Lent 29: Moon Hymn

Inside the jacket of Alice Oswald’s third collection, Woods etc. it says, quite aptly, “Her poems ponder the most elemental of props and portents: water, stone, a wood, the wind, moon, stars, deep space. [Her] theme is nature, but her listening syntax locates a human pulse inside the workings of the phenomenal world.”

Startling phrases and ideas clutter the book, here is a tiny sample:

“what is water in the eyes of water / loose inquisitive fragile anxious / a wave, a winged form / splitting up into sharp glances” from the opening ‘Sea Poem’ (there are three such titled in her first collection, The Thing in the Gap Stone Stile)

“I was in the woods again, / poised, seeing my eyes seen, / hearing my listening heard” from ‘Owl’.

“Pray for us when we fight / the wind one to one; / let not that shuddering strength / smash the cross of the wing-bone.” from ‘Seabird’s Blessing’.

Oswald even manages to build two Oulipo-esque alphabet poems into one – her ‘Tree Ghosts’, a ballad with footnotes.

The poem I’m sharing, though, is about the moon.

      Moon Hymn

      I will give you one glimpse
      a glimpse of the moon’s grievance
      whose appearance is all pocks and points
      that look like frost-glints

      I will wave my hand to her
      in her first quarter
      when the whole world is against her
      shadowy exposure of her centre

      o the moon loves to wander
      I will go clockwise and stare
      when she is huge when she is half elsewhere
      half naked, in struggle with the air

      and growing rounder and rounder
      a pert peering creature
      I love her sidling and awkward
      when she’s not quite circular

      o criminal and ingrown
      skinned animal o moon
      carrying inside yourself your own
      death’s head, your dark one

      why do you chop yourself away
      piece by piece, to that final trace
      of an outline of ice
      on a cupful of space?

View the intro/roundup.

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