Joseph Anderson

Louise Gluck, “Witchgrass”

At one of those little free libraries in our neighborhood my wife (as usual feeding my creativity) picked up a little volume called Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry by Jane Hirshfield.

This book is dense and wise; I may need to approach it by reading and chewing on a few sentences a day. Among many excellent qualities, it is full of wonderful examples of the poetic concepts she talks about. In the essay “Two Secrets” I came across this poem by Louise Glück called “Witchgrass”, in which the speaker is the weed itself. It concludes like this:

I don’t need your praise
to survive. I was here first,
before you were here, before
you ever planted a garden.
And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon
are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

I will constitute the field.

We inhabit a field of consciousness (pun intended, and probably by the poet too) that extends beyond our priorities and ways of being. It’s hard for us humans to understand that, and easy to forget even if we do understand. I’m certain that the beneficial spirits that are available to us through trance work or other sacred pathways really do want to meet us where we are, in our human reality, to help us get out of our own way and stop suffering so much. But there is a bigger context; this game is not a game only for us, and we can play it more gracefully with humility, and with listening. Even listening to witchgrass.

I had a dream message like that from a bison a few months ago, shortly after we visited Yellowstone last autumn and I was eager to move forward with a project that had been percolating for quite a while. “Don’t even try to think about this in a human way” he said as he placed his large heavy hoof on my chest. “You’ll just get confused. Be quiet. Listen. Feel my hoof on your chest and know the power of what is larger than you.”

Poetry can take us in so many different directions: last week I wrote about H.D. and her use of apostrophe as a way to connect to the natural world. Here Glück accomplishes something equally wonderful by turning the tables and getting us to listen.

As in any good poem there are multiple interesting angles to look at. I’m also thinking about the “witch” in “witchgrass.” The lines above could equally well be spoken by a persecuted practitioner of deep earth wisdom. I’m so glad we live in a time when accessing such wisdom is beginning to be recognized as a boon and not something to be feared.