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I am only beginning to know what I was taught
As a child about poetry, about life, about myself;
It takes a long time for words to become thought,
For thought, the slow burner, to burn through
Into life where it can scorch the palm of a hand,
When what was merely beautiful or strange
Suffers the metamorphosis, the blood-change,
Looks out of eyes or walks down the street,
All that was abstract become concrete,
Is part of you like an eyelash or your hair;
You say “Poetry” and mean you have been there.
You are just beginning to understand
What it is all about, the imaginary land,
Say, “I can’t possibly describe the weather.
It’s as if the sky burned, was all on fire,
Ecstasy that makes ash of bodily desire —
But all I have to show is a stone and a blue feather.”
My children, you with whom I have learned so much,
Do not turn back to these hours; go forward,
Look to the fertile days and years ahead
When all that meaning and its implication,
The full tone and the half-tone and the whisper
Will sound together and keep the mind awake,
As after hearing a difficult quartet
The theme comes clear and you listen again
Long after you had thought you heard;
So it is with the deep thought, the deep word.
Now we are able only to graph the flight;
For we never actually rose from the ground,
Imagine a moment when student and teacher
(Long after the day and the lesson are over)
Will soar together to the pure immortal air
And find Yeats, Hopkins, Eliot waiting there.
But you understand, it cannot happen yet.
It takes a long time to live what you learn:
I believe we shall meet again and show each other
These curious marvels, the stone and the blue feather;
And we shall meet again when your own children are
Taught what they will not know for many a year.
Collected Poems, 1930-1993
Long after you had thought you heard; / So it is with the deep thought, the deep word.
Yes. And here in cave-like depths of contemplative silence (all-beyond the initial verbosity) one catches momentary glimpses of invitation, like fireflies, eternally suspended in air: go forward, / look to the fertile days and years ahead.