Living Like A Mystic


I Am Going to Start Living Like a Mystic
by Edward Hirsch

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall.

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field,
each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering.

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation.

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter.

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia.

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs
as if my whole future were constellated upon it.

I will walk home alone with the deep alone,
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries.


I can scour, kneel, stare, consider, examine to my heart’s content — and it does content my heart — and still the mystery remains.

*       *       *       *

This poem is simple on the surface, while moving in many paradoxical directions:

  • the recognition that we are deeply alone — along with our companions: the vanished squirrel, the bookish pigeons, the prophetic and incarnated trees, the snow refracting blue light, the female embodiment of wisdom;


  • a pervasive sense of quiet and emptiness: a blank pond, winter silence, shadows — along with activity at every turn: the squirrel having made fresh tracks in new snow fall, the pigeons, the leaves no doubt in motion as air and snow touch them, the shadows shifting in the light, pulling on the sweater, kneeling, walking;


  • the studying of clues, reading texts, puzzling out “the ciphers of a secret,” making meaning of auguries and portents — all imposed, in future tense, by the human onto the nowness and the blankness of water, snow, trees, sky.


*       *       *       *

“Physically, gardens must have boundaries. Mentally, they can reach to the limits of the known universe. The ideas that bestow such vast extent upon gardens derive from sun, earth, art, water, history, civilization, family, anything.”

― Tom Turner, City as Landscape

*       *       *       *

A walk in the natural world can be a pilgrimage, a noticing not only of what’s in front of us, above us, on the ground, in the sky, in the trees, but also a wandering in our minds; and once we scour, examine, consider, and work to make meaning, we not only expand our experience of the natural world — expand its physical limits with our ideas — but we also diminish our experience in a way; we can lose our focus on the here and now, the physical, the sensory.

And yet, as humans, we do conjure, theorize, wonder, suppose. And we are as physical, as mortal, as dependent on the natural world as any other being.

*       *       *       *

Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve. — Max Planck

*       *       *       *

Happy Earth Day, planetary companions.

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