Thursday, August 18, 2016

Valley Song - Carl Sandburg

Your eyes and the valley are memories-
Your eyes fire and the valley a bowl.
It was here a moonrise crept over the timberline;
It was here we turned the coffee-cups upside down.
And your eyes and the moon swept the valley.

I will see you again in a million years.
I will see you again to-morrow.
I will never know your dark eyes again.
These are three ghosts I keep;
These are three sumach-red dogs I run with.

All of it wraps and knots to a riddle:
I have the moon, the timberline, and you.
All three are gone - and I keep all three.

Isn't memory a marvelous mystery?  Here, Carl Sandburg elegantly and simply makes the case for the almost mystical power of memory.  He has the moon, the timberline of the valley, and "you."  Of course, none of these things are his; no one can have the moon, just as no one can ever really have their lover.  Not forever, anyways.  And still, with the wonder of memory, Sandburg will "see you again in a million years" and still "see you again to-morrow."

Because the language of the poem is framed in memory, I feel that the "you" of the poem is a lover, now gone.  Really, apart from a love, who else can be compared to a valley, or to the moon?  Reading the first stanza, I imagined the narrator tracing his finger through the air, as if stroking the face of a lost love or tracing the outline of the valley slopes.  It's a fond, bittersweet memory.  Even though the narrator will "never know your dark eyes again" he keeps those memories with him, ghosts, dogs, with which he lives his daily life.

Sandburg ends with the wonderful paradox of memory.  "All three are gone - and I keep all three."  No one can take these memories away.  They are his to treasure until the end of time, and now, reader, they are ours, as well.  I'm sure this poem conjures in your mind your own valley, your own "you," and your own moon.  Think of those three ghosts tonight, and feel the company of everyone else who has ever done the same.

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