The Waters


We sit in the deepening twilight in my room,
Talking of this and that as we always do,
Events of the day, things we remember, news from home:
And then, as always, the unforeseen breaks through.

My heart, at some chance remark, stilled with surprise,
Brings things together and finds their meaning plain,
Towards which I have groped for years; some vast surmise
Takes shape and life from you. Now it happens again.

You say: I see you always, a wide, calm lake,
Shining, serene, biding some ultimate call;
But underneath, though the surface does not break,
Things surge in the depths which are not calm at all.

And I: But you are a river, questing bound
On its timeless errand; I see you range and veer
Round mountains or, when you must, run underground,
Crying at every turn: Not yet! Not here, nor here!

A quicksilver torrent, deep and swift in the gorges
Of Custom; threading its prairies, secret and alone,
With the liquid strength of urgent floods, whose urges
Sweep away cities and tunnel through sentinel stone.

Yes, I wait in my stillness; you vary your restless course;
But both must reject what other waters crave:
The assurance of ends that match their means, the resource
Of those whose answers settle for what they have.

All round us they call to us, dam and canal and pond:
Life is here and now, the given, the useful task.
Crazy Waters! What is there to wait for beyond?
What answers are there to questions one does not ask?

What can we say to them; how can they understand?
They have never heard of that universal sea
Which swallows whole continents, yet rebuilds their land;
Whose summons is our blood; whose service keeps us free.

So we sit in silence; our darkening room is haunted
By the voice of those ageless waters sweeping by.
I think of the earth’s great rivers whose names enchanted
My boyhood, its vast lakes naked to the sky.

Water to water, smiling, we turn to each other,
The quest, the questions we live by hover between
And the wells of “non-existence”, that most are content to smother,
Break through to the surface and make our wilderness green.

Those springs are the answer to all who tease and task us;
The prophet’s response to the leper’s angry appeal:
“True, Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus,
Are sweeter than Jordan; but can they save and heal?”

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