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Monday, August 4, 2014

Hymn - A. R. Ammons

I know if I find you I will have to leave the earth
and go on out
   over the sea marshes and the brant in bays
and over the hills of tall hickory
and over the crater lakes and canyons
and on up through the spheres of diminishing air
past the blackset noctilucent clouds
          where one wants to stop and look
way past all the light diffusions and bombardments
up farther than the loss of sight
  into the unseasonal undifferentiated empty stark

And I know if I find you I will have to stay with the earth
inspecting with thin tools and ground eyes
trusting the microvilli sporangia and simplest
   coelenterates
and praying for a nerve cell
with all the soul of my chemical reactions
and going right on down where the eye sees only traces

You are everywhere partial and entire
You are on the inside of everything and on the outside

I walk down the path down the hill where the sweetgum
has begun to ooze spring sap at the cut
and I see how the bark cracks and winds like no other bark
chasmal to my ant-soul running up and down
and if I find you I must go out deep into your
    far resolutions
and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves


Quite a bizarre hymn to be sure, but devotional nonetheless.  Ammons' hymn seems to me to stress the beauty of Creation on every level, from the "noctilucent clouds where once wants to stop and look" to the "hills of tall hickory."  Given the title, I have chosen to view the poem largely in a religious or spiritual context, with the "You" of the poem seeming to me to be the Creator, or some other revelatory spirit.  This "You," the God figure, is "everywhere partial and entire" and exists "on the inside of everything and on the outside."

The knowledge of that "You," the finding of it, will necessitate many contradictory things from the narrator.  He must leave the earth and go on out.  Is that the spirit called to heaven, to some Nirvana, a higher plane?  In the finding, he will have to stay with the earth and inspect it, down to the most minute details.  Some sort of spiritual cataloging of Creation?  Devotion and stewardship to the Earth?

The last three lines address the contradiction of staying and going.  "if I find you I must go out deep into your far resolutions and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves."  The resolutions spoken of, I imagine, are like the end times.  They are the plane beyond physical life, some other metaphysical realm, in which the Creator's will lives actively.  The other side, the separate leaves, besides referring to literal leaves (in line with the nature imagery throughout the rest of the poems) seems to me to refer to the many aspects of physical existence, the "soul of my chemical reactions."  "Praying for a nerve cell."  What else can that mean but a prayer to feel?  A prayer to experience, to react, to know.

While the poem's contradictory nature seems confusing to me, I find most of all a real appreciation for the beauty of Creation, and a deep spiritual sense of the narrator (and humanity, by extension) and the earth as being interconnected.  The way the imagery moves from large (literally leaving the atmosphere) to small (nerve cells) conveys a belief in God's omnipresence in Creation, best characterized by the two lines of the third stanza.

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