Monday, October 24, 2011

Loren Eiseley: We Are The Scriveners

We Are The Scriveners

I have not seen her in forty years.
She is old now, or lies in one of those midwestern
farm cemeteries where
no one remembers for long, because everyone
leaves for the cities. She was young, with freckles
and a wide generous mouth, a good girl to have
loved for a lifetime but the world
always chooses otherwise, or we ourselves
in blindness. I would not remember so clearly save that here
by a prairie slough sprinkled with the leaves of autumn
the drying mud on the shore shows the imprint
of southbound birds. I am too old to travel,
but I suddenly realize how a man in Sumer
half the world and millennia away
saw the same imprint and thought
there is a way of saying upon clay, fire-hardened,
there is a way of saying
a way of saying
"where are you?" across the centuries
a way of saying
"forgive me"
a way of saying
"We were young. I remember, and this, this clay
imprinted with the feet of birds
will reach you somewhere
if it take eternity to answer."
There were men
like this in Sumer, or who wept among the
autumn papyrus leaves in Egypt.
We are the scriveners who with pain
outlasted our bodies.

-- Loren Eiseley --
from Another Kind of Autumn

Writing is a way of talking with someone, not only separated by distance, but also by time. Sometimes there's no way of answering; the best one can do is listen and pass on the message to someone who has yet to come. The spirit of the poem reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Walt Whitman--"A noiseless patient spider," the last stanza of which follows. You can read the complete poem if you scroll down to the bottom.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to
connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

I think Eiseley and Whitman would understand each other.


  1. I do too, Fred. I'd never heard of the poetry of Loren Eiseley. Thanks for this post. A lovely poem. Sad but hopeful.

  2. Yvette,

    I had known of Loren Eiseley's prose works, but only recently have discovered his poetry.

    "Sad, but hopeful." Yes, and probably the most we can hope for.

  3. Fred, I love this poem. My favorite poem by him is The Little Treasures - have you read it?

    1. Anonymous,

      Not yet. I have it in the _Another Kind of Autumn_ collection, so I will take a look at it.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting.