Strive

SPRING MELT, oil on canvas, 20×16

STRIVE

Geese zigzag overhead, redwing blackbirds pepper
leafless oaks and maples, crimson patch and yellow stripe 
as lyrical and comforting as their shivering trill. 
Pale goldfinches flutter to feeders, sheltered by hemlock.

I think of Charles Dickens walking London’s dung-filled streets 
as I straddle mud season, setting out early to avoid the muck 
before the ground thaws; or lost lives of Ukrainian refugees 
trudging endless miles, searching blindly for a bite to eat, a place to rest.

The sun’s slanting rays lengthen and sap runs like blood
as birthing sheep and goats grow big and vernal streams and lakes 
slowly overtake the fields, rising as the snow sinks. 
Soon the primal song of peepers will scent the air like maple steam 
and crocuses unfold and pollinate. 
Ignorant of our aims or suffering, the stream overflows its emerald banks. 

SWOLLEN BROOK, oil on canvas, 16×20

3 Replies to “Strive”

  1. This work and essay reminds me of two of the stories I have in a the Gallery A3 exhibit this month of March entitled “Interwoven: Women of Words.” It is an exhibit of stories and some of the art of six members of Gallery A3 who have been meeting and writing for 2 1/2 years. The gallery is open Friday – Sun. from 3 to 7 but will have a Zoom Forum on Thursday, March 17 at 7:30 where we will read one of our stories and answer questions. Sign up at the gallery website.

  2. Russell,

    Thank you for your paintings and your poem. I enjoy all three.

    Yesterday, Nancy and I went out for a walk, a new regime we started on Friday. The spring melt was dramatic yesterday. While it is not yet April, the month of Frost’s poem, “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” this time of year inevitably reminds me of the poem. I think you are the model for the concluding stanza of the poem. I’ve pasted the poem below as a reminder.

    Two Tramps in Mud Time

    Out of the mud two strangers came
    And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
    And one of them put me off my aim
    By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
    I knew pretty well why he dropped behind
    And let the other go on a way.
    I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
    He wanted to take my job for pay.
    Good blocks of beech it was I split,
    As large around as the chopping block;
    And every piece I squarely hit
    Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
    The blows that a life of self-control
    Spares to strike for the common good
    That day, giving a loose to my soul,
    I spent on the unimportant wood.

    The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
    You know how it is with an April day
    When the sun is out and the wind is still,
    You’re one month on in the middle of May.
    But if you so much as dare to speak,
    A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
    A wind comes off a frozen peak,
    And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

    A bluebird comes tenderly up to alight
    And fronts the wind to unruffle a plume
    His song so pitched as not to excite
    A single flower as yet to bloom.
    It is snowing a flake: and he half knew
    Winter was only playing possum.
    Except in color he isn’t blue,
    But he wouldn’t advise a thing to blossom.

    The water for which we may have to look
    In summertime with a witching wand,
    In every wheel rut’s now a brook,
    In every print of a hoof a pond.
    Be glad of water, but don’t forget
    The lurking frost in the earth beneath
    That will steal forth after the sun is set
    And show on the water its crystal teeth.

    The time when most I loved my task
    These two must make me love it more
    By coming with what they came to ask.
    You’d think I never had felt before
    The weight of an axhead poised aloft,
    The grip on earth of outspread feet.
    The life of muscles rocking soft
    And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

    Out of the woods two hulking tramps
    (From sleeping God knows where last night,
    But not long since in the lumber camps.)
    They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
    Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
    They judged me by their appropriate tool.
    Except as a fellow handled an ax,
    They had no way of knowing a fool.

    Nothing on either side was said.
    They knew they had but to stay their stay
    And all their logic would fill my head:
    As that I had no right to play
    With what was another man’s work for gain.
    My right might be love but theirs was need.
    And where the two exist in twain
    Theirs was the better right — agreed.

    But yield who will to their separation,
    My object in living is to unite
    My avocation and my vocation
    As my two eyes make one in sight.
    Only where love and need are one,
    And the work is play for mortal stakes,
    Is the deed ever really done
    For heaven and the future’s sakes.

    1. Thank you, Larry! What a lovely poem, and a lovely sentiment. I greatly appreciate it. Your timing is good, too–you have been much on my mind of late. Take good care, and check your mail for a letter soon.

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