By the great river in the mist I go,
like that gray heron to his hiding-pool,
when twilight still rests easy on the water
and no one calls me. At my feet the mud
tugs, cool and playful, so I stoop to trace
my own squelched footprints filling up and fading,
the wriggle of a fiddler crab, the light
of a blue fly. This is the blind man's hour,
the comfort of the small and near.
by these broad waters have I sat and wept,
patiently wept, as all my people must.
I have not cursed the spot, nor sinned at heart
longing to stand on the high temple hill
within the walls of lost Jerusalem,
for by your will I have not seen that land
and never shall. A meal of pulse will do.
I love this small good you have given, not
the greater good withheld. The heron stalks
with elegance to make an old man smile,
spooning for fi sh, as the gray river swirls
about his legs and mine, in gentle ripples,
lapping and fading to the faraway
and realms too great to stir my quiet heart,
not now, in this cool mist. I see these things
almost, my Author of the vast design,
as if but for a moment I were blessed
with blindness such as only angels know,
and heron meant but heron, sign of You,
so clear and thoughtless that to pray indeed
would be to laugh, "Look at his spindly leg!"—
as like mine as a stilt is to a stilt.
This morning, Master, do not give me dreams.
Or if you do, make it a heron-dream
of silver fish that flash and fade like joy.
I Daniel long to be a child again
if you would let me be. In the Emperor's rooms
I can no longer shut my eyes and sleep
like a small child; a strand of cobweb spells
your woven will, a crazy plaster-crack
scribbles and shrieks. I'll hide my eyes, won't look!
But then to walk the happy royal halls—
no way to turn my head against the scrawl
so wild and thick each mortar-joint is crammed,
sideways or upside down or piggy-backed,
solemn or sniggering, sensible or insane,
like a snake-pit of meaning . . .
And these folk,
my captors, will not be the worst to fall.
They're fond of me, as children of a clown,
for I worked wonders in their fathers' days,
led by the hand their brash and half-wit king
after he roughed his penance in the fields
snorting for good sweet fodder like an ox.
I never wished them harm, these foolish ones,
laughing and stewing, drinking themselves blind.
Why, I am pensioned handsomely, each week
a sack of dried beans for my reverent meals,
a sack of grain, and figs and wine and oil
to gladden the heart. And still their time draws near.
O Master, why have I been made to see?
The mist clears, and the heron lifts his wings,
fishermen lug their shallops from the cove,
the child awakens into aged things,
inexorable sun, pitiless love.
Arise, O Daniel, go to Babylon
and see the faint-heart turn against the light,
the thief fi lch, and the councilor intone,
and lovely woman laugh into the night.
It is the Den of Signs, of fierce Foretelling.
I never want to read them, but I must,
looking upon the foolish from my room,
as in the days of Noah buying and selling.
They swaddled in their dreams as fine as dust
are spared the knowledge of the gathering doom.
ANTHONY ESOLEN teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College and is working on his next book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, which will be published this year by ISI Books.