The washing never gets done.
The furnace never gets heated.
Books never get read.
Life is never completed.
Life is like a ball which one must continually
catch and hit so that it won’t fall.
When the fence is repaired at one end,
it collapses at the other. The roof leaks,
the kitchen door won’t close, there are cracks in the foundation,
the torn knees of children’s pants …
One can’t keep everything in mind. The wonder is
that beside all this one can notice
the spring which is so full of everything
continuing in all directions – into evening clouds,
into the redwing’s song and into every
drop of dew on every blade of grass in the meadow,
as far as the eye can see, into the dusk.
Jaan Kaplinski, from The Wandering Border, Harvill Press, 1996.
Translated from Estonian by Jaan Kaplinski, Sam Hamill and Riina Tamm
I have always loved this poem by the Estonian poet Jaan Kaplinski. It felt like only a matter of time before I turned to him during the lockdown. I love his poems’ barehandedness, his apparent lack of artistry, the evenness of his tone when describing joy and trauma alike. And yet, as he says in ‘This morning was cold’, he has ‘no counsel to offer’, merely a presentation of the facts as he sees them. He inhabits a space in my imagination that is somewhere between a university seminar room, a log cabin and picking up a toy car from underneath his kitchen table. Or walking for a day through a forest without encountering another soul. The perfect companion for a stretch of self-isolation, you might think. A couple of winters ago I half-read Unforced Flourishing: Understanding Jaan Kaplinski, which documents his wholly social life, as filled with readings and lectures and conferences as with the ordinary concerns of a dutiful parent and grandparent. That’s what I love most about his work, the sense that while all of these noble and urgent things may be going on in the background, he gives his attention fully to what is in front of him, and thus to his reader, at any one moment.
I love this poem. The way the almost flat, list-like statements at the poem’s outset slowly unfurl into longer sentences and images (the simile of the unhit ball) and culminate in the extraordinary final sentence, fully seven lines of it, which seem to ‘notice’ everything from the weather to birdsong to the arrival of spring which is visible even in the tiniest detail of dew on grass blades ‘as far as the eye can see’. He achieves the feat of seeming vertiginous and microscopic at the same time. And it all hinges on noticing. However this lockdown is proceeding for you, I wish you good noticing today, as far as the eye can see.