Poems for year's ending from Margaret Soltan, University Diaries, 12/31/10. More poems for the New Year from About.com Poetry
At the very end of Sunday Morning, Wallace Stevens describes us – well, describes "casual flocks of pigeons" symbolically us – flying in a downward direction at night:
And in the isolation of the sky,
At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wings.
Down we go to death; but on the other hand our wings are "extended" — our arms open out to "More time, more time," Wilbur writes.
And: As we sink down, we create beautiful, complex "undulations." Formal grace, and mystery, express themselves in the patterns of our existences.
Evening's one thing; evening on December 31 packs mortality-intimation awfully tightly. Stevens' poem after all is about morning, Sunday morning, the way Sunday morning can be dreadful if you're suspended somewhere between secularity and belief, if you'd like to believe in some form of soulful immortality. Wilbur has us at night, and the night of December 31 at that; so questions of our mortal fragility and the shape – make it the undulating shapeliness – of our lives – are perhaps even more urgent.
Both poets in any case want to capture the peculiar tenterhooks we're on – brightly appareled in our lives, we stretch our wings. Yet our true condition is, writes Wilbur, like that of leaves trapped in ice: "Graved on the dark in gestures of descent." We're "flutter[ing]" still, but down under the ice. We're gesturing still, but always in postures of descent. Downward to darkness on extended wings.
These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
The patterns, if patterns there are, in our frayed lives, express themselves only after we're dead. Or maybe something of a pattern occurs to us while we sit, in the isolation of the evening sky, prodded into contemplation by a sudden end of time.