poem of the week by Hugh Burgess


Seth W. Steward, ‘Dover-Foxcroft, Maine’ 1913


Looking north
from the stiff county bridge,
you can understand
the Piscataquis River:
how it owns nothing
and possesses everything;
its still black surface
rounds into place
the backs of ancient stones
and the slow turning
of low autumn hills,
muted for this day
in truth
with passages of rain.
It speaks to nothing
but the great peace
of its own being.

Along one hillside Clarice rests,
singular but not alone.


14 thoughts on “poem of the week by Hugh Burgess

  1. ‘Clarice’: as is typical of the author, an extraordinarily profound poem for a family member. Also another in the very successful Maine-themed poems. Nice balance of rounded stones and turned hills, setting up perfectly the hill of Clarice. The tone is peacefully still, yet steadily mobile—as the river.

    As in previous weeks, the images are acquired from Google Images, randomly but vaguely linked to the poems’ contents. Often the collocations seem apt, or ironic, or provocative, or intriguing. I hope this one does too, one of those at least. That may be the county bridge in the painting, I guess. Or perhaps the famous covered bridge.

    Query: ‘in truth’: what is the connection, what does it add? In the very least, I think we need another beat in this line. Is there a hint here of a funereal moment for the river? Should that be teased out more? Or would this be too much pathetic fallacy, esp. since the poem is admirably Zen-like in its perspective on the river and time.


    1. I remember this poem well which I believe I first heard at Gram’s memorial ceremony or some point shortly afterwards. I liked it and felt it gave a proper closing to Gram’s life. For nearly every summer afterwards when in DF I would go to this bridge and stand looking north. It was near, as Gram used to say, “the graves,” the stones for Lyle, Neona, and others I didn’t know except as stones. It was the poem that brought me there the first time, and I kept coming back to contemplate the ages.


      1. well, there may be no north and south in poetry, or rational spatial mapping, but which bridge are we talking about? Our grandparents are buried in the main town cemetary, not the Dover one. I guess I can ask the author later tonight in Towson. Of course, an author may choose to fend off rational real-world correlative interpretation (as Homer often replies to my queries).


  2. Aunt Eva told me that when she was about to deliver a baby, they contacted her husband, but he couldn’t come because he was about to be up at bat in the baseball game soon. Another age — practically no divorce, obviously.


    1. thannks, John. Amazing. These kind of stories are great; we’ve heard some, but many we have not—I never heard that one. And I never heard much about Walter’s Eva being selected to be a farm wife by Walter out of the local workhouse, for instance.


  3. Aunt Eva poem: Opening image is from a Fedco Trees newsletter reporting a (different) letter from the (only 101 years old) Eva Burgess; this was found at http://studyres.com/doc/16354460/low-resolution.
    A different and older Eva Burgess in the family, wife of Walter Burgess, Hugh Burgess’ grandfather, lived on a farmhouse of historical heritage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_and_Eva_Burgess_Farm . More detail: https://npgallery.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NRHP/Text/97000312.pdf. Unfortunately the farmhouse burned down in 2013.


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