Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”
Is this too long for a blog entry? I don’t care. Narrative poetry needs to be revived. Here’s a challenge: How long will it take you to figure out who this is about?
“I will tell you a story.
It is a true story, I did not make it up.
I learned it word for word from the way the words
Followed each other like first stars in the dark
When they came to me the first time, long ago.
I am still learning it.
And though it grows in the telling, it does it the way
A seed grows into a cedar, because the cedar
Was there in the seed all along, and had to grow.
You can find them tall and majestic in the fields,
Daring the lightning, or stooped, twisted, stunted,
Clutching at some impossible crack in a rock,
Living on soil they had to grind themselves,
But living to scatter their seed.
You are hearing the story from me, I am telling it now.
The seeds ride on the wind. If I should stop,
Sooner or later one would take root near you;
You find them growing in unexpected places.
I will tell you a story.”
“The story has no beginning, but we will start
With a cold night in the desert, the stars fierce,
A light wind stirring the sand, the hints of dawn
As yet too faint to challenge the blazing blackness.
There is no moon tonight, you must look closely.
You see that hill? It seems to be moving. Ha!
It is a tent collapsing. There are camels
Kneeling to be loaded. I hear bleating
Of sheep. And there, that man off to the side,
He seems oblivious to the whole commotion,
Standing motionless against the sky
As if in meditation. One of the servants
Approaches him now, but stops, patiently waiting.
That man must be the master here. He sees
The servant, sighs, and turns back toward the others.
I’ve lost him, but he must be mounted now;
There go the camels, lurching, one by one,
Rising clumsily into the sky.
And now they’re moving. What a host they’ve got!
How could we have missed those flocks? They’re gone.
Before the sun is up the wind will sweep
Away all signs that they were ever here.”
The boy stared deep in the fire. “You tell it as if
You were there when it happened, as if it were happening now.”
“And how do you know it isn’t?” The old man’s eyes
Glinted. He shoved a stick in deeper and made
The sparks fly up. “The story is still going on,
And you and I are in it. The man was traveling
With everything he owned, cattle, servants,
Their wives and children, deeper into the desert.
None of them knew where they were going or why.
His wife had asked him point-blank, and he had told her
That God had told him to go, and that was that.
Some of them even believed him!” The light of the fire
Showed a smile that wrinkled the old man’s cheeks
At the point. “Yes, there were some of them that believed him.”
The old man paused ‘til the boy thought he’d fallen asleep,
But then he shook his head. “It is not to be thought
That the man knew fully himself why the journey was ordered.
He thought it had something to do with becoming a nation.
The begetting of seed was central in it somehow,
And some great blessing for all mankind was at stake.
He thought it had something to do with the Curse and the Promise
Of Eden, the Seed that was coming to bruise the Serpent.”
“So that old story’s the same as this one?” “Yes.
There is only one story you know. But all he knew
Was that Jahweh had told him to leave Ur of the Chaldees
And God had promised a land and a seed and a blessing.”
This time it was the boy who stirred the fire.
“And did he ever find the land he was seeking?”
The old man laughed. “Well, we are here now, aren’t we?”
“And did he find the seed?” The old man’s hand
Descended gently on the boy’s young shoulder.
“The story goes no further for tonight.
We’d better get some sleep now, for tomorrow
We’ll come to the place appointed for sacrifice.
Tomorrow night we may know more of the story,
And if we do we’ll tell it to each other.”
The fire was watchful beside them through the night,
And the silent tears of Abraham were tiny
Pools of mud in the dust by the sleeping form
Of Isaac the promised seed. It was a cold
Night on the edge of the desert, the stars fierce,
The hints of dawn still faint, but growing stronger,
A light wind stirring the thicket where the ram
Had gotten himself entangled on the mountain.
Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.
Donald T. Williams, PhD