All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea is not full—but whence poureth out Man?
—Rashi, Commentary on Ecclesiastes 1.7
The wood stooped at the edge of the pond,
and I bent down to glance beneath the glare.
I poked in a stick to stir up muck,
and see what might be lurking there—
a spotted newt, a minnow or two,
a yearling painted turtle that slipped
among the pondweed and was gone.
I smile to remember what I thought then—
that my mind was like that pond:
still, small, and fed by rain and unknown springs,
all clogged with dross accumulated
through the years, and rank with weeds.
I looked up and saw a buck step out of the woods.
He stopped, and sniffed the air.
He neither smelled nor saw me, it appeared,
but he paused, a bit, perhaps unsure,
then walked up to the water’s edge,
bent down to drink,
and I stood still and watched him.
As a child I sat upon this bank
and fished for bluegill and pumpkinseed,
dreaming of pike and largemouth bass
that lurked, so I fancied, beneath the lily pads.
Each spring the pond grew smaller.
I left it there and went about my days.
Years later, when I returned,
the image in my mind had overcome the pond.
I did not know the pond, I knew the image.
The image was not the pond. The image sang;
the pond stood still and was.
The pond reflected me—my eye,
fixed upon that vacancy, was stunned.
The mind dances upon the brain;
that dance sustains our love,
loss, plenitude, desire, despair.
The eye rebels at the sun’s reflection,
rejects that brute and lucid glare.
The mind cannot endure this blank face,
and broods upon the world it fills
with desperate significance.
The movements of the buck possessed a grace
like a harpsichord or ’cello playing Bach,
a resonant voice reading Greek hexameters,
yet less translatable than either one
because its form is alien to us,
wholly independent of the human mind;
yet somehow it is part of what we are.
The buck continued drinking with a royal air,
and then he raised his head, still unperturbed,
and fixed the darkness of his eye on me.
Relentlessly he stared,
as if the blank, unmeaning sea
he sensed in me had dared disturb
the stillness of his being,
and then he turned and walked into the trees.
by Eric T. Racher, from Five Functions Defined on Experience
Editor’s Note: This beautiful ode’s subtle meter and rhyme never overwhelm, allowing the reader to absorb the imagery and the message with ease and grace.
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