You hear yourself walking on the snow.
You hear the absence of birds.
A stillness so complete, you hear
the whispering inside of you. Alone
morning after morning, and even more
at night. They say we are born alone,
to live and die alone. But they are wrong.
We get to be alone by time, by luck,
or by misadventure. When I hit the log
frozen in the woodpile to break it free,
it makes a sound of perfect inhumanity,
which goes pure all through the valley,
like a crow calling unexpectedly
at the darker end of twilight that awakens
me in the middle of a life. The black
and white of me mated with this indifferent
winter landscape. I think of the moon
coming in a little while to find the white
among these colorless pines.
Jack Gilbert’s measured pace and spare technique runs solidly throughout the book. Never have I read such intelligence on humanity, and emotion. Many poems are focused on futility, solitude and not only sadness after losing his wife, but something within that sadness. A kind of hope maybe. The book is appropriately called The Great Fires. Appropriate, because of the events and memories from which most of these poems spawned.