Friday, May 12, 2017

from wood to field to sky

Here is a very puzzling and enigmatic poem by the great British poet Stevie Smith:



Why is the word pretty so underrated?

In November the leaf is pretty when it falls   

The stream grows deep in the woods after rain   

And in the pretty pool the pike stalks


He stalks his prey, and this is pretty too,   

The prey escapes with an underwater flash   

But not for long, the great fish has him now   

The pike is a fish who always has his prey


And this is pretty. The water rat is pretty

His paws are not webbed, he cannot shut his nostrils   

As the otter can and the beaver, he is torn between   

The land and water. Not ‘torn’, he does not mind.


The owl hunts in the evening and it is pretty

The lake water below him rustles with ice

There is frost coming from the ground, in the air mist   

All this is pretty, it could not be prettier.


Yes, it could always be prettier, the eye abashes   

It is becoming an eye that cannot see enough,   

Out of the wood the eye climbs. This is prettier   

A field in the evening, tilting up.


The field tilts to the sky. Though it is late   

The sky is lighter than the hill field

All this looks easy but really it is extraordinary   

Well, it is extraordinary to be so pretty.


And it is careless, and that is always pretty

This field, this owl, this pike, this pool are careless,   

As Nature is always careless and indifferent

Who sees, who steps, means nothing, and this is pretty.


So a person can come along like a thief—pretty!—

Stealing a look, pinching the sound and feel,   

Lick the icicle broken from the bank

And still say nothing at all, only cry pretty.


Cry pretty, pretty, pretty and you’ll be able   

Very soon not even to cry pretty

And so be delivered entirely from humanity   

This is prettiest of all, it is very pretty.                                                          Stevie Smith

I am writing about this poem for a presentation at a critical seminar on Stevie Smith at the West Chester Poetry Conference in early June.  

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