A book that I recently completed in my morning reading rotation is Things That Happen Where There Aren't Any People, a solid little William Stafford 38 page chapbook, put out by BOA Editions in 1980.
Many of the poems in the book are about what the title suggests: things that happen without people. Stafford's deep interaction with nature comes out in any number of the poems included, such as the following:
Through the Junipers
In the afternoon I wander away through
the junipers. They scatter on low hills
that open and close around me.
If I go far enough, all sight or sound
of people ends. I sit and look endless miles
over waves of those hills.
And then between sentences later when anyone
asks me questions troubling to truth,
my answers wander away and look back.
There are these days, and there are these hills
nobody thinks about, even in summer.
And part of my life doesn’t have any home.
Stafford is the kind of poet who, on occasions such as this one, we seem to overhear talking to himself. He was a prolific poet, a serial writer if you will, and the more you read, the more you feel him working out the many different aspects of things he encounters.
I could easily imagine him, on any given day, writing a very different last line for this poem. It is important to note, however, that this last line does not present empirical fact or even conjectural 'fact' - it presents feeling, how he felt after encountering nature without humans, and how he feels upon reentering the world of humans.
Reading this through some might think of Buddhism. Though this has some substance, I thought that Stafford, in his approach, represents a very Western (in this case, in both senses of the word) way of thinking, albeit a wilderness way of thinking. It reminded me of Somerset Maugham's character Larry Darrow from The Razor's Edge, who thinks that it is easy to be a monk on a mountain top, just try taking idealistic principles down into the world of people.
In case you forgot the post from 3 years ago (or weren't around these parts at that time), here's a scene with Bill Murray capturing the above sentiment from the excellent 1984 movie adaptation:
Because serendipity is the way of all things, I ran into the following haiku by Shiki in-between the next to last and last edit of this post and it seems, in its own way, to speak to the heart of the subject at hand:
There is no trace
Of him who entered
The summer grove
trans. by R. W. Blyth
Photo by Tom Magliery
Photo by Sander van der Wel
even when people come
opening his mouth
trans. by David G. Lanoue
PS Click to learn how to contribute to Wednesday Haiku