Ever year, it is inevitable, we come across the news of the passing into elsewhere of our heroes. We don’t know where they go, but we know that we felt blessed to have had them here when they were here. That’s how I feel today, on hearing about the death of American poet Stanley Plumly. He was a deep and strong and elegiac poet, who wrote remarkable poems about the natural world and the worlds of human beings who shaped him. He was the first poet I ever came across, with the exception of Philip Levine, who wrote utterly brooding and moving poems about his parents, how they were who they were, how they danced across the vista of his life and influenced him indelibly.
Sometimes I feel very sad when a beloved poet dies. There is something, to my mind, very holy about the art of poetry, of speaking and bringing into being one’s own deepest, most vital thoughts and feelings, expressed into a durable form (language) that somehow miraculously outlasts and transcends civilizations. There is comfort, I think, in encountering these various voices of poetry, for they suggest that something does live on after death, something beautiful about the soul and the spirit, something rich and flowering and fresh and familiarly strange.
But enough of the talk. I wanted mostly to share a poem by Plumly, who wrote many. Here is one from Poets.org, called “At Night”:
When did I know that I’d have to carry it around in order to have it when I need it, say in a pocket, the dark itself not dark enough but needing to be added to, handful by handful if necessary, until the way my mother would sit all night in a room without the lights, smoking, until she disappeared? Where would she go, because I would go there. In the morning, nothing but a blanket and all her absence and the feeling in the air of happiness. And so much loneliness, a kind of purity of being and emptiness, no one you are or could ever be, my mother like another me in another life, gone where I will go, night now likely dark enough I can be alone as I’ve never been alone before.
What is the “it” in the first line? What does it mean to add to the dark? What is the relationship between loneliness and “a kind of purity of being / and emptiness”? And what does it mean to be alone in a different, new way, “as I’ve never been alone before”? Plumly raises these important and fascinating questions, and the poem, in its own unfolding, gestures towards answers that are perfectly capable of being and living and answering themselves within the form and content of the poem, and therefore within us, its readers. The writing of the poem, as Plumly knew, was an embodiment of the poet’s spirit seeking to understand itself through the weaving and conjuring of a shape adequate to its own great longing. Plumly was able to convert this longing into a form that seems to understand and speak to and assuage our own longings. He was a poet who deserves a wide audience. He will be missed.