Only Things Endure
The summer before I moved to Philadelphia to begin teaching at Bryn Mawr, Charles Wright’s poetry arrested me. He evoked familiar places – Appalachia, northern Italy, the mountain West – but this was only the first thread of connection. He probed the place of human beings in the cosmos. He sought resonance with the ten thousand tings around him. He joked to break the spell of his earnestness, but even this came with a sense of existential questioning and inquiry. What are we doing here? What can we say of time’s painful passage? How can we bear all the losses accumulating around us?
The poems of Wright’s Scar Tissue sank especially deep, and none more than the title poem. There Wright meditates on the ephemerality of human things and the enduring presence of the nonhuman. Time, he begins, is a straight line for us, but for the landscape, it is all circling, “the snake’s tail in the snake’s mouth.” Time in landscape turns endlessly like a vast wheel. Then these lines –