earthweal weekly challenge: WILD HEARTS CAN’T BE BROKEN




by Sherry Marr



Sarah Connor

Move over. Let them come in.
They are there, clamouring at the edge of the light –
whispering their lives. Listen.
Move over. Let them touch you, their cold fingers
on your heart, their paws, their claws,
the soft brush of a feather. Let their leaves
fall on your face again.

There are not enough tears to put out these fires.
There are not enough tears to carry these boats
down the river to the sea. There are not enough tears.

All Souls, and the priests bless the graves
with smoke and words and water. This is far
from plastic webs and monster masks and eyeball candy.
We are somewhere else now, a place where grief
is love and love is grief and there are not enough tears

to wash away the mess we’ve made. There are not enough tears
to clean our hands. But here, in this place, for a moment,
there are only tears. What else can we give?

Let them in. Let them sit with you, guests at your table.
Let them eat your love. Let them drink your tears.
Let them feed you with their pale hands. Let them remind you
to love the world. To love the world enough, to seek out
beauty, to stand amazed. Let them love through you.

Here, we balance past and future. We are transient,
slipping through time, trailing dreams and memories.
We bury our seeds deep in the winter soil. We hope they will grow,
that the trees we plant will feed some future child,
that a blackbird will peck the topmost apple,
that the soil will take back the ones that fall,
that someone will wonder who planted this tree,
here, in this place. That someone will be touched
by our pale shadow, by the warm breeze of our lost breath.

This poem, written by our own Sarah Connor, who blogs at Sarah Writes Poems, resonates with where my thoughts are taking me in these days of love and consternation.

I have been thinking about our wild hearts, so attuned to the natural world we love, how they ache observing the accelerating climate crisis. We are only too well aware of this progression, and where it leads. We have all the information. The conundrum is that those in control continue to put profit (and their political careers) before the planet, short term wealth and power being more important to them than the long-term survival of all of earth’s living beings – even their own descendants.

It hurts, how wrong we have gotten it, how far humans have taken the biblical tale of man having dominion over the earth, “so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Those words were written according to the beliefs of those times of limited understanding. Had the story been that we were to be careful stewards of the earth and its creatures, perhaps other species would have fared better. Indigenous people have always understood that we are all interconnected, and that resources are finite. They have strict protocols for living with respect to Mother Earth and the beyond-human realm.

However, I remind myself I can’t afford to give in to hopelessness or heartbreak. The world matters too much, and she needs us. She is crying out to us in all of her many voices. Some of us can hear her; we respond as best we can in the places where we are.

Having known considerable heartbreak in my life, like most humans, I know pain helps our hearts grow strong – resilient enough to withstand almost anything. I have always been moved by stories of people who transcend difficult circumstances: like Jean-Dominique Bauby, who, felled by a stroke, returning to consciousness able to blink only one eyelid, dictated with that eyelid and the help of an alphabet board, one letter at a time, the amazing book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.  My hat is off to the humans who step forward to help in a crisis: during tsunamis, floods, wildfires, holding their hands out to rescue other humans and animals. Front line staff at hospitals and providers of essential services, selflessly working through a pandemic. Humble heroes are everywhere.

Wild Hearts. Strong Hearts. Hopeful-in-spite-of-everything against-all-reason hearts.

Which reminds me of the title of a movie I saw in 1991, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, based on the memoir A Girl and Five Brave Horses, written by Sonora Webster Carver.

Sonora joined the Wild West Show in Atlantic City after running away from home during the Great Depression. She performed with diving horses, that leaped off a high tower into a tub of water far below. Loving horses as I do, I believe it is horribly cruel to make animals perform fearful stunts for human enjoyment. But the crux of the story, in book and film, is about meeting seemingly impossible obstacles and overcoming them.

During a dive, an understandably jittery horse launched badly. Sonora hit the water with her eyes open. By next morning she was blind. Her heart remained undefeated and, after a time of adjustment and re-training, she began to dive again, sightless, and continued for eleven years.  Her wild heart refused to give up.

It feels, sometimes, as if we are on that high tower, being asked to make an impossible leap into a future we’re uncertain of. Blind. An unseeing act of faith that there will be something there to catch us on the other side.

Our own wild hearts beat with such resonance in the poems we share at earthweal. We refuse to give up hoping that this earth can heal, though we are understandably uncertain about humanity’s ability to evolve and awaken in time. In February, we all watched some wild and unruly bad behaviour happening in Canada’s capital.

For three weeks the so-called “Freedom” Convoy, backed by right-wing U.S. interests, held Ottawa hostage in what was an occupation, not a protest. Their stated aim was to take down the government and install their own people. The firm belief in things that are not true is the common theme. Sound familiar?

Political analysts tracked organizing and financing to southern U.S. right wing extremist groups, conspiracy theorists and Qanon. trump, Cruz and other prominent Republicans came out in open support.

The rise of the far right in such numbers is disheartening and worrisome. Rights and freedoms that were hard won are at risk of being lost if they regain power. Social commentators tell us democracy itself is at risk. We need to hold on to our core values in both countries and vote like democracy depends on it. Because it does. And now, in the midst of so much instability, Russia is poised to invade the Ukraine.

My poor heart. It can’t believe I have lived to see a Nazi flag on the streets of Ottawa, the rise of white supremacy, the threat of fascism. Again, and still: racism, white privilege, white arrogance. Plenty of Confederate and trump 2024 flags too.

With so much noise and division going on, it keeps everyone distracted. Year after year passes without the climate crisis being addressed. (Trudeau just made a statement that the ridiculous TMX pipeline, now projected to cost $21 BILLION instead of the projected $4 billion, is “investing in a greener economy.” Sigh.

I grow world-weary, knowing there will be heat domes again this summer, and every summer; that we will soon, only months after winter floods, fight wildfires again. And nothing changes because we are so out of our minds with crisis after crisis, who can focus on a climate in distress?

Scientists now tell us we have FIVE years left to lower emissions. Trudeau has set a ten year target. Scientific American recently published an article stating the world has 60 years left of arable soil that can grow crops to feed people if soil degradation continues. Terrifying information. My Inner Greta Thunberg is now looking more like a crazed Phyllis Diller.

What does the wild heart do? It finds itself wild places to steep its soul in, green places to walk through, mountains to climb. It listens to riversong, babbling brooks, lake ripples. It tunes out cacophony and chaos, tunes in birdsong, wind whispers, the gravelly squawk of a heron overhead. If it is lucky, it heads to the shore and sees a whale spouting: one, two, three, and then the long, slow dive, the arched back, the upright fluke as it plunges deep.

Falling old growth, rising seas, storms, and the wild ones losing habitat and food, all because humans are too many and think they always come first. Luckily, my heart has learned, through many times of pain and loss, to be rubbery, to stretch enough to encompass the pain, to bear witness, and to find solace in the beauty of the green, wild world that still remains.

Since childhood, my wild heart has led me out of town into the hills to find its peace. As a pre-teen in Kelowna, I would ride my bike far into the countryside, lay it in a ditch, and climb up through the brown dry hills, breathing in the scent of sage and Ponderosa pine. I would get a drink and wet my shirt, for coolness, in the irrigation trestles built to water the vineyards down below. I can still almost smell the pine cones, feel the soft dry needles underfoot.

As a young mother, I took my children hiking on Knox Mountain, where we flew kites on grassy hillsides looking down on Okanagan Lake. A love of nature has stayed with my children through adulthood. I gave the same gift to my grandchildren, and the small voyagers who passed through my life in foster care. It is a gift that lasts a lifetime.

Loving Mother Earth so much, it is painful watching how thoughtlessly and selfishly humankind has used her, laying waste trees, turning vast areas into oilsands, filling the ocean with garbage, and warming the climate with carbon emissions.  Our wild hearts seek out the forest and the shore to find comfort, peace and hope – and to renew our determination to help her heal in any way we can.

We bear witness; we call for change. We write poems from our wild hearts. Like this one, again by Sarah:


By which I mean

The way the robin throws his song
out to the world

The way the herring gull
carves the sky

The way the starlings
create dreams

The way the wren
calls from the hedge

The way the pigeons
swagger across the city square

The way the goldfinch
embroiders a line
between tree and sky

The way the blackbird
melts the world into music

The way the cormorant
opens its wings its arms its heart
to the wind

The way the lark
sings only of summer

The way the buzzard
reminds us to trust the sky

As poets, we strive to add light, to counter the cacophony, disconnection and division that is making so much noise all around us. I take my cue from the trees, and the birds, from dogs who are masters at living in the Now. I find a forest trail, breathe in the silence. And then return to tap the keys, try to inspire some hope, some motivation to continue to stand fast for Mother Earth, to do what we can where we are.

Because we love the wild, we have to keep our hearts open to this planet we love so much, even when it hurts. Our hearts feel all the pain, all the sorrow. But if we keep them wild, they bend, but do not break. For wild hearts can’t be broken, they tell me, and I have to believe it’s true.

Wild spirits, wild minds, the wild dark – we have explored them all. Let’s look into our wild hearts and share poems from that heart-space. Where does your wild heart take you? Follow it, and bring us back your poem.

— Sherry

earthweal open link weekend #107


Greetings all and welcome to open link weekend #107 at earthweal.  Share a favorite poem and visit your fellow linkers to comment.

Thanks to Ingrid for her insightful Global Assembly challenge and to all who participated. Sherry takes up the reins next week with a challenge she titles “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken.”  You won’t want to miss it.

The open link forum stays open until midnight Sunday EST.

Happy linking!


earthweal weekly prompt: GLOBAL ASSEMBLY

by Ingrid Wilson

Back in July of 2021, inspired by the weekly prompts and poetry of earthweal, I published The Anthropocene Hymnal, an anthology of poems which represent a poetic response to the climate and ecological crisis. The responses were heartfelt and impassioned. I divided the book into two sections: ‘From Despair,’ in which poets expressed their concerns about the current situation, and ‘Towards Hope,’ in which they wrote about how we might survive the Anthropocene and build a better future, both for ourselves and for the rest of the natural world. Proceeds from the sales of the book continue to raise money for WWF.

As the COP26 Conference in Glasgow drew near, I wanted to do something more to add my voice to the chorus of people concerned about the future of our planet. I hosted ‘The Anthropocene Hymnal Live‘ event, in which contributors to the anthology came together to read their poems, and discuss their concerns. Unfortunately, I do not have a recording of the event, but it was a truly moving experience to get together with others and talk about our hopes and fears for the future, which we had shared in such an impassioned manner through our poetry. Around the same time, I also applied to host a Community Assembly on the climate and ecological crisis. It was a great honour to be selected to run an assembly and feed back to the Global Assembly.

About the Global Assembly

The Assembly’s own literature states that:

The aim of the Global Assembly is to support citizens from around the world to learn about and discuss the climate and ecological crisis and to provide guiding principles for climate action to world leaders.

The Global Assembly consists of a 100-person Core Assembly, whose recommendations were delivered at COP26, and a worldwide coalition of Community Assemblies, whose recommendations will be fed back to world leaders in March 2022.

Though the chances of world leaders listening to the voices of the people who are most affected by the climate and ecological crisis are slim, it is important that we keep raising our voices in hope. It is important that we keep the faith and trust in humanity’s inherent ability to heal itself and learn to live in harmony with nature once again.

Our Community Assembly

When I applied to chair a Community Assembly, I envisaged this as a gathering of poets, artists and writers from around the world: such is the online community of which we are all a part. I put out a call to attend a live assembly, but unfortunately there were not enough participants to make this viable. It is understandably difficult to co-ordinate a meeting of hearts and minds across the globe, and the three-hour timescale may well have been off-putting to those with busy lives! Nevertheless, as our very future is at stake, I feel it is important to hold the assembly in one form or another. I therefore decided to take an unconventional approach, and host the assembly in the format of this week’s earthweal prompt, in which I invite and heartily encourage you to participate!

The Burning Question

The question we have been asked to deliberate by the Global Assembly is this:  “How can humanity address the climate and ecological crisis in a fair and effective way?”

And for this week’s challenge, I want you to attempt to answer this question in poetry. A little different, I know, but let us try. Poetry carries within it an inherent truth, which may contain the very solutions we are seeking. Here are some activities to consider (taken from the Community Assembly toolkit) which may provide some inspiration for your poems:

  1. A Snapshot of My Life
    Tell us a little about your life, and how the climate and ecological crisis relates to it.
  2. Expressing Hopes and Fears
    Close your eyes and visualise your life in 10 years time: Who are you with? What are you working on? What affects you the most? How is climate change affecting you? Choose one word that expresses your vision.
  3. Near and Far
    Consider what the hopes and fears of others around the globe may be: from those who face the devastating effects of a chaotic climate on a daily basis (such as small island nations who live with the threat of inundation) to those who have lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods to fire, flood or landslide.

I will collate your responses to the challenge, pick out the main points, and feed them back to the Global Assembly. This is a real chance to have your voice heard, so I hope you will take part!


To end with some poetic inspiration, here is Kerfe Roig, with a poem from the ‘Towards Hope’ section of The Anthropocene Hymnal, to which I often return, as it expresses so well my own ambivalent feelings towards the ecological crisis, and life in general:

(after M L Smoker)

by Kerfe Roig

An answer arrives,
but it’s not words,
not even something
that you can hear.

–not that you
ever listen to anything
How do you
recognize it?–
but you know
that your inside has shifted
into what it wasn’t–

At the same time
you are still where you were–
you still face towards impossibility
in every direction–

And yet your mind is not the same–
a strange memory you cannot name
has cleared a path between
the synapses of despair
and you can breathe again.

Is the light lost?
You leave a candle burning,
place it in the window–
come home

earthweal weekly challnge: THE WILD DARK (NOIR FIRE)


Once again, thanks to all for such great contributions last week to the Wild Mind challenge. Since we’re finding green fire in so many fertile places of late, let’s peek under the rug to see what wilds may also be found there.

First though, a thought about the work we are about at earthweal. There are so many grievous instances of our changing world at Anthropocene speed, from vanishing birds to monsters of fire and storm to the feral disorder of our collective mind. What is wrong is all too clear; but finding ways out of this disjointed time into a better future is truly the wicked difficult part.

If the answers lie ahead, then imagining them and learning to see them unfolding from the present is the challenge. As Timothy Morton writes in The Ecological Thought,

We simply can’t unthink modernity. If there is any enchantment it lies in the future. The ecological “enchants the world,” if enchantment means exploring the profound and wonderful openness and intimacy of the mesh. What can we make of these new constellations? What art, literature, music, science and philosophy are suitable to it? Art can contain utopian energy.

We have to learn to see and partake in communions — those “new constellations” — we formerly tried to master, rejoining thought to nature as its conjoining and furthering element, both out of doors and in. It takes a village of poetries. Angela Hume and Gillian Osbornre put it in this way in their introduction to Ecopoetics: Essays in the Field (2018):

Ecopoetics can encompass experiments in community making, ranging from poetry and visual art, literary criticism, and performance to walking, foraging, farming, cooking, and being alongside each other, whether human or other than human, in space and place. The fullness of these practices reflects the Greek etymological roots of ecopoetics: “eco” from oikos, meaning “family,” “property,” and “house”, and “poetics” from poiesis, meaning “to make,” in a broad sense.

A house of making with no walls: this is the earthweal space the world is invited into to play, dream, and create. A sacred hearth for the fire that burns in all living things and echoes deeply in starlight.

Let us extend that welcome now to the dark to our wild homestead.

* * *

Night blooming Cereus


There is a God (some say),
A deep, but dazzling darkness.

—Henry Vaughan

To get back to the wild, we must dim the lanterns and trek out beyond the known.


Wendell Berry

Even love must pass through loneliness,
the husbandman become again
the long Hunter, and set out
not to the familiar woods of home
but to the forest of the night,
the true wilderness, where renewal
is found, the lay of the ground
a premonition of the unknown.
Blowing leaf and flying wren
lead him on. He can no longer be at home,
he cannot return, unless he begin
the circle that first will carry him away.

Setting out from the safe and the known, the way is unclear, the light uncertain. Strangeness and fear abide where dark truths roost and root. For Emily Dickinson, it is a well filled with lucent noir:

What mystery pervades a well!
That water lives so far –
A neighbor from another world
Residing in a jar

Whose limit none has ever seen,
But just his lid of glass –
Like looking every time you please
In an abyss’s face!

The grass does not appear afraid,
I often wonder he
Can stand so close and look so bold
At what is awe to me.

Related somehow they may be,
The sedge stands near the sea –
Where he is floorless
And does no timidity betray

But nature is a stranger yet:
The ones that cite her most
Have never passed her haunted house,
Nor simplified her ghost.

To pity those that know her not
Is helped by the regret
That those who know her, know her less
The nearer her they get.

That dark shape informs my poetry blog Oran’s Well, a ritual shaft through which poems go down and come back up. The “floorless” watery deep teems with “ghosts” whose nature I can never fully know though am enriched by the dive into darkness. Emerson wrote as much in his journal of 1842: “Wisdom consists in keeping the soul liquid. There must be the Abyss, Nyx, and Chaos, out of which all things come, and they must never be far off. Cut off the connection between any of your works and this dread origin, and the work is shallow and unsatisfying.” Liquid soul: our dark wild sense dissolves the boundaries swimming into the fluid whole.

Dark knowledge requires dark sight, as Wendell Berry writes in “To Know The Dark”:

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

Dark feet and dark wing traverse a dark landscape where beauty is as enticing as forbidding:


David St. John

The definition of beauty is easy;
it is what leads to desperation.


I know the moon is troubling.

Its pale eloquence is always such a meddling,
Intrusive lie. I know the pearl sheen of the sheets
Remains the screen I’ll draw back against the night;

I know all of these silences invented for me approximate
Those real silences I cannot lose to daylight …
I know the orchid smell of your skin

The way I know the blackened path to the marina,
When gathering clouds obscure the summer moon —
Just as I know the chambered heart where I begin.

I know the lacquered jewel box, its obsidian,
The sexual trumpeting of the diving, sweeping loons …
I know the slow combinations of the night, & the glow

Of fireflies, deepening the shadows of all I do not know.

(from Merlin: New Poems)


The dark is the source of mantic inspiration, the dead are the carriers of deep tradition, and poetry is the green fire of dark knowledge. The procedure for gaining poetic inspiration was clearly a burial and a rebirth. Lawrence Eason writes in “Merlin’s last cry: ritual burial and rebirth of the poet in Celtic and Norse tradition,”

If we look first at early Celtic literature, a clear pattern may be identified in which the Celtic archetypal poet or prophet becomes inspired through interment in a tomb or some other dark, enclosed space. In this scenario, the novice poet-prophet undergoes an initiation into the secrets of his craft by means of a ritual death and rebirth that he experiences within a chthonic setting. The picture that emerges of the archetypal poet and prophet of Celtic as well as other Indo-European literatures is one of a mantically inspired figure who gains his phenomenal abilities directly from potent otherworldly forces, which are often, but not always, associated with spirits of the dead.

Old Irish poets learned the grand corpus of their oral literature by ensconsing themselves in darkened “singing huts,” where they lay and listened to the tales with the dark ear of memory and were not permitted to create any of their own poetry until they could repeat the entire body of oral tradition.

St. Oran’s chapel on Iona at night


Power is found in the weirdlight that hovers between darkness and light. Life is an arc whose zenith is noon, but it daunted by another light which is frozen and eternal, like a stare. Emily Dickinson again:

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ‘tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –


“Internal meanings” have an eye for light which is subtle. Indeed, the truth of sunlight hurts, we must shade our eyes to read it properly: “The Truth must dazzle gradually / Or every man be blind.” (#1129) Sometimes we can only read the edges properly. Its luminosity is supple and suggestive of a swimming greatness beneath.

XL / Emily Dickinson

The thought beneath so slight a film
Is more distinctly seen, —
As laces just reveal the surge
Or mists the Apennine.

Underground are the connections, green light woven in dark fiber, the rhizomes. Heraclitus tells us, “Unapparent connection is better than apparent.” One needs a dowsing wand for the dark grail and a grammar to suit, as Charles Wright writes about in “Lost Language”:

… I have a thirst for the divine,
a long drink of forbidden water.
I have a hankering for the dust-light, for all things illegible.
I want to settle myself
where the river falls on hard rocks,
where no one can cross,
where the star-shadowed, star-colored city lies, just out of reach. …

…. The longed-for is tiny, and tenuous as a syllable.
In this it resembles us.
In this is resembles what we’ve passed or shucked off.
Interminable as black water,
irreparable as dirt,
it shadows our going forth and finds us,
and then finds us out. …

“Christ of the Abyss,” an underwater sculpture in the Florida Keys


We undertake these travels into the dark consciously and not, as when we dream or read tales of otherworld voyages and nekyias. Mercea Eliade, in “Mythologies of Death”:

The morphology of such fabulous realms is extremely rich and complex. No scholar can claim that he knows all the paradises, hells, underworlds and counterworlds (or antiworlds) of the dead. Neither can he assert that he knows all the roads to the wonderlands, though he may be certain that there will be a river and a bridge; a sea and a boat; a tree, a cave, or a precipice; and a dog and a demoniac or angelic psychopomp or door keeper — to mention only the most frequent features of the road to the land-of-no-return.

But what interests us is not the infinite variety of these lands but, as I said, the fact that they still nourish and stimulate our imagination. Moreover, new lands-of-no-return and new roads by which to reach them safely are continually being discovered in our dreams and fantasies or by children, poets, novelists, painters and filmmakers.

It matters little that the real meaning of such lands and landscapes, persons, figures and actions is not always clear to those who consider or imagine them. European and American children still play hopscotch, ignorant of the fact that they are reenacting an initiatory game, the goal of which is to penetrate and successfully return from the labyrinth; for in playing hopscotch they symbolically descend to the netherworld and come back to earth.

That’s one reason why it’s so important that we read each other’s poems; our own dark lights are more perceptible in another’s eyes. History in my sight reads as mystery in yours.

A witchy dark figure is often at work here.  Carl Jung named anima the female personification of the unconscious:

In elfin nature, wisdom and folly appear as one and the same; and they are one and the same as long as they are acted out in the anima. Life is crazy and meaningful at once. (CW9, i, 65)

… The anima emerges in exemplary fashion from the primordial slime, laden with all the pulpy and monstruous appendages of the deep. (Letter to Count Hermann Keyserling, August 13, 1931)

When such a fate (Nekyia) befalls a man … he usually encounters the unconscious in the form of the “Dark One,” a Kundry of horribly grotesque, primeval ugliness or else of infernal beauty. (CW 15, 211)

Everything the anima touches becomes numinous — unconditional, dangerous, taboo, magical … She affords the most convincing reasons for not prying into the unconscious, an occupation that would break down our moral inhibitions and unleash forces that had better been left unconscious and undisturbed. (CW 9, i, 59)

Dark, dark indeed. The Christian imagination is lurid with it. Stephen of Bourbon, Inquisitor in southern France from 1235, testifies to a story told by a woman under the darkest coercion:

“She had a mistress who frequently led her to an underground place (in loco subterraneo) where a crowd of men and women assembled with torches and candles. They gathered round a large vessel full of water into which a rod had been thrust (a fertility rite). The master then called upon Lucifer to come to them. Thereupon a cat of hideous appearance descending the rod into the room. Dipping his tail in the water, he brought it out wet and used it as an aspergill ((a brush used for sprinkling holy water)). Then all the lights were extinguished (lucerna extincta), and each person seized his neighbor in a promiscuous embrace.”

Eliade comments, “With few variants, this description of the Witches’ Sabbath is abundantly recorded in the following centuries.” (“Observations on European Witchcraft”) In loco subterraneo, lucerne extincta. Like Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones once said, nothing interesting happens where the light is too bright.


The sexual dark is an unconscious sprawl toward the Mother and dark origins. In another essay, Eliade traces the leys of mystery in what we called “Mazola parties” in my high school:

Ritual orgies — in some cases preceded by the extinction of lights — are attested to among populations as different as the Kurds, the Tibetans, the Eskimos, the Malgaches, the Ngadu Dyaks, and the Australians. The incentives are manifold,  but generally such ritual orgies are carried out to avert a cosmic or social crisis — draught, epidemic, strange meteorological phenomena (e.g., the aurora australis) — or in order to lend magico-religious support to some propitious event (a marriage, the birth of a child, etc.) by releasing and heightening the dormant power of sexuality.

Over against a dangerous crisis as well as an auspicious event, indiscriminate and excessive sexual intercourse plunges the collectivity into the fabulous epoch of beginnings. This is clearly evident by the practice of periodical orgies at the end of the year or at specific sacred intervals.

As a matter of fact, it is this type of ritual orgy, undoubtedly the most archaic, which discloses the original function of promiscuous collective intercourse. Such rituals reactualize the primordial moment of the Creation or the beatific stage of beginnings, when neither sexual taboos nor moral or social rules yet existed.

Imagination allows us to brood deeply and darkly. In Melville’s Moby-Dick, Ahab while pacing the deck one night, gazes on the head of a sperm whale that had been severed and chained alongside the Pequod; and looks upon it much as Hamlet does beholding Yorick’s skull:

It was a black and hooded head, and hanging there in the midst of so intense a calm, it seemed the sphynx’s in the desert. “Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet hear and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is within thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. The head upon which now the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid the world’s foundations, where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot, where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned. There, in the awful water land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went, hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insensate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed — while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to make an infidel of Abraham, and no syllable is thine! (339-340)

The three-night’s journey to the otherworld and back is an ancient motif. Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale. Jesus was in the tomb for three days and three nights harrowing Hell. Gilgamesh, Osiris, Odysseus, Aeneas travel there and back. My St. Oran was buried for three days and three nights in the footers of the Iona Abbey in 563AD to appease an angry spirit. It is the dark night of the soul. The sun sets in the western sea, sinks under the Earth and then returns. The hero comes back with the treasure hard to attain. We finish the poem and post it still dripping at earthweal.

Ecopoetry carries in its teeth the message we bear here, but we have to go out to greet it beyond the circles we know too well.


Gary Snyder

It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night: it stays

Frightened outside the
Range of my campfire
I go out to meet it at the
Edge of the light.

What then is this wild dark?


“Station Island,” from section XI:

Seamus Heaney

… How well I know that fountain, filling, running,
although it is the night.

That eternal fountain, hidden away,
I know its haven and its secrecy
although it is the night.

But not its source because it does not have one,
which is all sources’ source and origin
although it is the night.

No other thing can be so beautiful.
Here the earth and heaven drink their fill
although it is the night.

So pellucid it can never be muddied,
and I know that all light radiates from it
although it is the night.

I know no sounding line can find its bottom,
nobody ford or plumb its deepest fathom
although it is the night

And its current so in flood it overspills
to water hell and heaven and all peoples
although it is the night.

And the current that is generated there,
as far as it wills to, it can flow that far
although it is the night.

And from these two a third current proceeds
which neither of these two, I know, precedes
although it is the night.

This eternal fountain hides and splashes
within this living bread that is life to us
although it is the night.

Hear it calling out to every creature.
And they drink these waters, although it is dark here
because it is the night.

I am repining for this living fountain.
Within this bread of life I see it plain
although it is the night.