Sunday, April 18, 2010

Poem of the Week: "Bucolic No. 1," by Maurice Manning

I'm not a very religious person; in fact, I'm not much religious at all. I have a kind of spiritual belief I like to keep to myself. But for some reason, a lot of my favorite books and poems are the ones that are centered around spiritual themes. Gilead, for one. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Rilke and even, to some extent, Neil Gaiman. I'm not sure why this is, exactly. Obviously, most of Western literature is informed by a Judeo-Christian ideology that is recognizable by a good chunk of the population. Even atheist writers use its imagery, its value-concepts, its language, sometimes without even realizing it. But occasionally, writers use religious themes to tell the entire story. That's the case with this Poem of the Week.

Among the small number of contemporary poets I closely follow, Maurice Manning is particularly important. He taught at my alma mater before I got there, and my advisor there is one of his closest friends. Therefore, I feel a need to keep tabs on what he's up to. Yet, he still managed to blow me away when his book of poems, Bucolics, came out a few years ago. Written from the perspective of a farmer talking to God (here, simply called "Boss"), Manning manages to fit in themes of love, forgiveness, nature, human existence, and doubt in less than a hundred pages of pastoral imagery. The poems are fast little prayers without puncuation or regular grammatical structure, which only adds to the urgency of their speaker's pleas.

Anyway, with the weather being this good to us lately up here in Northern Indiana, I was reminded of Manning's book. Here's the first poem from the collection.

Bucolic I, by Maurice Manning

boss of the grassy green
boss of the silver puddle
how happy is my lot
to tend the green to catch
the water when it rains
to do the doing Boss
the way the sun wakes up
the leaves they yawn a bit
each day a little more
for a tiny reason then
when the leaves outgrow their green
the wind unwinds them Boss
that's the way you go around
if you loose me like a leaf
if you unburden me
if I untaste the taste
of being bossed by you
don't boss me down to dust
may I become a flower
when my blossom Boss is full
boss a bee to my blue lips
that one drop of my bloom
would softly drop into
your sweetness once again
if I go round that way
I'll know the doing means
to you what it means to me
a word before all words

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