Hawthorne on His Way Home
Walking through the village
of Danvers, late one afternoon
in the fall of 1836, Nathaniel Hawthorne
saw an old man carrying
two dry, rustling bundles
of cornstalks, and he thought:
A good personification of Autumn.
Another man was hoeing up potatoes.
What did he represent? It was October.
The wild rosebushes were bare.
In the fields—brittle Indian corn,
pale rows of cabbages.
"A landscape now wholly autumnal,"
Hawthorne wrote in his journal, and perhaps
he noticed the way now means then
as soon as it's written down,
the way remembering conceals invention,
or tries to. Idea for a tale:
a man, composing a story, finds
it shaping itself against his intentions.
The characters act otherwise
than he planned. Unforeseen events occur.
Hawthorne paused. Above the village
clouds were being carried off by the wind.
In a story, he thought, what a man observes
might shadow forth his fate:
wild roses, barberry, Indian corn.
The down of thistles flying through the air.
Where are the songs of Spring? Aye,
where are they?
This day, I've decided,
is for answerable questions only.
Nothing about death, or the silence of God,
nothing even about the chance of life
on some faraway planet, or the future of ours.
Nothing at all concerning the future—
what we have to plan for, what we don't want
to think about. Not this morning,
which is sunny and calm, weather
that will continue through the afternoon
and into the evening, followed by a 20% chance
of rain after midnight, but even then
only showers, no high winds,
large hail, or frequent lightning,
no possibility at all of a tornado
or one of those sudden climate changes
that ushers in a new ice age, completely
rearranging life as we know it. Today
is a day for life as we know it,
for everything predictable and clearly defined,
any question the dictionary can answer,
like the meaning of descant, or apocrypha,
or the difference between a frieze
and a relief. Whatever its name,
that's what I've been looking at: a dozen
pale singers in Grecian attire, two young men
playing some sort of trumpet, and in the center
four large children kicking up their heels—
one dimension pushing itself out
into three, and getting halfway there.
What are they celebrating? Something gone,
something over. As this morning
almost is. In the park, a few families
have spread blankets under the trees.
They're eating sandwiches, reading the paper.
Two dogs are romping. And now
the laughter of the children
rises above the voices of their parents,
and the water in the fountain
glitters and dances, as if
to invisible music, which I can
almost hear, almost see the shape of.