As an undergraduate studying literature back in the 1980s, I became fascinated by the poetry of William Carlos Williams. The incredible starkness, its iconoclastic nature, the startling beauty of its lines. Years ago I put Williams behind me, as I went about developing my own creativity and style.
But late that night I heard a strange sound when the crazymaking April winds finally calmed up in the dustbowl of the high desert: tiny, almost rhythmic notes emanating from the metallic vent above the hallway like a tin drum.
At first, I failed to recognize what was happening. “What’s that sound?” I asked Leigh, before answering my own question in one of life’s miniscule epiphanies.
Realizing it had been half a year—at least—since I’d heard that welcome tink-tink-tink, I opened the sliding door to the back patio. Sure enough, a soft atmospheric rain enveloped the nearby mesa and distant cañón.
Raindrops tapped against my outstretched face like unexpected blessings. My senses buzzed with the divine incense of rain-stirred sage on the humid breeze, mixing with the equally indescribable piñon smoke from the kiva, and I went to sleep with the certainty that the seasons, at long last, were changing … for the better.
The next morning I awoke to a new world, where globes of crystalline rain hung like microcosms from the bare naked silver of aspen limbs.
“This is the kind of rain that brings on spring,” I whispered, surprised by my own joy, as it seemed I could actually perceive, in a sort of time-lapse, winter loosing its grip on the moonscape it had made.
Then I remembered “By the Road to the Contagious Hospital,” a poem by Williams that constitutes a section of SPRING AND ALL which I once wrote a paper on. Here it is:
By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—
They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—
Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of
Entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken
I instantly felt, gazing out on my local environment in such inarguable transition, while contemplating the greater world experiencing its own massive transformation, that I was living this poem from my past.
Spring was, and is, happening to us—on the inner as much as the outer—as we feel ourselves entering a new world naked, uncertain of everything except that we’re entering it.
The process can be painful at times because it is, literally, one of birth—or rebirth.
Do we choose to contemplate the hardened, calcified paradigms of yesterday’s winter—the twiggy, dead stuff of our past?
Or do we embrace spring’s possibilities, even probabilities, as we push up through the crust (hard as that might be) with stark dignity and begin to awaken to a new life?
Perhaps we have no choice, and must learn to adapt to this unprecedented season of the world, and as best we can embrace the profound change that will soon be fully upon us.
Image: BIRTH OF A NEW SUN