Poet's Choice: 'Reading Novalis in Montana' by Melissa Kwasny

By Melissa Kwasny
Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Reading Novalis in Montana" was triggered by my reading, in translation, the works of German romantic poet Novalis (1772-1801). Along with other German poets and philosophers who were precursors to romanticism as we know it, Novalis believed in the doctrine of correspondences, that the natural world is a mirror or lens or double for the divine presences symbolized by it, that there is a correspondence between inner and outer worlds. Such thinking led to Wordsworth and Coleridge's return to nature as a temple and eventually, in America, to the writings of Emerson, Thoreau and Dickinson. Living in rural Montana and being preoccupied by our place in and outside the natural world -- compromised as it is -- I am drawn to both the romantics and the Native tradition of respect for and communication with non-human forms of life. Seeing the geese fly above me one fall morning on my way to get the mail, I began to wonder: What might it mean in this country, at this time, to read the world? What messages do the geese have for me, and, in turn, what part might my attempt at reading play in their flight?

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Reading Novalis in Montana

The dirt road is frozen. I hear the geese first in my lungs.

Faint hieroglyphic against the gray sky.


Then, the brutal intervention of sound.

All that we experience is a message, he wrote.


I would like to know what it means

if first one bird swims the channel


across the classic V, the line flutters, and the formation dissolves.

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