Richard Wilbur was the editor of his college newspaper. He graduated from Amherst with a Bachelor of Arts in 1942 and enlisted in the United States army to fight in the Second Great War. He was being trained as a cryptographer, but because of his leftist views, federal investigators had him demoted to the infantry where he fought in the front lines. Wilbur fought in Italy, France and Germany; he was an observer of life, and he wrote down his reflections in his poetry. After the war Wilbur continued studying at Harvard and he graduated in 1947, the same year his first book, The Beautiful Changes, was released. During the 1950’s, Wilbur was regarded as one of America’s most important poets; in 1956 he won the Pulitzer Prize. In the sixties, the beat movement grew popular and Wilbur began to be criticized for being too formal and too clean. Though he lost his status of influence among young poets and scholars, Wilbur was not moved by these changes and he continued to write and publish poetry true to himself.

Wilbur’s poetry may not fall into despair or may not graphically describe the horrors of the world around him, yet to say that the reality of a depraved world is missing in his poetry, as many of his critics do, is failure to see the essence of his work. Wilbur does not ignore the trouble of the world, but rather he manages to come to terms with it. John Gery says “To read a poem by Wilbur…is to be pulled simultaneously toward anxiety and consolation, toward despair and hope, and ultimately to be deposited somewhere in between” (3). Wilbur is able to see a bigger picture being drawn, through his Christian faith he able to look beyond “the time’s fright” and hope for a means to an end.

This pulling “toward despair and hope” is revealed not only in Wilbur’s poems influenced by war, but it can also be seen in many of his simple nature poems. In fact, some of his poetry reveals a deep relationship between the horror of war and the beauty of nature. It is as if they are somehow intertwined and grown into each other like two different vines forming a seemingly whole plant. We can see this relationship most clearly in three of Wilbur’s poems. “First Snow in Alsace” was published in Wilbur’s first book only a few years after the end of World War II. It is a reflection of a moment in time from his experience in the war. “The Lilacs” and “On the Marginal Way”, both nature poems, were published in 1969 in Walking to Sleep. They are the first and second poems in the book and appear in a section subtitled In the Field, a title which brings together a sense of war and a sense of nature at the same time. These later poems were published during the height of the Viet Nam conflict of the United States.

“First Snow in Alsace” is a simple, straightforward poem. It is about the first snowfall of the season in Alsace, France, one of the places Wilbur fought at in the war. It is written in three-line stanzas; the first and third lines rhyming, and the second line creates the rhyme for the next stanza’s first and third rhyme and so on for eight stanza’s until the ninth, which is only one line that rhymes with the second line in the eighth stanza. The lines are all iambic tetrameter, with the exception of the second line in the fourth stanza and its rhyming first and third lines of the fifth stanza, which have an extra syllable at the end. These extra syllables occur right in the middle of the poem and these three lines are the most revealing of the imagery of a war torn town. The poem itself carries this pattern of eight stanzas with an extra line at the end, but the extra line does not emphasize the war, like the extra syllables do, rather it emphasizes the nature aspect of the poem. 

Judging by the title and the first stanza, we have very peaceful and poetic imagery of a simple snowfall; “The snow came down like moths / Burned on the moon.” We are pulled in to the poem with the beautiful image of giant white snowflakes falling at night, but underneath there is the image of greed causing destruction. We are reminded of the cliché,  “like a moth drawn to a flame” and the flame destroys the moths. The snow “fell till dawn / Covered the town with simple cloths.” A snow covering can make almost anything look beautiful and clean, but it is only a simple covering, a cloth hiding the dirt underneath. What we have is a poem of nature encroaching on the devastation of war.

The second stanza openly introduces the war. We have the images of “entangled railings, crevassed lawn…scattered and deranged” by “shell bursts.” Yet the “absolute snow” continues to fall upon “estranged…houses…as if it did not know they’d changed” right to the end of the poem. “Absolute snow” implies the purity of the new snow, as well as its permanence. Snow will continue to fall, the seasons will continue to change, nature will persist, no matter what the tangles of man are that it covers.

In the fourth stanza the snow covers and makes “ration stacks” and “ammunition piles” beautiful. In the fifth stanza, with “You think,” The poet brings us right into his mind and we recall with him the casualties of war; “…snowfall fills the eyes / Of soldiers dead a little while.” This is the last of the three lines with an extra syllable, Wilbur is emphasizing that “a little while” before this snowfall a bloody, violent battle has taken the life of men. The snowfall “fills the eyes” as if they could see, but also, since they have died suddenly their eyes are left uncovered by their lids and the snow is filling up their still open eyes. Nature buries the dead left on the field.

In the sixth stanza, “Persons and persons in disguise…Trade glances quick with shared surprise.” In wartime we have people who are free to walk about and those who need to be disguised. As they walk in “the new air white and fine,” they are able to share, however brief, a moment together. The seventh stanza is the most “benign.” It leaves behind the image of war and speaks only of “children’s windows” where “winter shines the most, / And frost makes marvelous designs.” The poet has taken us from a typical nature poem into the despair of a war and then leads us to the hope and joy that children possess.

In the eighth stanza Wilbur reveals himself as “The night guard coming from his post.” He is “Ten first-snows back in thought.” He is remembering when he was a child and he is able to remember his childlike hope which “warms him with a boyish boast:” and the poem ends with the simple statement, “He was the first to see the snow.” In the midst of a war in which a madman was leading a people gone mad from despair to try and take over the world, a first snow of the season inspires Wilbur to find a hope in mankind. Nature will continue its seasonal progress, just as children will continue to be born. New snow, pure and clean, will fall and cover the earth, just as new children, pure and full of hope, will be born and cover the Earth. 

“First Snow in Alsace” is a foreshadowing of Wilbur’s work published more than twenty years later. In the 1960’s Wilbur was criticized for more than his use of form and the simplicity of his poetry. As soldiers continued to go to Viet Nam, more and more anti-war groups began to rise up. Robert Bly headed a “poets against the war” group which was very vocal and very critical towards anyone who did not speak out against the war. Wilbur began to be highly criticized in the poetry press because of his silence about the war. Though he never openly spoke out against or in support of the war, Wilbur’s work in 1969 may have been a response to that criticism, at the least it shows that the war was certainly on his mind. Once again we have poetry that expresses the relationship between war and nature.

Wilbur begins his book, Walking to Sleep, with “The Lilacs.” In response to the call for him to become more contemporary, Wilbur decides instead to reach back to a form of poetry from Old English. “The Lilacs” is written in alliterative-stress Anglo-Saxon verse which uses lines with four stresses. The first two stresses and one of the last two stresses need to be alliterated. Unlike “First Snow in Alsace,” this nature poem, about a group of lilacs’ first bloom, never explicitly speaks about war, yet the metaphor of war is all over it. It is as if war and nature were fused together as one.

The poem begins “Those laden lilacs at lawn’s end.” From the first lines our flowers are burdened as the word “laden” implies. Yet we could also use the word loaded, which implies ammunition; a loaded gun. As the poem continues, the lilacs “Came stark and spindly, and in staggered file, / Like walking wounded from the dead of winter.” Here we see the lilacs coming up from the ground at the end of the winter season, but the language more appropriately speaks about soldiers marching back from battle; as “in staggered file, like walking wounded.”

The poem continues to speak of these flowers’ struggle for life as they “waken in brusque weather” in violent terms. The lilacs waken “To rot and rootbreak, to ripped branches,” they “shiver as the memory swept them / Of night and numbness and the taste of nothing.” The flowers, in hibernation all winter, remember nothing and feel nothing as they waken in the midst of struggle. Soldiers in the “rot and rootbreak” of war, whose experience of life and limb being “ripped” need to become numb and feel nothing for a time in order to survive “the dead of winter” and the despair “of night.”

The lilacs waken “Out of present pain and from past terror.” The soldiers begin to wake from their “present pain;” physical and emotional, and from the “past terror” of the battle behind them. The lilacs are now “bullet-shaped buds [which] came quick and bursting, / As if they aimed to be open with us!” Once again we have the imagery of ammunition; “bullet-shaped, bursting, aimed.” However, these buds are not aiming to shoot us, but simply “to be open with us.” The language provokes war imagery, but also speaks of the lilacs or soldiers wanting to convey some information to us, “as if they intended to be honest with us.”

This line occurs right in the center of the poem, Wilbur uses assonance instead of alliteration and the mood of the poem changes here from a violent battlefield to a peaceful hospital of healing and hope. The second half of the poem speaks of the healing that occurs after warfare. Right before the lilacs are about to speak, “the sun suddenly settled about them, / And green and grateful the lilacs grew, / Healed in that hush, that hospital quiet.” After a long winter, flowers inevitably bloom; after the war, healing inevitably comes to the world.

Over the next few lines the lilacs bloom but they “Have kept their counsel, conveying nothing / Of their mortal message.” These lilacs, or these soldiers, healed from their experience, prefer to keep silent about what they know of mortality. Richard Wilbur, a war veteran, prefers to remain silent about the war his country is now involved in. The poem continues, however, and ends with “unless one should measure / The depth and dumbness of death’s kingdom / By the pure power of this perfume.”

What is the mortal message? Flowers bloom and die, youth passes away, beauty fades and death comes to us all. Yes, but there is something more. The dead are silent, they cannot speak; “the…dumbness of death’s kingdom” but if “one should measure the depth…of death’s kingdom by the pure power of this perfume” that one would learn that the power of life is through the passion by which it is lived, and the more powerful the perfume, the longer the scent lingers. The lilacs mortal message is to live life to its fullest because it is frail and subject to trial and war. Maybe, even that war is inevitable in a world of “brusque weather.”

But the lilacs are also a testimony that life carries on, we move through the winter of war and if we survive the sun comes out and we are “healed in…that hospital quiet.” The lilacs leave us the message that after a long cold winter, some will survive and break through the frozen ground, and bloom again and leave with us “the pure power of [their] perfume.”  The scent, and hope, of life is more powerful than the silence, and despair, of death.

The next poem in Wilbur’s 1969 book is one of war encroaching on nature; yet along with the poets darkening thoughts in this work, he is once again able to find hope for some kind of meaning in it all. “On the Marginal Way” begins as a typical landscape poem, Wilbur is actually walking on the Marginal Way, a physical path along the shores of Maine. Yet the title also suggests to us that Wilbur is looking at life from a different perspective, from on the edge. Wilbur suggests in “The Lilacs” that he, as a war veteran, may choose to remain silent and let his life and work speak for him. It is possible here that Wilbur is making the statement that he is able to see “the time’s fright” of the current war from a different perspective; through his veteran status and through his faith. As Wilbur walks along the coast and takes delight in this “perfect day,” thoughts of war darken the experience, but Wilbur again returns to a place of hope.

Wilbur once again conforms to formal convention. The poem is made up of eleven stanzas, each stanza has six lines with an a-b-a-b-c-c rhyme scheme. The first line of each stanza is written in trimeter, the third in tetrameter and the remaining lines are all iambic pentameter.

The poem begins with “Another cove of shale,” as if to say this is simply another poem about a beach, “But the beach here is rubbled with strange rock / That is sleek, fluent, and taffy-pale.” The beach here is filled with rocks which in Wilbur’s eyes take the shape of various kinds of people throughout the poem. For the rest of the first stanza and the second, Wilbur is reminded of an amusing experience of George Borrow, a minister and travel writer who received a bit of a shock. While he was on the beaches of Spain, he observed a large group of women sunbathing in the nude. These rocks take the form of “A hundred women basking in the raw.” Wilbur thinks that the women, “–a too abundant view…must have looked like this,” like the rocks strewn on the shore. Wilbur amusingly imagines that these women “Could not have waked desire in Borrow’s eye.”

But at the third stanza the mood darkens, as does the sky, and Wilbur sees these rocks in a different light. It begins, “Has the light altered now? / The rocks flush rose and have the melting shape / Of bodies fallen anyhow.” In the third and forth stanzas the rocks become a vivid vision of bodies in a Gericault painting “of blood and rape, / Some desert town despoiled, some caravan / Pillaged, its people murdered to a man.” and the ocean waves’ spray turns into the dust from the murderers galloping away and making their escape.

Before the fourth stanza ends, the weather shifts again and Wilbur moves out of the realm of images from art into visions from his own experiences. He states “But now the vision of a colder lust / Clears, as the wind goes chill and all is greyed / By a swift cloud that drags a carrion shade.” Clouds move in and the sky becomes darker still, everything becomes cold and this group of rocks turned bodies, turned into bodies murdered, now becomes bodies which are rotten and putrid.

The fifth stanza takes Wilbur back to his own experience in World War II:

               If these are bodies still,
     Theirs is a death too dead to look asleep,
          Like that of Auschwitz’s final kill,
     Poor slaty flesh abandoned in a heap
     And then, like sea-rocks buried by a wave,
     Bulldozed at last into a common grave.

The beautiful sight of waves bursting and flowing upon a rocky shore, becomes for Wilbur the vivid image of mankind’s most heinous of crimes; the Holocaust.

In the sixth stanza we find out what is really troubling Wilbur. He begins with, “It is not tricks of sense / But the time’s fright within me which distracts / Least fancies into violence.” So it is really not the changing light which made these haunting and violent images from such beautiful scenery, it is not a trick of the eyes, but rather it is “the time’s fright.” It is the conflict of the Viet Nam War and the conflict of his country becoming divided over that war which turns his thoughts violent. But Wilbur does not linger in despair, instead his “thought[s] take cover in the facts” as Wilbur looks upon “the bed of layered rock two miles above [his] head.” He sees the grandeur of the cliff rising up on one side and Wilbur thinks back to the creation of the world. He spends the next two and a half stanzas describing the world’s creation and stating “the facts.”

The seventh stanza is a vivid and even violent description of the making of the Earth. He thinks of how the cliff beside him broke through the Earth’s skin, fueled by fire and magma. The description continues into the eighth stanza as the magma is “Welled up, as here, to fill / With tumbled rock meal, stone-fume, lithic spray, / The dike’s brief chasm and the sill.” Wilbur is thinking about the violence that first formed the beautiful landscape he now views. The next lines moving in to the ninth stanza brings Wilbur to creation; “Weathered until the sixth and human day.” In the creation story of Genesis, man was formed on the sixth day. Yet it is “By sanding winds and water, scuffed and brayed / By glacier’s heel, these forms were made” (italics mine). It took centuries of erosion to form the rocks before Wilbur “That now recline and burn / Comely as Eve and Adam.” Adam was formed out the ground and these rocks which were formed by the elements remind Wilbur of his Creator; Wilbur is able to “take cover in the facts” that we are created beings, and that violence is sometimes part of what the Creator uses to shape and form the beautiful images that we become.

As Wilbur reflects on these “facts” the sea is once again “transfigured by the sun’s return” and Wilbur is back on a typical beach where “three girls lie golden.” But the war has not left his mind. Wilbur understands that “high above the shore / On someone’s porch, spread wings of newspaper flap / The tidings of some dirty war.” We cannot ignore the times that we live in, we are forced to deal with them, even when “It is a perfect day,” that day will be tainted by “the time’s fright.” But on that day we are not forced to fall into despair for still “the waters clap / Their hands and kindle, and the gull in flight / Loses himself at moments, white in white.” The world is still full of beauty and there is still room for hope as Wilbur explains in the next and final stanza of the poem.

In this last stanza Wilbur explains how he is able to live in such troubled times and still be at peace. Just like the waves are breaking on the shore “like a breaking thought / Joy for a moment floods into the mind,” and this joy is “Blurting that all things shall be brought / To the full and stature of their kind.” Wilbur has confidence that all things will be worked out in the end, that the purpose and reason for every struggle will be revealed. These preceding lines are reminiscent of the scripture; “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, NIV). Though Wilbur never uses his poetry to preach, his faith, no doubt, permeates through it. “All things shall be brought / To the full state and stature of their kind, / By what has found the manhood of this stone.” All things will be brought to fullness by the founder, the one who shapes the stones which are before Wilbur to look like people. In other words, the founder is the Creator; God.

The last line of the poem is even a prayer; “May that vast motive wash and wash our own.” Wilbur’s revelation of his confidence that he can trust his Creator leads to the breaking moment when joy floods his mind. Trust and joy provoke faith and hope. “That vast motive” is confidence and joy in our Creator. “May that vast motive wash and wash;” may that great hope in God break in and consistently wash our thoughts as the waves consistently wash over the shore. “May that vast motive wash and wash our own [motives];” May everything we do be done through the motive of a hope and a confidence which brings joy, in our Creator. May God, himself, be the motivator of our actions.

It is ironic that Wilbur is criticized for not being vocal about the war and for his poetry being too straightforward with its meaning being right on the surface, because as we take a look underneath the surface of his work, we discover Wilbur’s subtle views on war. Wilbur’s experiences in World War II seem to influence much of his work. He even uses military terms in describing the writing of poetry; Wilbur states, “every poem begins, or ought to, by a disorderly retreat to defensible positions. Or, rather, by a perception of the hopelessness of direct combat, and a resort to the warfare of spells, effigies, and prophecies” (from Gery 3, italics mine). In this statement Wilbur affirms that his work often begins with a sense of hopelessness, or despair, and must resort to the use of things supernatural to be resolved. Wilbur’s path to the supernatural is often through nature. Wilbur never vocally speaks out against war because war is a part of nature as much as mankind is. War and nature truly are intertwined together, and Richard Wilbur is able to come to terms with “the time’s fright” of any time because he has a confidence in “what has found” the Earth and mankind and even time itself.

Peter L Richardson
20th Century Poets
12/9/2003

Gery, John. Ways of Nothingness: Nuclear Annihilation and Contemporary American Poetry. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1996.

Modern American Poetry “Richard Wilbur: Biography and General Commentary” http://www.english.uniuc.edu/maps/poets/s_z/wilbur/bio.htm p.1-4. 12/4/03.

First Snow in Alsace
-Richard Wilbur

The snow came down last night like moths
Burned on the moon; it fell till dawn,
Covered the town with simple cloths.

Absolute snow lies rumpled on
What shellbursts scattered and deranged,
Entangled railings, crevassed lawn.

As if it did not know they’d changed,
Snow smoothly clasps the roofs of homes
Fear-gutted, trustless and estranged.

The ration stacks are milky domes;
Across the ammunition pile
The snow has climbed in sparkling combs.

You think: beyond the town a mile
Or two, this snowfall fills the eyes
Of soldiers dead a little while.

Persons and persons in disguise,
Walking the new air white and fine,
Trade glances quick with shared surprise.

At children’s windows, heaped, benign,
As always, winter shines the most,
And frost makes marvelous designs.

The night guard coming from his post,
Ten first-snows back in thought, walks slow
And warms him with a boyish boast:

He was the first to see the snow.

The Lilacs
-Richard Wilbur

Those laden lilacs
                         at the lawn’s end
Came stark, spindly,
                         and in staggered file,
Like walking wounded
                         from the dead of winter.
We watched them waken
                         in the brusque weather
To rot and rootbreak,
                         to ripped branches,
And I saw them shiver
                        as the memory swept them
Of night and numbness
                        and the taste of nothing.
Out of present pain
                        and from past terror
Their bullet-shaped buds
                        came quick and bursting,
As if they aimed
                        to be open with us!
But the sun suddenly
                        settled about them,
And green and grateful
                        the lilacs grew,
Healed in that hush,
                        that hospital quiet.
These lacquered leaves
                        where the light paddles
And the big blooms
                        buzzing among them
Have kept their counsel,
                       conveying nothing
Of their mortal message,
                       unless one should measure
The depth and dumbness
                       of death’s kingdom
By the pure power
                       of this perfume.

On the Marginal Way
-Richard Wilbur

          Another cove of shale,
But the beach here is rubbled with strange rock
     That is sleek, fluent, and taffy-pale.
I stare, reminded with a little shock
How, by a shore in Spain, George Borrow saw
A hundred women basking in the raw.

          They must have looked like this,
That catch of bodies on the sand, that strew
     Of rondure, crease, and orifice,
Lap, flank, and knee–a too abundant view
Which, thought he’d had the lenses of a fly,
Could not have waked desire in Borrow’s eye.

          Has the light altered now?
The rocks flush rose and have the melting shape
     Of bodies fallen anyhow.
It is a Gericault of blood and rape,
Some desert town despoiled, some caravan
Pillaged, its people murdered to a man,

          And those who murdered them
Galloping off, a rumpling line of dust
     Like a wave’s white, withdrawing hem.
But now the vision of a colder lust
Clears, as the wind goes chill and all is greyed
By a swift cloud that drags a carrion shade.

          If these are bodies still,
Theirs is a death too dead to look asleep,
     Like that of Auschwitz’ final kill,
Poor slaty flesh abandoned in a heap
And then, like sea-rocks buried by a wave,
Bulldozed at last into a common grave.

          It is not tricks of sense
But the time’s fright within me which distracts
     Least fancies into violence
And makes my thought take cover in the facts,
As now it does, remembering how the bed
Of layered rock two miles above my head

          Hove ages up and broke
Soundless asunder, when the shrinking skin
     Of Earth, blacked out by steam and smoke,
Gave passage to the muddled fire within,
Its crannies flooding with a sweat of quartz,
And lathered magmas out of deep retorts

          Welled up, as here, to fill
With tumbled rockmeal, stone-fume, lithic spray,
     The dike’s brief chasm and the sill.
Weathered until the sixth and human day
By sanding winds and water, scuffed and brayed
By the slow glacier’s heel, these forms were made

          That now recline and burn
Comely as Eve and Adam, near a sea
     Transfigured by the sun’s return.
And now three girls lie golden in the lee
Of a great arm or thigh, and are as young
As the bright boulders that they lie among.

          Though, high above the shore
On someone’s porch, spread wings of newsprint flap
     The tidings of some dirty war,
It is a perfect day: the waters clap
Their hands and kindle, and the gull in flight
Loses himself at moments, white in white,

          And like a breaking thought
Joy for a moment floods into the mind,
     Blurting that all things shall be brought
To the full state and stature of their kind,
By what has found the manhood of this stone.
May that vast motive wash and wash our own.

Lazarus: Come Out.

December 31, 2010

1 Corinthians 15:55

White Clay Creek Preserve DE-PA Line 12-28-10, PLR

We poets like to think of winter as Death:
     the long, dark, frozen wasteland.
But if you hold her cold and dry breast in close,
     you can feel the Mother breath.
Like a great grizzly bear in hibernation,
     the earth breaths Life in and out.

Death is merely a fugitive on the run…

Peter L Richardson
12/11/2010

White Clay Creek Bridge 12-28-10, PLR

(title dedicated to the Alliteration King: Neil Uniacke) 

Pocomoke River, January 2009

“Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
  Thanks to its tenderness, its joys and fears,
  To me the meanest flower that blows can give
  Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.”
          -William Wordsworth
               from “Ode, Intimations of Immorality”

A Gentle Whisper
          (I Kings 19:11-13)

I do not think we were meant to exist
          inside so much noise.
What would life be without the distraction
          of so many toys?
This solitude, this silence –though lost to our blood—
          it is deep in our spirit,
And though we strive and we strain for understanding,
          it’s only in the quiet
          that we can hear it.

Peter L Richardson
1/2/2009

MIDNIGHT PATHS: The Lover

If I knew my way around these lost parts,
I would go much deeper into the dark.
Oh, the deceitful, mysterious heart!
          What a man longs for: the beauty, the art.

“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible.
  God and the devil are fighting there:
  the battlefield is the heart of man.”
          -Fyodor Dostoevsky

Peter L Richardson
1/2/2009

“Wild at Heart”

How I long to know the outdoors…
To make fire for warmth and for food,
To make knots for shelter and for protection,
To conquer the land with a map and a compass,
To climb up the mountain and canoe down the river,
To see the stars in all their splendor as God intended,
To feel the good solid ache of my bones
     at the end of the day
          around a fire with good friends,
               with my sons,
                    with my lover.

How I long for this!
To see the glory and the fury of the mountainside,
To rest under cool pines,
To swim naked in gentle pools,
To know the fierce beauty of the desert.
          This is what freedom feels like to me…

Peter L Richardson
1/3/2009

Oh, the wonder,
          the splendor of youth!
Collecting shells in a bucket.
Would that we were able to see
          all God’s treasures he brings to us
While we stand on the shores
          of eternity.

Peter L Richardson
1/4/2009

“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” I Kings 19:11-13.

“Let’s swim to the moon; un huh, let’s climb through the tide. Surrender to the waiting worlds that lap against our side…” -James Douglas Morrison

Suspension,     PLR

Suspension, PLR

 We are all lost, alone,
     dragged away by
          the undertow.
Caught in the chaotic
          flow
     of the struggle to
          survive,
     to master the
          swim.
I plunged in…

I begin anew…
     longing to be held
          by You
     again.

Peter L Richardson
2002

 

At the beach with God

How can we dare to know you?

Your fleeting thoughts
     deeper than the ocean.
Your imagination beats our existence,
     the rhythmic waves
     crushing our bones into sand.
All your hidden treasures, your wisdom,
     we only receive what’s washed ashore.
If we dare to swim past the breakers
     surely we are taken away by your currents,
     drowning in your expanse.
Even the pride of our creations,
     gifts from you in the first place,
          knowledge and understanding
          passed down
          and built upon,
     only last so long
     before returning to land.
Even with all the reason you’ve allowed,
     we’ll still never reach bottom,
     never understand the shifting sands,
     never understand the full expanse,
     never master the Leviathan on our own…

And yet, you have named us sons and daughters,
     you have made yourself our friend.

Peter L Richardson
2000

joyful

your joy
bubbles,
pops,
fizzles,
and spits
in my face
with the laughter
of amazing grace.
how wonderful
you are!
your smile
tickling my heart.
how can it be?
in deep darkness
your light
gleams through me!
butt-naked-free,
laughter dances in me;
like a child
running wild,
my heart all a’burst,
my soul in thirst,
living water
bubbles,
pops,
fizzles,
spatters
and spits
in my face!
such joy found
in amazing grace.

Peter L Richardson
2001

The Picture of My Love

The picture of my love—so small tonight—
A star, a tiny pinpoint of light
Over the earth so cold and alone
In a universe built on flesh and bone.
The moon guides all sacrificial rite
And secures our paths, with his deceiving light,
Up the mountains that we built so high
To reach the heavens far in the sky.
But rivers run down and far too deep
To pump hot blood into our cold feet;
Which grew roots, held strong our foundations,
That were ripped out at the storms slightest sensations.
Oh! How the lightning danced and the thunder roared,
But the rain never stopped; on and on she poured,
And fed the river that ran through the land,
And broke through the dirt till the dirt turned to sand,
And reached the ocean, full of power and might—
A strong steady rhythm with depths deeper than night.
With experience from the beginning, its fingers could reach,
Touch, and caress all lands lapping up the beach,
Or capture and crush all mountainsides down;
For the ocean holds freedom, by no chains is it bound.

The picture of my love—so strong today—
A sun giving life in death’s decay.

Peter L Richardson
1991

beyond

I long to see the sun set over the ocean.
The ocean is eternity;
The sunset is the end,
And soon after, you can’t see the horizon.
Midnight blurs the lines of distinction,
And the earth and the sky are endless.

Peter L Richardson
2000

The Big Blue

Mouth full of salt,
Skin caked and cracked.
Laid out in my world,
Spinned in a swirl.
Endless blue,
Endless black.
The sky roared,
Shouted and sparked;
Put the mountains in motion
More than a few…
But I’ve been spared for starvation.
Still, I sense
Familiar scents;
Distant, yet distinct;
Above, a dove
Holds an olive shoot.

Peter L Richardson
2001

High Skies @ Sunset

          fluff
mystical, magical, marshmallow fluff
          tinted golden-brown
in the magnificent golden
          fire
brilliant, buoyant light-stream of flame
          blinking my vision,
dancing and drifting up into
          flight
blue up, blue down, blue all around,
          forging on forever with
no boundaries, just endless visions
          of fluff
                    and fire
                              in flight

Peter L Richardson
2004

RESOUNDING SEA

I stand a lone silhouette in the black sky,
The starry heavens overcoming me.
Sands bury my toes in the grains of time,
Paralyzed on the edge of reality.

     Deep calls to deep
          in your ocean’s roar.
     And all your waves, all your breakers
          sweep over me;
     Deep calls to deep.

I stand in awe of just your creation,
Yet out of it your voice calls to me.
And spells out secrets of the Rising Son,
Destroying my concepts of reality.

     Deep calls to deep
          in your ocean’s roar.
     And all your waves, all your breakers
          sweep over me;
     Deep calls to deep.

There’s a love that’s longing me to take a swim…
There’s a Spirit beckoning me to follow him…
There’s a Father that keeps me continually under his eye…
There’s a Savior sacrificed for whom I’m willing to die!

Here I’ll kneel at your great white throne,
Your holy presence overcoming me.
An adopted son, inheritance of love I own,
I am yours; I am free completely.

     Deep calls to deep
          in your ocean’s roar.
     And all your waves, all your breakers
          sweep over me;
     Deep calls to deep.

Peter L Richardson
1999

“Lord the great deep lifts up, the deep lifts up its voice; the deep lifts up its crashing waves. Mightier than the sound of great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea, mighty on high is the Lord.” -Psalm 93

Hiking in Autumn

November 3, 2009

Peace. The only sound that surrounds me is the chorus of crickets and katydids and the nervous chatter of the creek as it pushes water up, over and around broken and disassembled stone. Lifting myself up on a stone perch, I almost slip as my fingers find the soft touch of moss hard to grip. I feel the cold stone through my jeans as I rest on the ancient foundation of a bridge with no road and no destination to boast of. Time has worn away his pride and the only paths to this place are traveled on foot. If you wish to cross this creek, you must learn to become a master rock-hopper.

The chill grows deeper in the air as the day pushes its way nearer to the close. The blue sky is fading to gray, pushing us ever nearer to the end of the year, but the foliage is still on fire in this turning of the seasons. Red, yellow and orange decorate trees once so deep green, once so fresh and innocent. Today the air is still and the leaves cling to their lives. Plenty have fallen to the ground; however, and they decorate with color the ferns and ivy still green against the dark brown earth. This is the time in between, the transition of seasons where one still longs for the glory of the sun but is fully aware that the harvest must be gathered up and stored for the long darkness. It won’t be long before the fire burns the leaves to brown and the mighty trees look just like sticks gathered about a wasteland, dead and sterile. But death here is just a trick. It won’t be long after the darkness that new buds appear and the gold and the green spring forth anew!

Still, the chill here and now reminds me of where I am presently. The smell of the earth and the must of the leaves is so great I can taste it in my mouth. Into my pores it invades my senses. There is no faint fragrance of flowers; the air is crisp, but the essence of a rain soaked earth rises up to my nostrils and into my mouth. New life is always ahead, but we must travel the path of the seasons in the order they come. The waters are streaming beneath me; the flow of the current shiny and then dark as the reflection moving in and out of the light and shadows reminds me of how fluid time is. There is no stopping it. There is no pause button out here. The light, pasty foam gathering on the running waters give testimony that you can circle around once or twice, but you must keep moving on.

I like to go deep in the woods. Far, far away to a place no cell phone tower could ever reach me. It is only here in Nature’s “silence” that my racing thoughts of worry and dismay can be drowned out. It is only on old paths that lead into nowhere that I can find who I am and where I stand. This is where I find my peace. There is a Spirit in nature that we can connect with. Our natives knew him well and had a deep respect for him. They knew how well connected everything really is. They paused and listened for the stillness. They listened in the stillness. They could hear the voice of the Great Spirit and they drank deep the cup of his wisdom. As we walk into the depths of creation, we meet our Creator. It is through him the stillness comes, and in the stillness, our rest, and in our rest new life is found. New energy and new ideas is found to conquer crowded agendas and to bring healing to hurting hearts. Nature cheats death every year. She is forever connected with her Creator. We can share in the same miracle. No matter what season we are in, we must delve deep into the wilderness, take in the glory and the beauty, and we can emerge with confidence that new life is just around the bend.

Peter L Richardson
10/21/09

“Hiking the PA Grand Canyon”

I tried to take a photo,
          but I couldn’t capture it,
The majesty too great for the frame,
          the detail too small to focus on.

I thought I’d paint a picture,
          but memory’s not worth the glory,
And colors I can create simply
          can’t capture this creation scene.

I decided to write a poem,
          but words simply don’t describe
          the imagery I see:
Rolling mountain hills cut deep and dark
In the valley by a bright blue river sparkling
In the sun with banks damasked with pastel
Purple and white against green grass and
Trees swaying in the breeze, the warm strong
Breeze that takes my breath away…

My travel companion sighs and says,
     “A picture is worth a thousand words,
               but being there is worth a thousand pictures…”

Words cannot describe your glory, and
          this is just the basest of your art.
The books you write upon our hearts,
          how you write beauty into our soul,
          the way you clear our mind with your Spirit
          so we cannot deny it when we hear it.

Being here with you;
          every time we meet,
                    it’s like being brand new.

Peter L Richardson
5/23/09

“I great the dawn and not a setting sun, when all is done.” -Paul Laurence Dunbar

The opening and the closing of each day are the most spectacular moments in time. In fact, each moment is time. We mark the moments of our lives, our entire calendar of events on how often that golden orb rolls its way across the sky. Without the sun to rise and set upon us, we would utterly be lost in the dark. The words sunrise and sunset probably spark up similar, if not the same, images in most people’s minds: A pretty picture of the sun hanging just above the horizon, but close attention reveals many differences between the two similar events. Which horizon the sun is hanging above makes all the difference in the world, and these differences are strangely symbolic of our lives.

The sunrise almost always gives an appearance of new glory in the sky. It is the symbol of new birth, the miracle of creation constantly renewing itself as the old passes away and life is given to those who would open up their eyes and see the glory displayed. We spend the first nine months of our lives in a quiet slumber in soft darkness clinging to our mother’s life support. We spend each night of our lives clinging to our pillows, our dogs, and eventually our spouse. Coming out of the womb, we find a bright and blinding light; everything is confusing and new, and at dawn’s first light, we must shake off the quiet slumber as we wake to the blunt revelation of a new day. The sun is never visible first thing in the morning. A heavy mist often covers the landscape, leaving us only a hazy yellow-orange-light just over the horizon that is pushing the darkness of confusion ever westward until we can finally see and understand in the light of day. A sunrise does not usually consist of too many colors. While the sky becomes heavenly in the new light, somehow, the earth looks beige, as if you have been placed in an old fading photograph. In these first few moments of the day, you are able to look directly into the sun and not lose your sight. We have a soft orange glow hanging against a pale yellow sky as we begin to search out our path for the new day.

As the sun rises higher into the sky, it becomes a brighter yellow, and the color of the earth begins to take a sharper focus in our lives. The most intriguing time of the sunrise is after it is already a good way up into the sky when soft white clouds, lined with a touch of gray, often appear in front of the sun. These clouds are the first signs of mystery in the day we must face. They are the people we first interact with following our ascent into this new world; our mothers, fathers, siblings and doctors… Bands of sunlight shoot out through and around these clouds ensuring us that there is something else, something glorious and higher than the mystery. There is light that is etched into our subconscious from birth; it is brighter than the sun, it is beyond the sky, it may be reflected in the faces we see in our lives, but these faces are not the source. This is the light we spend the rest of the day searching for. This light gives us a reason to get up and out of bed every morning. At times the clouds cover up the brightness; darkness and rain dominate the day and create the mystery of the light, but if our day is bright and our eyes are open to the light, we will be the reflection for others who are still lost in the mystery.

Meanwhile the dark night constantly pushes the sun across the sky into the western horizon, bringing us full circle to our deaths. I have always found sunsets more beautiful than sunrises. They simply have more personality. Sunsets often have every color of the rainbow, albeit in dark shades and tones, involved in the intricate pattern that the clouds make up in the sky. These colors are the true accomplishments of our lives, all the emotions we have felt, all the ways we have touched others are now reflected on their faces and hearts. They are the memories we cling to, knowing we are nearer to slipping into the dark, the unknown. Man’s fear of death is inevitable. There comes a time in many sunsets when the sun seems to disappear for moments behind the clouds, leaving a dark gray sky filled with a cold loneliness. There comes a time in a person’s life when he shivers from the chill of the night as he realizes how short is the time he has left, and he chokes with fear. However, for those who became testimonies of the greater light, the sky fades to an orange-auburn. The sun appears blood red just over the horizon. The earth, once so colorful, now is painted black against the auburn sky. A man finds peace within himself. His fate is accepted, and the sun slips over the edge of time. Darkness covers the sky. A new beginning of a new unknown.

Zed's sunset copy

 

Peter L Richardson
11/5/91
 

At the Beach at Night

September 1, 2009

 
Let’s swim to the moon, unhu, let’s climb through the tide; surrender to the waiting worlds that lap against our side…   -Jim Morrison
 
The intensity of loneliness on the beach at night is immeasurable. Long since tired little eyes with sick bellies full of cotton candy have gone to sleep and lovers have shared their long kiss goodnight, I find myself wandering the sands on the edge of time.
 
Daring only to dip my feet in the ocean, I feel the wet sand push up through my toes; the grains light up like crystals glistening in the soft moonlight. Sand is the ultimate symbol of materialism: You build a house on sand –it will crumble… Every grain of sand represents the physical treasures of the earth. We are taught to latch onto these treasures for support while we are still very young. Instead of reinforcing our foundation by building a stronger mind and character, we learn to consume more and more and more, building our castles higher and higher –only to find them knocked down by the incoming tide.
 
I am mesmerized by the steady rhythm of the waves crashing into the earth and wandering back home, collecting hidden treasures and secrets on the way. The white foam flowing over and throughout the waves become the essence of virgin beauty against the deep mysteries of the dark tide. The pulsating waves taunt and tantalize, beckoning me to come and play with desire. Back when I was child, I sought adventure whenever I could, but like most children, I was more clumsy than daring, and my rewards were mostly scabs and bruises on my feeble limbs. It was my mother who taught me the healing powers of the ocean; how the salt waters would cool and cleanse my wounds. I learned from my father the ways of the tide and how dangerous it could be to work against it. The ocean is the most powerful force on earth, a living being that breathes with the tide. It can choose to swallow you up, or exhale and send you back to safety. In its anger, and even its gentleness, the ocean controls the shape of the earth, beating the sands of the shorelines like a hammer, or smoothing them over like pearl with its gentle touch. Who can predict the mood of this beast? The ocean is fate.
 
Ancient sailors were the finders of new frontiers, riding into the dawn. Scientists are the new seekers looking below the murky depths for their answers to the great mysteries of the universe. But fate, of course, eventually leads us to death. How soon we venture to the drowning point is entirely up to ourselves. You can only tread water for so long; if you want to live, you must learn to swim. The better swimmer you become affords the opportunity to take higher risks, giving you a greater opportunity to live. The black waters reflecting the night sky look like death. Sometimes it is so dark you cannot find the horizon. Staring out into nothing, you must submit to the tide, unaware of where it my lead you. But there are some nights the moon is so full, there is a guiding light, a protector. Sometimes, I can even see the man’s face watching over me, letting me know there is something at the end of this journey.

As each grain of sand builds up our material lives, each star in the night sky shines bright a treasure of the heart; it may be love, peace, satisfaction, forgiveness… The stars are our conscience, our guardian angels, our friends. The sailors used the stars to find their way home, and if you search them well enough, you will see your path develop. The beach is a place where people tend to fall in love. That feeling of loneliness leaves us clinging to another’s soul. We need not take this journey alone. People need people; the nights can be too long and dark to spend them alone in this wicked world. You can fill your soul with physical pleasures, but money burns and sand castles crumble. Love is forever.

Morning bids me wake up. I sit up with salt in my mouth, sand in my underwear and in desperate need of a shower. Hardly above the horizon the sun already begins to warm up the loneliness of the night. It’s going to be a great day for the beach!

Peter L Richardson
1991

 

“beyond”

I long to see the sun set over the ocean.
The ocean is eternity;
The sunset is the end,
And soon after, you can’t see the horizon.
Midnight blurs the lines of distinction,
And the earth and the sky are endless.

Peter L Richardson
11/9/00