Sunday, June 26, 2016

Wendell Berry: "To the Unseeable Animal"

Here's a poem celebrating an unusual animal.  I don't think I've ever read about one like this before.  

To the Unseeable Animal

My daughter: "I hope there's an animal
somewhere that nobody has ever seen.
And I hope nobody ever sees it."

Being, whose flesh dissolves
at our glance, knower
of the secret sums and measures,
you are always here,
dwelling in the oldest sycamores,
visiting the faithful springs
when they are dark and the foxes
have crept to their edges.
I have come upon pools
in streams, places overgrown
with the woods' shadow,
where I knew you had rested,
watching the little fish
hang still in the flow;
as I approached they seemed

particles of your clear mind
disappearing among the rocks.
I have waked deep in the woods
in the early morning, sure
that while I slept
your gaze passed over me.
That we do not know you
is your perfection
and our hope.  The darkness
keeps us near you.

-- Wendell Berry --
from Art and Nature, an Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry

A plea that there should always be mystery, the unknown, the unfathomable?

Does this help to make life bearable?


  1. for some reason this makes me think of Gene Wolfe; not because it was the last post, but(or maybe it was) because there was always something secretive, hidden about his work that was trying to make itself evident. "Being", underlying all things, seems to be the fundamental characteristic of the universe, as it appears to our very limited sensory equipment... but that, in it's total presence, must be the same as the opposite, nothingness... in Zen they have a word for it: mu(Japanese), or wu(chinese); it supposedly indicates that eternal and unfathomable absolute lack that underlies everything we think we know... the canvas on which the universe is painted, as it were... reference Indra's Net...

    Firefly hunting
    Has led me
    To fall in the creek

    natsume soseki

    1. Mudpuddle.

      Robert Frost has several poems that touch on the unknown behind consensual reality. One is "For Once, Then, Something."

      "Two Look at Two" is another, as are "A Passing Glimpse" and "The Most of It."

      And of course, one can't forget:

      The Secret Sits
      "We dance round in a ring and suppose,
      But the Secret sits in the middle and knows."

    2. tx for the leads... and the Secret...

  2. The omnipresent
    Being waits in my shadows
    For my salvation.

    1. tx. pointed and poignant...

    2. R.T.,

      Predator and Prey?

      The Hound of Heaven?

    3. The "omnipresent" in my subjective, personal, and functional view is simply an ineffable Higher Power, which I cannot further define and describe. I leave those definitions and descriptions to the religious zealots.

      Postscript: Is "Being" named concrete entity or abstraction in the poem? What is your view?

    4. R. T.,

      Perhaps a concrete entity and an abstraction are two views of the same being. An abstraction is a being whose flesh has dissolved in our minds.

  3. I really like this verse.. You raise a really good point about life needing a little mystery in it.

    I think that this is one of the reasons that folktales about elves and other mythical creatures are so popular. Perhaps it is the reason that stories of UFOs and Bigfoot are also popular these days.

    1. Brian Joseph,

      It seems we really need mystery and the unknown. The unknown may change, but the theme seems hardwired into the human psyche.