1. I don’t know who God is exactly. But I’ll tell you this. I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking. Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say, and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water. And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying. Said the river I am part of holiness. And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water. I’d been to the river before, a few times. Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly. You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day. You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears. And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition.
2. If God exists he isn’t just butter and good luck. He’s also the tick that killed my wonderful dog Luke. Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going. Imagine how the lily (who may also be a part of God) would sing to you if it could sing, if you would pause to hear it. And how are you so certain anyway that it doesn’t sing? If God exists he isn’t just churches and mathematics. He’s the forest, He’s the desert. He’s the ice caps, that are dying. He’s the ghetto and the Museum of Fine Arts. He’s van Gogh and Allen Ginsberg and Robert Motherwell. He’s the many desperate hands, cleaning and preparing their weapons. He’s every one of us, potentially. The leaf of grass, the genius, the politician, the poet. And if this is true, isn’t it something very important? Yes, it could be that I am a tiny piece of God, and each of you too, or at least of his intention and his hope. Which is a delight beyond measure. I don’t know how you get to suspect such an idea. I only know that the river kept singing. It wasn’t a persuasion, it was all the river’s own constant joy which was better by far than a lecture, which was comfortable, exciting, unforgettable.
3. Of course for each of us, there is the daily life. Let us live it, gesture by gesture. When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks? And should we not thank the knife also? We do not live in a simple world.
4. There was someone I loved who grew old and ill One by one I watched the fires go out. There was nothing I could do except to remember that we receive then we give back.
5. My dog Luke lies in a grave in the forest, she is given back. But the river Clarion still flows from wherever it comes from to where it has been told to go. I pray for the desperate earth. I pray for the desperate world. I do the little each person can do, it isn’t much. Sometimes the river murmurs, sometimes it raves.
6. Along its shores were, may I say, very intense cardinal flowers. And trees, and birds that have wings to uphold them, for heaven’s sakes– the lucky ones: they have such deep natures, they are so happily obedient. While I sit here in a house filled with books, ideas, doubts, hesitations.
7. And still, pressed deep into my mind, the river keeps coming, touching me, passing by on its long journey, its pale, infallible voice singing.
Last night, an owl in the blue dark tossed an indeterminate number of carefully shaped sounds into the world, in which, a quarter of a mile away, I happened to be standing. I couldn’t tell which one it was – the barred or the great-horned ship of the air – it was that distant. But, anyway, aren’t there moments that are better than knowing something, and sweeter? Snow was falling, so much like stars filling the dark trees that one could easily imagine its reason for being was nothing more than prettiness. I suppose if this were someone else’s story they would have insisted on knowing whatever is knowable – would have hurried over the fields to name it – the owl, I mean. But it’s mine, this poem of the night, and I just stood there, listening and holding out my hands to the soft glitter falling through the air. I love this world, but not for its answers. And I wish good luck to the owl, whatever its name – and I wish great welcome to the snow, whatever its severe and comfortless and beautiful meaning.
If you’re John Muir you want trees to
live among. If you’re Emily, a garden
Try to find the right place for yourself.
If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.
When one is alone and lonely, the body
gladly lingers in the wind or the rain,
or splashes into the cold river, or
pushes through the ice-crusted snow.
Anything that touches.
God, or the gods, are invisible, quite
understandable. But holiness is visible,
Some words will never leave God’s mouth,
no matter how hard you listen.
In all the works of Beethoven, you will
not find a single lie.
All important ideas must include the trees,
the mountains, and the rivers.
To understand many things you must reach out
of your own condition.
For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest. What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!
Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still
it explains nothing.
The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,
what if you should lose her? Then you would be
sorrow yourself; her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so
utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance. And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment
by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,
as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes; she looks about her;
she begins to grow.