Trailway to Heaven

3 Min read

Poetry for Emergencies

Autumn

Farewell to a friend

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*

Fall is my favorite season and I suppose it has something to do with trees. Today I walked through the cool, damp woods to my mother’s house, listening to gentle rhythms in the rustle of leaves, the murmuring and flapping of black birch branches.

When I wonder what heaven looks like–or imagine its place on earth--it’s a stretch of wooded trail which is soft underfoot. It is slightly winding beneath a green canopy, disappearing at the bend. Off Lapham Road on the park’s southern trail, I turn towards town at the panel of chain link fence filled with love locks. It’s a real place. But so are the places of my mind.

In The Book of Tree Poems, I caught my breath in recognition while reading this passage.

*

O braided dusks of the oak and woven shades of the vine,

While the riotous noon-day sun of the June-day long did shine

Ye held me fast in your heart and I held you fast in mine;

But now when the noon is no more, and riot is rest,

And the sun is a-wait at the ponderous gate of the West,

And the slant yellow beam down the wood-aisle doth seem

Like a lane into heaven that leads from a dream,–

The Marshes of Glynn by Sidney Lanier (1842-1881)

*

The last lines describe the light “like a lane into heaven that leads from a dream” and the way it plays through the leaves at dusk. So similar to the way it does at the break of day. So similar to the feeling I have of my own wood-aisle before my turn at the love locks.

*

On the drive home I saw a neighbor who had hosted a farewell for Wilma. She opened with remarks. “I would soon learn that this first encounter would set the tone for the next quarter of a century. [Wilma] did not arrive with a traditional casserole but instead she couldn’t wait to show us the dead weasel she had found and was carrying wrapped in newspaper.”

Life is better with Wilma in it. Nearly 90 years old, she is moving away from the house and town where she was born. She is joining her daughter out West. (Lanier’s line holds multiple meanings: And the sun is a-wait at the ponderous gate of the West.)

*

Autumn and the trees make me think of Wilma’s leaving. My neighbor shared thoughtful stories at her farewell which delighted guests. She closed with tips from Wilma, such as: Leave a bucket of flowers alongside the road with a sign that says, “Take some.”

Wilma joined the Marines and served from 1952 to 1955. She told me that women didn’t have to fire a weapon so she joined the rifle team. Perhaps the best line was her declaration when asked to go for a walk in the next town.

*

I never drive to take a walk.

*

Wisdom from Wilma

*

The guests erupted in laughter.

I drive to Lapham Road to get on my trail-way to heaven and I mostly go because the road is hard on my joints when I run. Maybe Wilma knows something I don’t, that heaven is right down the lane.

*

FOOTNOTES

*My neighbor spoke at Wilma’s farewell and her remarks were just the right blend of humor and pathos. She had us laughing and crying in short order, a testament to friendship. Learn about life-long town resident, Wilma.

*The Book of Tree Poems, edited by Sarah Maycock and Ana Sampson (Laurence King Publishing, 2023) is a volume suitable for emergencies, to soothe the heart and the spirit, to embrace the season and the coming of winter. I picked this up at Books on the Common in Ridgefield. It is hard-cover with 126 pages of poems, many familiar and many new to me. The small size feels good in my hands and the silk ribbon keeps my place. I write in books but can’t bring myself to do so with this, so I put sticky tabs on poems I like. The illustrations throughout are evocative of the poems.

*Marshes of Glynn by Sidney Lanier (1842-1881). Lanier was a musician, writer, and poet. His poetry is notable for its musical influences. This poem is in the public domain and listed below in full, as well as at the link. It is lyrical when heard or read aloud, as poetry should be. The setting for this is in Glynn County, Georgia.

The Marshes of Glynn

GLOOMS of the live-oaks, beautiful-braided and woven
With intricate shades of the vines that myriad-cloven
Clamber the forks of the multiform boughs,–
Emerald twilights,–
Virginal shy lights,
Wrought of the leaves to allure to the whisper of vows,
When lovers pace timidly down through the green colonnades
Of the dim sweet woods, of the dear dark woods,
Of the heavenly woods and glades,
That run to the radiant marginal sand-beach within
The wide sea-marshes of Glynn;–
Beautiful glooms, soft dusks in the noon-day fire,–
Wildwood privacies, closets of lone desire,
Chamber from chamber parted with wavering arras of leaves,–
Cells for the passionate pleasure of prayer to the soul that grieves,
Pure with a sense of the passing of saints through the wood,
Cool for the dutiful weighing of ill with good;–
O braided dusks of the oak and woven shades of the vine,
While the riotous noon-day sun of the June-day long did shine
Ye held me fast in your heart and I held you fast in mine;
But now when the noon is no more, and riot is rest,
And the sun is a-wait at the ponderous gate of the West,
And the slant yellow beam down the wood-aisle doth seem
Like a lane into heaven that leads from a dream,–
Ay, now, when my soul all day hath drunken the soul of the oak,
And my heart is at ease from men, and the wearisome sound of the stroke
Of the scythe of time and the trowel of trade is low,
And belief overmasters doubt, and I know that I know,
And my spirit is grown to a lordly great compass within,
That the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn
Will work me no fear like the fear they have wrought me of yore
When length was fatigue, and when breadth was but bitterness sore,
And when terror and shrinking and dreary unnamable pain
Drew over me out of the merciless miles of the plain,–
Oh, now, unafraid, I am fain to face
The vast sweet visage of space.
To the edge of the wood I am drawn, I am drawn,
Where the gray beach glimmering runs, as a belt of the dawn,
For a mete and a mark
To the forest-dark:–
So:
Affable live-oak, leaning low,–
Thus–with your favor–soft, with a reverent hand,
(Not lightly touching your person, Lord of the land!)
Bending your beauty aside, with a step I stand
On the firm-packed sand,
Free
By a world of marsh that borders a world of sea.
Sinuous southward and sinuous northward the shimmering band
Of the sand-beach fastens the fringe of the marsh to the folds of the land.
Inward and outward to northward and southward the beach-lines linger and curl
As a silver-wrought garment that clings to and follows
the firm sweet limbs of a girl.
Vanishing, swerving, evermore curving again into sight,
Softly the sand-beach wavers away to a dim gray looping of light.
And what if behind me to westward the wall of the woods stands high?
The world lies east: how ample, the marsh and the sea and the sky!
A league and a league of marsh-grass, waist-high, broad in the blade,
Green, and all of a height, and unflecked with a light or a shade,
Stretch leisurely off, in a pleasant plain,
To the terminal blue of the main.
Oh, what is abroad in the marsh and the terminal sea?
Somehow my soul seems suddenly free
From the weighing of fate and the sad discussion of sin,
By the length and the breadth and the sweep of the marshes of Glynn.
Ye marshes, how candid and simple and nothing-withholding and free
Ye publish yourselves to the sky and offer yourselves to the sea!
Tolerant plains, that suffer the sea and the rains and the sun,
Ye spread and span like the catholic man who hath mightily won
God out of knowledge and good out of infinite pain
And sight out of blindness and purity out of a stain.
As the marsh-hen secretly builds on the watery sod,
Behold I will build me a nest on the greatness of God:
I will fly in the greatness of God as the marsh-hen flies
In the freedom that fills all the space ‘twixt the marsh and the skies:
By so many roots as the marsh-grass sends in the sod
I will heartily lay me a-hold on the greatness of God:
Oh, like to the greatness of God is the greatness within
The range of the marshes, the liberal marshes of Glynn.
And the sea lends large, as the marsh: lo, out of his plenty the sea
Pours fast: full soon the time of the flood-tide must be:
Look how the grace of the sea doth go
About and about through the intricate channels that flow
Here and there,
Everywhere,
Till his waters have flooded the uttermost creeks and the low-lying lanes,
And the marsh is meshed with a million veins,
That like as with rosy and silvery essences flow
In the rose-and-silver evening glow.
Farewell, my lord Sun!
The creeks overflow: a thousand rivulets run
‘Twixt the roots of the sod; the blades of the marsh-grass stir;
Passeth a hurrying sound of wings that westward whirr;
Passeth, and all is still; and the currents cease to run;
And the sea and the marsh are one.
How still the plains of the waters be!
The tide is in his ecstasy.
The tide is at his highest height:
And it is night.
And now from the Vast of the Lord will the waters of sleep
Roll in on the souls of men,
But who will reveal to our waking ken
The forms that swim and the shapes that creep
Under the waters of sleep?
And I would I could know what swimmeth below when the tide comes in
On the length and the breadth of the marvellous marshes of Glynn.

Sep 24, 2023

1 Comment

  1. Hooey Wilks

    Love it!

About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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