Oarlocks knock in the dusk, a rowboat rises
and settles, surges and slides.
Under a great eucalyptus,
a boy and girl feel around with their feet
for those small flattish stones so perfect
for scudding across the water.
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A dog barks from deep in the silence.
A woodpecker, double-knocking,
keeps time. I have slept in so many arms.
Consolation Probably. But too much
consolation may leave one inconsolable.
The water before us has hardly moved
except in the shallowest breathing places.
For us back then, to live seemed almost to die.
One day a darkness fell between her and me.
When we woke, a hawthorn sprig
stood in the water glass at our bedside.
There is a silence in the beginning.
The life within us grows quiet.
There is little fear. No matter
how all this comes out, from now on
it cannot not exist ever again.
We liked talking our nights away
in words close to the natural language,
which most other animals can still speak.
The present pushes back the life of regret.
It draws forward the life of desire. Soon memory
will have started sticking itself all over us.
We were fashioned in a hurry,
poor throwing may mean it didn??™t matter
to the makers if their pots cracked.
On the mountain tonight the full moon
faces the full sun. Now could be the moment
when we fall apart or we become whole.
Our time seems to be up?I think I even hear it stopping.
Then why have we kept up the singing for so long
Because that??™s the sort of determined creature we are.
Before us, our first task is to astonish,
and then, harder by far, to be astonished.
By Galway Kinnell, The New Yorker; July 23, 2012
Tufts of thinned out, hazy clouds are smeared across a deep sky flushed with billions of varying stars. They all look the same from here. We can??™t touch them, can never hope to. Do people often stare up at this sky and feel amazed Inferior More directly, do we ever feel like those faceless stars When do our minds define themselves, separating from the masses When do we appreciate, really appreciate, what we have been given In order to help us open our eyes, Galway Kinnell??™s ???Astonishment??? paints out the connection and consequences of ignorance, identity, and materialism in our faulty race.
Peace is like a delicate body of water, disturbed by anything. This is why Kinnell opens his poem with the scene of a rowboat disrupting a lake while two children look for stones to skip along the current. It sounds harmless, but those stones represent the knowledge we so frequently seek, and the ???scudding across the water??? (6) is our ignorance. Isn??™t this what we do, after all We are presented with opportunities, searching for something ???so perfect??? (5), but we throw it away, never fully realizing the loss. Kinnell proceeds with ???Consolation Probably. But too much/ consolation may leave one inconsolable??? (10-11). By saying this, he tells us that most of our comforts or beliefs are not best to rely on. While it is nice to find solace in people, sounds, or other materials, we can become too dependent or else engulf ourselves in false passions. These first two stanzas make us more aware of our ignorance, but only gently. None of the words beat down on our ears and the speaker never tells us to do anything. Nothing is directed to the reader, it even sounds like a reflection. Because of this, the reader feels safe to continue. Phrases like ???For us back then??? (14), ???One day a darkness fell between her and me??? (15), and ???I think I even hear it stopping??? (35) are passing but still make us ponder. They sound like personal worries but get the rest of us to think ???Is that what it was like??? or ???Is that what this is becoming??? Maybe, then, we should look over our past and ask ourselves what it is actually composed of.
However, Kinnell is not injecting us with guilt or regret. He says ???Then why have we kept up the singing for so long/ Because that??™s the sort of determined creature we are??? (36-37). Note how he poses the question. It is not accusatory, disdainful or reproachful, but, once again, reflective. He answers his innocent question with the obvious: we are stubborn. We have set ourselves up for struggle, pain, curiosity. Why Because we hate losing. But we must also realize ???The water before us has hardly moved/ except in the shallowest breathing places??? (12-13). Humans are stuffed with fear. It??™s tearing our seams. The water, now representing intelligence, has only just been touched. We are afraid to go past these ???breathing places.??? So how do we expect to grow as people How can we become individuals if fear is eating away at us ???No matter how all this comes out, from now on/ it cannot not exist ever again??? (20-22). Fear should be casual to us by this point. It is normal. Kinnell hopes we will find what it really means to be astonished, to find something that will take us by surprise and perhaps inspire us. He wants us to shake off the coats of ignorance and materialism which weigh, even chain, us down.
Kinnell gives us hope, though; we can find comfort in the ???natural language??? (24). Most people prefer to speak in honest, meaningful words which everyone recognizes. Maybe it is a way of connection to feel more at ease or to peel back remorse. The speaker mentions this ???natural language??? right after discussing that there ???is little fear??? (20). Is this meant to tell us how to feel better, or to reveal how we often look for ways to find consolation in others If ???the present pushes back the life of regret??? (26), though, shouldn??™t these fears be of little concern That is what the speaker is hoping for. If we can look towards desire, then our foolishness may be swept away; not gone, but conquered. But this is something rare, like ???a great eucalyptus??? (3) mentioned earlier in the poem. They are not particularly rare, but still exotic, so does Kinnell want us to realize that we are searching for things and ignore beauty Maybe the smog-like mist that usually emerges from the tree symbolizes ignorance. Kinnell typically leaves his imagery with a vague sense of purpose but never, as he does when describing fear or consolation, defines its function. The reader is left to form connections with their idea and take it in the way that makes the most sense. This gives them a sense of freedom and ease while reading, as they don??™t feel choked by what the speaker is describing. It??™s possible that we may start to think the way he does, or at least open up to the idea.
How fragile we are. Insecurities, the smallest of comments, shatter us. Yet we have such little time. Why dwell The allusion to Prometheus sculpting men out of clay (29-31) reveals our weakness to most things. A greater more powerful being is in control of us??¦essentially it does not matter ???to the makers if their pots cracked??? (31) which implies that humans are really not that important. We can all picture a little clay pot, glistening, lined from where fingers have shaped it. If it falls, we watch it until the hardened clay hits the ground and cracks, then explodes. Our eyes shut. We hate the failure. Beat ourselves up, dwell and dwell and remember the mistake. So we wonder ???Are we a mistake Why would we be so careless??? But the future only brushes past our minds. ???Soon memory/ will have started sticking itself all over us??? (27-28). Could it be that our main fault is the looking back, the regret, unwilling to consider the future and its undecided burdens Our memories frequently dig their claws into our brains, never letting us forget. There is no way, then, to accept what is inevitable. We play it safe, try to avoid anything. It seems easy for us ???to astonish??? (38) but we cannot ???be astonished??? (39) if we will not open our eyes and watch the mistake. Only then could we grow. He tells us that any day ???could be the moment/ when we fall apart or we become whole??? (33-34). He does not hide the fact or try to deny it. By stating these crucial parts of our lives clearly, we are forced to realize he is right. Maybe even think ???why bother denying it???
To our minds, it is natural to kick it up a notch. We do what we do because we want approval and praise. And it??™s not much different from any other species; it??™s all about beating someone out. Impressing is ???our first task??? (38) but why is it everything to us If we don??™t try to ???be astonished??? then we will never know how what it means. Breaking from the ignorance and conformity will give us so much more than what we could ask for. Then, before we die, we might feel accomplished and get that astonishment that is so difficult to achieve. But it??™s never that easy.
Despite all of this, we are still meant to find astonishment. It sounds quite impossible, now. Kinnell??™s poem points out our flaws with the imagery of disturbed water and cracked pots, the truth of fear never not existing and our time ending, our false comforts. And he says it best, as it is ???harder by far, to be astonished??? (39). What is the most amazing thing a person could think of A record set and made by humans Some strange animal or building It??™s not that impressive. But the standards are set by us. People have only allowed themselves to be pushed so far; comfort is our guide.
Could anyone even say what true awe is Or have we been bent too far into society In time, I hope I may be able to look ahead and feel eagerness, not fear; maybe I will no longer scud stones across peace or knowledge or opportunity; maybe my memories of regret will loosen their grip. Maybe. The last stanza in ???Astonishment??? sounds hopeful: Kinnell??™s tone is open yet unsure. The use of ???could??? (33), ???seems to be??? (35), and ???before us??? (38) give a light yet direct feel to the verses. We don??™t have to do anything, but we need to know that we can??™t stop what is bound to happen. Acceptance isn??™t the focus of the poem, but it is more of an implied message when it comes to death, our faults, and trying to grow in both knowledge and character. We don??™t live. We rely on calculators, search engines, computers, phones, parents, teachers, television shows, trends, opinions. I want to be astonished. It sounds different.