This came in a while back from a retired friend who, before he retired five or six years ago, was not known to me as someone who would send such a poem:
An Orchard at the Bottom of a Hill
Why don't you try just being quiet?
If you can find some silence, maybe
you can listen to it. How it works
is interesting. I really can't
explain it, but you know it when
it's happening. You realize
you're marveling at apple blossoms
and how they're clustered on the tree
and you see the bees meticulously
attending every blossom there,
and you think the tree is kind of sighing,
Such careful beauty in the making,
And then you think, it's really quiet,
but I am not alone in this world.
That's how you know it's happening,
there's something solemn and wonderful
in the quiet, a slow and steady ease.
Whether the tree is actually sighing
is beside the point. It's better to wonder,
you needn't be precise with quiet,
it just becomes another thing.
It isn't a science, it's an art,
like love, or a dog who's pretty good,
asleep in the grass beneath the tree.
— Maurice Manning
What does that do for you? How do you feel when you read it?
I can imagine the full gamut of reactions, from feeling the time-stretching granularity of the natural world quietly going about its business — a tree sighing! — to feeling irritated because this poem has absolutely no relevance to your busy existence.
My friend was moved enough to send the poem to his friends. He has, I’m thinking, landed in a more reflective place in retirement. It’s partly time of life (late seventies), but knowing him, he’s also cultivating what the poet prescribes.
“Why don’t you try just being quiet?” asks Manning in the first line of the poem — a call to resist our culturally stoked propensity to be steadily occupied.
It’s my ambition to continue resisting that propensity, to more often feel the granularity, to slide, more and more, into the “slow and steady ease” of quiet, which opens the door to marveling.
To marvel more.
This poem is the first I’ve read by Maurice Manning. An American poet in his fifties, he’s a professor and was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. He’s also a Kentuckian who writes, at least in this poem, with simple countrified clarity: Quiet “isn't a science, it's an art, like love, or a dog who's pretty good, asleep in the grass beneath the tree.”
A dog who’s pretty good.