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.”

Ted Georgian was the best back-packing buddy I’ve ever had.  I’m the speaker in this poem; but he was there, and will vouch for its truth, I have no doubt.


Conversation with a Back-Packer


There is a path that slowly winds its way

Into the Hills.  In sudden switchbacks up

It rises from the Tallulah River basin

In North C’lina, and curls around along

The ridges until it crosses the bowl between

Big Scaly and Standing Indian; then, back down

It curves to join the Tallulah once again

In northern Georgia where the valley’s broader.

It was a road put in to bring logs out,

But that was many years ago.  Today

It seldom sees a truck, though I have met

The hoofprints of a burro coming down,

Plain where the ground was soft from last week’s rain

Or in white scars where the iron had struck the sparks

Out of the flinty rocks in steeper places.

The beeches have grown for thirty years back in,

Along with scattered stands of birch and hemlock,

And hulks of patriarchs the woodsmen left

As monuments to the forest’s former glory,

And the ever-present patches of rhododendron.

Except for the week-old marks of man-shod hooves

And the absence of older trees in the mist of the roadway,

There was little sign that men had come that way

Since the fathers of the beeches had been laid low.

Were it not for the shelter by the spring

With names and dates inscribed in candle-smoke

Upon the beams as a memorial,

You might have thought that place had been forgotten.


Between the peaks the land is almost flat

And opens in what you’d almost call a meadow,

And there the spring comes up beside the shelter

And almost forms a pond before it forms

The stream which forms Beech Creek, which almost gets

To be a river itself before the Tallulah

Deprives it of its name on down the valley.

There where the water is gentle the deer come

To drink and browse in the quiet of the morning

Before the sun can look in over the broad

Shoulder of Standing Indian, who stands guard

Above them there.  If you are there some morning

You might see elven maidens in the distance,

Appearing and disappearing between the tree trunks.

Look closer and they will resolve themselves

Into the deer’s white rumps as they go bounding

Across the ground.  And now has come the time

You must be very still and very quiet.

You’ll want the camera from your pack, of course,

But if you move to get it, however slowly,

The rumps will flash just once more and be gone.


Resist temptation.  Clutch your bowl of oatmeal

And feel the heat go slowly out of it

As it goes still more slowly out of the fire

And up with the smoke in a grey, spiraled column

That could be one of the trunks of the young birches

‘Round which the doe steps out into the clearing,

No more than twenty feet from where you sit.

She looks at you, and you are sure she sees you.

She stands and stares as motionless as you do.

Then, being satisfied you’re not a hunter

(It’s said they know the day the season opens,

And what guns are, and partly I believe it),

The graceful head goes down and starts to tear

Away the undergrowth.  No, “tear”  is wrong–

For later when you go there, you will find

The leaves and stems are clipped away as neatly

As you could do it with a pair of hedge-shears.

But now, this living thing that stands before you,

Its breath as white as yours in the cold air!

Up here she wanders and lives out her life

Within the ancient hills and infant forest,

Depending on no man to come and feed her.


She mates and bears her young and crops her leaves

And dances with her fellows in the forest

And warily sniffs the air for signs of hunters

(As she does now: see how the head comes up

With eyes and ears and nose all sharply pointed

Toward me at the slightest sound or movement

For a brief eternity of fierce attention

To see if I am still behaving myself.

Then, satisfied, the slender neck goes down

To feed again).  All this she does and more,

And would even if I’d never come to see her.


You’ve seen deer in the zoos, no doubt, so tame

That children feed them milk from baby bottles,

And beautiful they are, but not the same.

The camera could not have told the difference

If I had gotten to it.  Paint on canvas,

Fanciful words on paper about elf-maidens,

Suggest it merely.  You must go yourself

And catch you own glimpse of the mystery.

There is no guarantee that you’ll see anything,

But give up guarantees, and go.  Remember,

Grace comes to whom it will.  There’s no explaining

Just why it touches one and not another.

You must be very still and very quiet.

Then if the deer comes, take it as a gift

Unearned.  You are her uninvited guest;

You are a pilgrim and a stranger here:

The spring and meadow high between the mountains

Belong to her and to her kind forever.


Remember: for more poetry like this, go to 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

Stars Through the Clouds


About gandalf30598

Theologian, philosopher, poet, and critic; minister of the Gospel who makes his living by teaching medieval and renaissance literature; dual citizen of Narnia and Middle Earth.

Posted on April 13, 2015, in Donald Williams, Poetry and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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