Friday, January 29, 2010

Begrudging Hands



Dry-Stone

In the cold lean purity
the lemon sun anneals the dry stone wall.
The wind in planes and panels cannot shake
the stones which wear away before they break.
Yet no mortar seals them, nothing at all
holds them together in such nicety-
except the bitter skill that human hand
begrudged to claim an unresponsive land.

Clean with wind, and bent where the earth is bent,
the walls are grimy perfect, and the bridges
arch uncompromisingly their grey
parable of ruthless craft, today
lost among the dry and frozen ridges
like art of building walls without cement:
the art of building lives without regard
for weakness, love, compassion, or reward.

The men who built these walls took wife and field
for the same need, fertility and food,
and both they plowed and sowed until they ceased
to bear and one of them, the last at least,
was left to rest. They made a house of wood
for God, a Protestant who did yield
to supplication, though his laws of stone
claimed he was wholly good and good alone.

They saved their money, paid their taxes, sent
their sons to die in was, and all without
knowledge, pity, grace, or admiration
for the land they left these stone memorials on,
a land which never bore them faith or doubt.
Their labours now are but impediment
to straying cattle; and a winter sun
hardens the earth they bought but never own.

The newer fences, further on ahead,
made of wood or wire, are somehow better-
they warp and rust and sometimes fall apart,
weaker than dry-stone, and not an art.
Strength only lays the stone, then is its debtor,
and the earth consumes the strength which once it fed.
Weakness sows its love without a fence
and makes an art out of impermanence.

by Paris Leary 1957

Thanks to Evan Oxland (our integrated resource consultant) for sending us this poem which he recently came across while doing research for a university paper he is writing. (They are his hands in the photograph )





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