Monday, July 27, 2009

"the uses / And uselessness of hope"

'Tis Yet to Come

by Willard Spiegelman

The night is clear; the air is full of fall.
The trees begin to think of changing shape,
Of losing leaves, of stripping down to bare
Essentials. No need to strut autumnal
Beauty when everyone already knows
What lies in store for all of us. The oaks,
The maples, lindens, and the rest have been
Through this before, and yet for you and me
Each season brings the sense of something new.
"Hope springs eternal," as the poet said.
It springs through summer, autumn too, and then
Hope falls eternal, failing every time
To bring whatever once we thought it could.
Our equilibrium demands that we
At least attempt to think that seasons come
And go with energetic forcefulness.
We can't believe in random change, in change
With nothing other than itself in mind.
Our god is teleology, our creed
The sense that progress moves in only one
Direction; good will triumph after all.

What pattern can we find in autumn's change?
From summer's green to stubble fields, Keats knew
That harvest takes us all in by the time
We have sown and reaped and gleaned—that harvest
Reaps the reapers too. We are taken in,
Feeling we might last another season
Or even several more, until we think,
Like autumn's bees, warm days will never cease.
Homer had it right: the generations
Of men are like the leaves that fly about
And then descend, obliterating, then
Obliterated. Triumph? What folly.

Day breaks, but night falls, like the autumn leaves
That mark our universal downward path.
Descent is our design as well as our
Direction. Now the drop in temperature,
The trees' divestiture of foliage,
Demand that we encapsulate ourselves
In woolens, sweaters, proper covering
For self-protection. All to no avail:
The warmth in which we reinvest ourselves
Each winter cannot keep us safe or sound
Or insulate us from the final fall
We've been foredoomed to take, if not in fall
Then in whatever season falls on us.

The trees don't really change their shapes. They just
Reveal to us their skeletons as they
Disrobe. They neither strut nor think of what
They have to do. We watch in disbelief,
And shock, and awe, and even something like
Gratitude for what they have to teach us
About the uses and the uselessness
Of hope. It springs; it falls; it comes and goes.
We ourselves do not. Having come, we go
And having gone, do not return. The spring
Will do its best to cover up our fall.
The day will hide our having been at all,
And our evaporation not be felt
Or known by those who spring up in our place.

We move, indeed, in one direction. This
Focuses our thoughts when all around we
See how nature wants to move in circles,
Contriving repetition. And, alert
To seasons and their unabating joys,
We finally give up and then give in
To linearity, knowing that we
Too shall pass. This grants us final comfort,
A clarity that brightens and redeems
Us as we fall into our final change.

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