The Spire

By Ellen Bryant Voigt b. 1943
In the Bavarian steeple, on the hour,
two figures emerge from their scalloped house   
carrying sledges that they clap, in turn,   
against the surface of the bell. By legend   
they are summer and winter, youth and age,   
as though the forces of plenty and of loss   
played equally on the human soul, extracted   
easily the same low bronze note spreading   
upward from the encumbrance of the village,   
past alluvial fields to the pocked highland   
where cattle shift their massive heads   
at this dissonance, this faint redundant   
pressure in the ears, in the air.

From the village, the mountain seems
a single stone, a single blank completion.   
Seeing the summit pierce the abstract heavens,   
we reconstruct the valley on the mountain—
a shepherd propped against his crook, birds   
enthralled on a branch, the branch feathering   
the edge of the canvas—transposing   
such forms as can extend the flawed earth   
and embody us, intact, unaltering, among   
the soft surprising trees of childhood,
mimosa, honey locust and willow.

Wood in the midst of woods, the village   
houses are allied in a formal shape   
beside a stream, the streets concluding
at the monument. Again the ravishing moment   
of the bell: the townspeople, curious
or accustomed, stop to count the strokes,   
odd or even—the confectioner counting out   
the lavendar candies for his customer,
the butcher, the greengrocer, the surgeon   
and the constable—as the housewife
stands on the stoop, shaking her mop,
and sees the dust briefly veil the air,
an algebra of swirling particles.

Ellen Bryant Voigt, “The Spire” from The Forces of Plenty (New York: W.W. Norton, 1983). Copyright © 1983 by Ellen Bryant Voigt. Reprinted with the permission of the author.

Source: The Forces of Plenty (1983)

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Poet Ellen Bryant Voigt b. 1943

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Subjects Time & Brevity, Trees & Flowers, Jobs & Working, Living, Activities, Nature

 Ellen Bryant Voigt


Ellen Bryant Voigt grew up on her family's farm in rural Virginia. She earned her BA from Converse College and MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her most recent collections include Headwaters (2013), Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006, and Shadow of Heaven (2002).

Bryant Voigt studied piano when she was a child, not turning to poetry until a friend in college introduced her to poems by E.E. Cummings and Rilke. She . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Time & Brevity, Trees & Flowers, Jobs & Working, Living, Activities, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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