from The Return

By Charles Tomlinson b. 1927 Charles Tomlinson
IV. The Fireflies

I have climbed blind the way down through the trees
(How faint the phosphorescence of the stones)
On nights when not a light showed on the bay
And nothing marked the line of sky and sea—
Only the beating of the heart defined
A space of being in the faceless dark,
The foot that found and won the path from blindness,
The hand, outstretched, that touched on branch and bark.
The soundless revolution of the stars
Brings back the fireflies and each constellation,
And we are here half-shielded from that height
Whose star-points feed the white lactation, far
Incandescence where the single star
Is lost to sight. This is a waiting time.
Those thirty, lived-out years were slow to rhyme
With consonances unforeseen, and, gone,
Were brief beneath the seasons and the sun.
We wait now on the absence of our dead,
Sharing the middle world of moving lights
Where fireflies taking torches to the rose
Hover at those clustered, half-lit porches,
Eyelid on closed eyelid in their glow
Flushed into flesh, then darkening as they go.
The adagio of lights is gathering
Across the sway and counter-lines as bay
And sky, contrary in motion, swerve
Against each other's patternings, while these
Tiny, travelling fires gainsay them both,
Trusting to neither empty space nor seas
The burden of their weightless circlings. We,
Knowing no more of death than other men
Who make the last submission and return,
Savour the good wine of a summer's night
Fronting the islands and the harbour bar,
Uncounted in the sum of our unknowings
How sweet the fireflies’ span to those who live it,
Equal, in their arrivals and their goings,
With the order and the beauty of star on star.

Charles Tomlinson, “The Fireflies (from ‘The Return’)” from Selected Poems 1955-1997. Copyright © 1997 by Charles Tomlinson. Reprinted with the
permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.


Source: Selected Poems: 1955-1997 (1997)

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Poet Charles Tomlinson b. 1927

POET’S REGION England

Subjects Nature, Summer, Landscapes & Pastorals, Animals

Biography

Poet, artist, and translator Charles Tomlinson was born in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire in 1927. Fluent in German, French, and Italian, he read English at Queen’s College Cambridge, studying with poet Donald Davie who was an early influence and later became a close friend. Tomlinson taught elementary school before joining the University of Bristol, where he taught for 36 years. His collections of poetry include Relations and . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Nature, Summer, Landscapes & Pastorals, Animals

POET’S REGION England

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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