting away
Dead flesh, cauterizing
Old scars ripped open over and over
And still it is not enough.
A decade of performing
The loving humdrum acts
Of attention to this house
Transplanting lilac suckers,
Washing panes, scrubbing
Wood-smoke from splitting paint,
Sweeping stairs, brushing the thread
Of the spider aside,
And so much yet undone,
A woman’s work, the solstice nearing,
And my hand still suspended
As if above a letter
I long and dread to close.

(Adrienne Rich)


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4 Comments

  1. Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    “I’m certainly sure of less.”

    I can relate to this. Though I’m not sure if that is bad or good.

  2. Pamela
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    I love this poem. My favorite line is “it is I who have neglected to perform the needed acts, set water in the comers , light and eucalyptus in front of mirrors.”

    It doesn’t feel like the solstice in Hawaii except in the morning when it’s dark until 7 and walking at that times seems fraught and tentative.

    I have been thinking of you all day and I hope it’s been a magical and sacred one.

  3. Posted December 22, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful.

  4. Posted December 24, 2015 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I love this. And the last lines are perfect. Beautiful.

    “And my hand still suspended
    As if above a letter
    I long and dread to close.”

    Happy Holidays, Lindsey. Thank you for sharing this.

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