Lines for the Summer Solstice, 2015

Jon Quitslund

Lines for the Summer Solstice, 2015

  • The sun stands still,
  • Our heads are spinning;
  • We’re in the middle of a long emergency.
  • O father sun, enlighten us.
  • The human heart is a dark place,
  • The human world, the Anthropocene,
  • Sclerotic.  The daily news
  • Calls us to account and moves on.  Can we
  • Turn back, look up, and mend our ways?
  • The universe – no, just our small part
  • Circling the sun – calls us to celebrate
  • On this momentous day, as ancient people
  • Did, time out of mind.
  • Let’s join hands in a circle,
  • Resolved to enter, with energy
  • And humility, the great turning.

I composed this poem to share with a small Sunday-morning group of friends who gather to reflect upon and discuss poems.  This is the first time I’ve offered one of my own.  It came together easily, like cream rising to the top of unpasteurized milk.

I don’t feel a need to explain all the echoes from my reading, but I want to acknowledge the inspiration of David Korten in my reference to “the great turning.”

And the poem will make more sense if I comment on two conspicuous words, “Anthropocene” and “Sclerotic.”

The term Anthropocene is discussed in depth by Elizabeth Kolbert in chapter 5 of her great book, The Sixth Extinction (2014), and there’s also a good Wikipedia discussion of the topic’s several facets.  As you may know, the earth’s history is measured in eras and epochs lasting thousands, even millions, of years.  The latest, the Holocene, began 11,700 years ago at the end of the last ice age, but geologists have begun using Anthropocene to acknowledge that in recent centuries earth’s dominant species, mankind, has had a profound and permanent effect on our planet’s geology as well as on its atmosphere and organic life.

“Sclerotic,” the other word that’s out of keeping with my poem’s simple style, echoes a passage in the philosopher E. M. Cioran’s classic book, History and Utopia (1960, English version,1998): “Suppose we put an end to such speculations [as the ancient idea of a Golden Age]: total stagnation would ensue. For we act only under the fascination of the impossible: which is to say that a society incapable of generating – and of dedicating itself to – a utopia is threatened with sclerosis and collapse.”  Globally, and especially in the United States, the sclerosis has reached an advanced stage.

I want to believe, however, that in our emergency, action “under the fascination of the impossible” is emerging.

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