Night Travels

This deep horizon lies so long below
my rushing gaze that at its edge, bereft
of trees or structures, all my sight contains
has blended to a soft and neutral gray.
I never saw a true horizon once
before today. And now, just as I see,
for once, what human sight can really do
if nothing intervenes, the sun is going down.

I leap, like some dart beast, some deer or hound,
I surge ahead and meet no obstacle.
I stop and see that not a thing has changed.
I run and stop again a dozen changeless times.

I look aloft at last. The sky is gray
as is the distant ground. The going sun
is gone. A blackness crawls up from the far
long distance, running to my racing gaze.
The long horizon grows so short. I run
and do not stop until the dark has met
and swallowed everything together, me and it.

And stopped, I am just where I was before.
For in a jumbled cluttered room that’s dark
and in an uninhabited vast land
a prairie or savannah or the steppes,
when darkness comes, and if it really comes,
it’s all the same. Except that in the first
you stub your toe and find yourself. The last
is where you fall a thousand times in ignorance.

Behind me, rushing past my back, vast and upright
A structure rises in the silent middle night.

I feel the pricking of my neck – the cool
of stone that eases muscle burning from
my last hard run – the intuition of
a height, pressing down in airy weight
above my shoulders and my head and outspread hands.

This is not a place for needless words.
But now rise up the veiled and habited
heartcries. A searching cry I send and feel
the tower at my back. But stone is still;
I know that cry is for another time.
Knowledge settles in; I speak of Light,
one single phrase, and dare no more.

I feel how flow the tower, and the ground;
and overhead and round, how space is moveless flight;
I feel a singing made of silent sound;
I feel how holy darkness close pursues the holy light.

I will stay here tonight, and then move on.
I will not see the tower in the sun,
I know, for daylight is for labor – that
is what it means to be a man, in part,
for man goes forth unto his work
until the evening light, the time when visions come.

And yet what is man’s labor, if his mind
is bent, or if his back is bent? The same:
it is a vanity, a nothingness
with an appearance much like what exists;
a training for the coming night when work
that seemed renewed each day forever,
meets abruptly labor’s destined end.
What will remain for man to do? One work,
the prototype of work, the first that yields
immediate reward: To render back the gift
of his own being to its Giver, if he can.

To render, and receive again, himself –
with eyes, heart, fingers newly kissed by Love,
to newly see, know, touch his Love, and so,
to give himself to Love and still receive all back,
then both again – the secret holy cycle
of his earthly life exalted, cleansed,
renewed, in monumental stalwart bliss.
Wise men labor, not for bread alone, but this.

Blind I gaze. A silver sliver bands the night,
at length, far in the East. The long horizon wakes.

6 thoughts on “Night Travels

  1. I posted the closing passage of this poem at Cost of Discipleship, prefacing it with these words:

    “Sometimes I think I will stop breathing, as I wait for the great poets and poetesses to come to startle the silent air with the distant thunder of their cloud-borne cries.

    “Read a masterpiece called Night Travels by clicking on the title. The passage below is its closing—I save for you its opening and its majestic flow, majestic as all that is secret is. A good poem turns everything and everyone in its path into poetry. This is that kind of poem.”

    Alana, if for any reason you object, I will take the post off the air. But I wanted to share this lovely fruit of your poetic soul with visitors to my humble blog.

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  2. No, I don’t object. I was thinking of sending this with a few others to a new Orthodox literary review journal that’s starting up… your response confirms that decision and I appreciate it.

    I love your statement about what a good poem does. I’d never thought of that exactly, but I think you are right.

    By the way I was having some trouble commenting at your blog, but I did like the image you chose. I thought it was suggestive in just the right way for the line you chose as the title of your post.

    Like

  3. Thank you, Jim. It’s not one of my more intelligible poems, but that’s because it’s sort of meant to be something like a dream. You understand it with your feelings when it doesn’t make complete sense logically.

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