Guest poem sent in by David Wright
(Poem #984) On the Beach at Night
On the beach at night, Stands a child with her father, Watching the east, the autumn sky. Up through the darkness, While ravening clouds, the burial clouds, in black masses spreading, Lower sullen and fast athwarth and down the sky, Amid a transparent clear belt of ether yet left in the east, Ascends large and calm the lord-star Jupiter, And nigh at hand, only a very little above, Swim the delicate sisters the Pleiades. From the beach the child holding the hand of her father, Those burial-clouds that lower victorious soon to devour all, Watching, silently weeps. Weep not, child, Weep not, my darling, With these kisses let me remove your tears, The ravening clouds shall not be long victorious, They shall not long possess the sky, they devour the stars only in apparition, Jupiter shall emerge, be patient, watch again another night, the Pleiades shall emerge, They are immortal, all those stars both silvery and golden shall shine out again, The great stars and the little ones shall shine out again they endure, The vast immortal suns and the long-enduring pensive moons shall again shine. Then dearest child mournest thou only for Jupiter? Considerest thou alone the burial of the stars? Something there is, (With my lips soothing thee, adding I whisper, I give thee the first suggestion, the problem and indirection,) Something there is more immortal even than the stars, (Many the burials, many the days and nights, passing away,) Something that shall endure longer even than lustrous Jupiter, Longer than sun or any revolving satellite, Or the radiant sisters the Pleiades.
I've always loved this poem, and recently in the midst of personal losses, our national pall, and the dark of Winter here in the Northwest, I came back to it. I don't have much to say about the verse -it seems to offer a kind of hope, an obscure hint of transcendence without the bounds of religion or dogma. It is interesting to let Whitman's poem speak with Gerard Manley Hopkins's wonderful poem (Minstrels Poem #59 - To a Young Child): Spring and Fall: to a young child Gerard Manley Hopkins Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leaves, like the things of man, you With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? Ah! as the heart grows older It will come to such sights colder By and by, nor spare a sigh Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; And yet you will weep and know why. Now no matter, child, the name: Sorrow's springs are the same. Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed What heart heard of, ghost guessed: It is the blight man was born for, It is Margaret you mourn for. Another related poem, although somewhat lighter, is Wordsworth's. They make a nice trio, It is a beauteous evening, calm and free, The holy time is quiet as a Nun Breathless with adoration; the broad sun Is sinking down in its tranquility; The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea; Listen! the mighty Being is awake, And doth with his eternal motion make A sound like thunder - everlastingly. Dear child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here, If thou appear untouched by solemn thought, Thy nature is not therefore less divine: Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year; And worshipp'st at the Temple's inner shrine, God being with thee when we know it not. William Wordsworth, 1802 -David Minstrels Links: We've run several of Whitman's poems on Minstrels: Poem #54, "When I heard the Learn'd Astronomer" [biography included] Poem #157, "O Captain! My Captain!" Poem #246, "I Hear America Singing" Poem #268, "The Dalliance of the Eagles" Poem #445, "A Noiseless Patient Spider" Poem #498, "The World Below the Brine" Poem #508, "I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing" Poem #887, "Beat! Beat! Drums!"