Sunday, 14 September 2008

Poem in Conversation


Where the remote Bermudas ride
In th’ ocean’s bosom unespied,
From a small boat that rowed along,
The listening winds received this song:

“What should we do but sing His praise
That led us through the wat’ry maze
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
Where He the huge sea monster wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs;
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storms, and prelate’s rage.
He gave us this eternal spring
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowls to us in care,
On daily visits through the air;
He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night,
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows;
He makes the figs our mouths to meet,
And throws the melons at our feet;
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice;
With cedars, chosen by his hand
From Lebanon, he stores the land;
And makes the hollow seas that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on shore;
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The gospel’s pearl upon our coast,
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple, where to sound his name.
O let our voice his praise exalt
Till it arrive at heaven’s vault,
Which, thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Echo beyond the Mexique Bay.”

Thus sung they in the English boat
An holy and a cheerful note;
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.
--Andrew Marvell, 1621-1678

The Ellice Swamp

In Perth county’s weedy puddle
from sagging barns, Rostock, Kuhryville,
a fleet of orange tractors grunts an unsung melody
and the manured wind does not care:

“How do we deserve this soil,
pulled from the water field by field,
archipelagos edged by culverts,
turned back to swamp with rain?
Here the water tastes like coliform
and the cows’ feet are wet
in the hollows from which our grandparents
took more than Europe’s family farms could afford.
Do we deserve this eternal well
which bubbles up among our crop
and invites the geese to rest when headed south,
once our plows have passed?
Yes, the fruit takes to this ground,
yellow pears come with yellow jackets,
hard sour crabs hang like tempting cherries,
the blinding corn is green and tall,
in autumn scarlet fires the beans,
pumpkins defy the garden and spread across the lawn,
and apples grow enough to spoil on the branch
and intoxicate the sparrows.
Yes, the cedars, maples, willows grow
and ample old woods dot the marsh,
but it all has the musk of pigs, cows,
chickens, workhorses, and sweating earth;
in the muddy ground are contained
those who first divided land from the water table.
Moserville’s headstones and the town names
mark those buried under St. Paul’s Lutheran care.
Do we deserve this earth that swallows
histories, hours, evenings, lives,
that sits beneath the horizon
and lets us earn each day?”

From the combines this song is not heard
between the farmers’ jokes and complaints
and continues for all time.

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