These wild solitudes

Another of my long silences. This one denotes a winter of discontent, a hibernation from which I am just now emerging; I write this sitting in some afternoon sun, on one of the milder days we’ve had. My malaise was in part a result of morning sickness (I’m expecting another baby in the summer) and in part a reaction to the coldest winter we’ve had in thirty years. (I used to enjoy the cold; now I’m just cold.) My retreat was also prompted by a gnawing despair about the world. Whichever way you look, fears, failures, horrors, hypocrisies. The worsening of everything.

I withdrew into the shallows. I ate and slept and did my chores, read nothing of substance, heard the buzz of news but not the older songs of the earth. Outdoors was cold and dark, so I stayed indoors, where it was still cold, and just as dark.

Now, though, my sickness has passed, and the sun is shining. The cold is far from finished but there are buds on the trees, blossoms on some of the more prodigious cherries. The world is, if anything, more frightening, but I am less afraid. I begin to think the shallows were not the place to hide. They offered me nothing. They made life thinner. Another time, I’ll brave the cold, and try to live deeply in spite of my lassitude and the world’s alarms. 

Once, in the doctor’s waiting room, I managed to choose poetry over news, and I was rewarded with another American romantic I didn’t know—William Cullen Bryant. Here are a few lines of his “Winter Piece” that spoke to my languor and showed me how, in the bleakest landscape, I might find light.

The time has been that these wild solitudes,
Yet beautiful as wild, were trod by me
Oftener than now; and when the ills of life
Had chafed my spirit—when the unsteady pulse
Beat with strange flutterings—I would wander forth
And seek the woods. The sunshine on my path
Was to me a friend.
                                                 …When shrieked
The bleak November winds, and smote the woods,
And the brown fields were herbless, and the shades,
That met above the merry rivulet,
Were spoiled, I sought, I loved them still; they seemed
Like old companions in adversity.
Still there was beauty in my walks…
But Winter has yet brighter scenes—he boasts
Splendors beyond what gorgeous Summer knows;
Or Autumn with his many fruits, and woods
All flushed with many hues. Come when the rains
Have glazed the snow and clothed the trees with ice,
While the slant of sun of February pours
Into the bowers a flood of light. Approach!
The incrusted surface shall upbear thy steps,
And the broad arching portals of the grove
Welcome thy entering. Look! the massy trunks
Are cased in pure crystal; each light spray,
Nodding and tinkling in the breath of heaven,
Is studded with its trembling water-drops,
That glimmer with an amethystine light.
But round the parent-stem the long low boughs
Bend, in a glittering ring, and arbors hide
The glassy floor…
There the blue sky and the white drifting cloud
Look in. Again the wildered fancy dreams
Of spouting fountains, frozen as they rose,
And fixed, with all their branching jets, in air,
And all their sluices sealed. All, all is light;
Light without shade.