U.S. Poet Laureate Reads Fall Poem, 'Ancient Of Days'
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
The turn of season into fall can be a reflective time - a time of passage and decline. Well, today, we turn to poetry to mark the seasonal shift with the new U.S. Poet Laureate Charles Wright. He's here in Washington to give his inaugural laureate reading at the Library of Congress. And he finds throughout his poems over the decades a running seasonal theme.
CHARLES WRIGHT: Though the seasons come into almost everything, because I'm trying to be specific when I'm writing about something - so I'll mention the season. I'll mention the month. I'll mention sometimes even the day. And since most of my books are kind of ongoing meditation - a poem, you know, that's been going on for about 40. If - God forbid - you should read through the entire thing, you'll see that it's very repetitive, because meditation is a repetitive thing. And these are mostly all meditations on my obsessions.
BLOCK: It's interesting though, because you see them very much all of a piece over the course of your career.
WRIGHT: Well, it turns out that way. I don't - I'm not sure I started out thinking that. But when I realized that was what was happening, I just, you know, continued - went with the flow of the seasons. But yeah, I guess I'm a - I guess I'm a seasonal poet. If you can recall, you can't really - I've never been able to call myself a poet.
BLOCK: Oh, really?
WRIGHT: No, I never have. Robert Frost said a couple of interesting things. And one of the things he said was a poet is what someone else calls you.
WRIGHT: And I think that's true.
BLOCK: Well, if you don't call yourself a poet, what do you...
WRIGHT: I say I write poems.
BLOCK: Uh-huh. But the thing - the being a poet is different.
WRIGHT: Well, yeah. That's - I mean, that's for people who're really great, like, you know, Keats and Pound and Williams and Stevens and Frost. But I don't know, I think it's just a quirk of mine. You know, I was - the way I was brought up, you know, not brought up to be something like a poet. You're supposed to be something else. (Laughter). More manly, I guess - though I feel plenty manly writing poems.
BLOCK: Well, I've been looking today at one of your poems that turns on this season. And we'd love you to read it for us. It's called "Ancient Of Days."
WRIGHT: "Ancient Of Days" - OK. (Reading)
There is a kind of sunlight, in early autumn, at sundown, that raises cloud reflections inches above the pond water,
that sends us packing into the chill evening to stand like Turnerâs blobbed figurines in a landscape we do not understand,
whatever and everything we know about it. Unworldly and all ours, it glides like the 19th century over us, up the near hill and into the glistening mittens of the same clouds now long gone from the worldâs pond. So long.
This is an old manâs poetry, written by someone whoâs spent his life looking for one truth. Sorry, pal, there isnât one, unless, of course, the trees and their blow-down relatives are part of it - unless the late-evening armada of clouds, spanished along the horizon are part of it - unless the diminishing pinprick of light stunned in the dark forest is part of it - unless, O my, whatever the eye makes out and sends us, on its rough-road trace to the heart, is part of it. Then maybe that bright vanishing might be.
BLOCK: I love that notion - this response to yourself as you're looking for truth. And you say sorry pal. There isn't one.
WRIGHT: Well, yeah.
WRIGHT: I still like to think there is one. But there isn't. Some people think there is and they found it. They - it's mostly a religious truth, of course.
BLOCK: But you do raise the notion in here that maybe there is truth and you're finding it in light and the armada of clouds that you're looking at.
WRIGHT: Well, it's in this world.
WRIGHT: That's the landscape of this world and the beauty of this world. And how it affects us may be the one truth that there is. Although there can be guidance and there can be, I would say examples from the other world, that might be, but the real thing is here.
BLOCK: Charles Wright, thanks so much.
WRIGHT: I've enjoyed it.
BLOCK: Charles Wright is Poet Laureate of the United States or simply as he'd tell you, a writer of poems. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.