I have taken refuge from the news these past few weeks in Peter Everwine's selected and new poems, From the Meadow. There is something shining and pure at the heart of Everwine's cleansing work. Like his translations from Hebrew poets (T. Carmi, Natan Zach, David Vogel), as well as his adaptations of ancient Nahuatl texts, his lyrics have a mysterious quietness, a grave simplicity. He is a pastoral poet, which suggests that he seeks to get at something essential in our natures by leaving the social realm behind and heading off into the natural world. It's as if he needs to hike into the fields in order to look back with equanimity at his own experience.
How It Is
This is how it is --
One turns away
and walks out into the evening.
There is a white horse on the prairie, or a river
that slips away among dark rocks.
One speaks, or is about to speak,
not that it matters.
What matters is this --
It is evening.
I have been away a long time.
Something is singing in the grass.
Everwine's poems create a zone of silence around them. They have an element of "pure poetry," which means that they are closer, say, to Mallarme than to Neruda. They are shadowed by nightfall and typically leave the daylight world behind. The words themselves seem distilled and come from a great inner distance. They often have a nocturnal feeling, as if they were written by lamplight late at night. He evokes "The lamp/ and the white paper/ and the hour when words end/ like many roads/ before the same darkened house" ("Late Hour"). He declares: "Last night I lay awake/ listening to the wind shake my house./ This morning I thought: if someone knocks/ I will not answer"("Night Letters").
For Everwine, as for some of the Hebrew poets he translates, singing comes before speaking ("First I'll sing. Later, perhaps, I'll speak") and carries greater weight, another kind of information. The poems' titles themselves are often simple declarations: "It Was Autumn," "We Meet in the Lives of Animals," "How to Handle It," "I Dreamt" and so forth. In the end, the lyrics keep edging up to some essential silence, some vast darkness, which is when I find them most moving and beautiful. From the Meadow is a dark pastoral, and it deserves a place on the bookshelf next to like-minded works, such as Robert Bly's Silence in the Snowy Fields, W. S. Merwin's The Lice and Mark Strand's Darker.
The light pulling away from trees,
the trees speaking in shadows
to whatever listens . . .
Something as common as water
turns away from our faces
The stars rise out of the hills
-- old kings and animals
marching in their thin tunnels of light.
Once more I find myself
standing on a dark pier, holding
an enormous rope of silence.
(All quotations are from Peter Everwine, "From the Meadow: Selected and New Poems." Univ. of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 2004, Peter Everwine.)