Saturday, August 6, 2011

Road Marking #7

Hammarskjöld's entry in Markings for 6 August 1961 - the second last entry in the journal - is a poem about Poughkeepsie in New York State, where in summers he hired the house of Swedish journalist Einar Thulin.

The meadow's massive
Green wave rises
Over the rolling ridge,
Crested with the white foam
Of a thousand oxeye daisies
Which blush
As the midsummer sun
Sets scarlet
In a haze of heat
Over Poughkeepsie.

Seven weeks have gone by,
Seven kinds of blossom
Have been picked or moved,
Now the leaves of the Indian corn grow broad,
And its cobs make much of themselves,
Waxing fat and fertile.
Was it here,
Here, that paradise was revealed
For one brief moment
On a night in midsummer?

(Markings, p. 180)

It's a beautiful poem in its own right, but I am also reminded of Hammarskjöld's last essay, "Castle Hill", which he was working on in the weeks before his death. The essay is a study of the seasons in his hometown Uppsala, and the poem shares with that work the commingling of visual impressions with a sense of the fragility of time: across the summer there is but "one brief moment" when the oxeye daisies, "the seven kinds of blossom", and the Indian corn offer both a perfect presence and a sense of their transience. (See here for my earlier discussion of the essay.)

But what I like most about the poem is what it reveals about his last summer, and that on at least one day he was returned to that magical feeling, one we experience perhaps more often in youth, of paradise in the everyday.