January 8, 2008KR BlogUncategorized

Searchers for the Fecund Minimum #4

Fellow KR blogger Jessica Johnson, in her comments on my last post, has drawn my attention back to Charles Wright’s poem “Bygones”:

The rain has stopped falling asleep on its crystal stems.

This is a poem that has held me spellbound for many years. I have taught this poem to many different ages of students. Most of the discussion centers around what exactly the image described here is. Has it just begun to rain, or has it just stopped? Has rain turned to snow? Are the stems that of actual plants, or are the stems the trails of the falling raindrops? There are usually a few groups of students each subscribing to one of these readings. When we try to connect the poem with the title, there is usually a lengthy initial silence.

Here is what I see in this poem. It has begun to rain after a brief respite from rain. It is spring in along an ocean’s coast, it doesn’t matter which one. The speaker is in his backyard and has been watching the rain all afternoon. The rain has woken up. It is a straight rain, windless, and as the drops fall the crystal tracers hang for a split second, creating a reverse stem rooted in the low clouds. The speaker is not sad in the least. Of course he is full of memory, but something is being let go of here, something is being forgiven. I think the speaker, at least for an afternoon, has forgiven himself for something the younger version of him has done. This is a poem of redemption. In the juxtaposition of the release of rain–not just a release: the wording of the poem makes it seem as if the rain has agency over its own awakening–and the title, which implies a combination of memory and forgiveness, Wright has created, in the space of eleven words, a poem that is about a form of self-baptism, washing yourself in the waters of memory and coming up clean.

Are other readings of this poem available? Of course. The point is that, as Jessica says in her comments, that the achievement of such a poem is that although the information provided is extremely minimal, it implies a very rich and complicated story. For some readers, “Bygones” is simply a poem containing a pretty image. But Wright has imbued this image with enough complexity and pathos that one could read this poem as an infinitesimal glimpse into someone’s life, but a glimpse that allows you to begin to understand a bit about this person’s past and future.

Wright, Charles. Country Music. Wesleyan: Middletown, CT. 1991.