Charles W. Pratt: “Evening Meditation in a Cathedral Town”

Charles W. Pratt’s From the Box Marked Some Are Missing: New & Selected Poems (Hobblebush Books, 2010) is the most delightful poetry collection I’ve read this year, and I read many. The comparison that first springs to mind is Richard Wilbur, as both poets have more than ordinary gifts for writing formal verse that is light-footed, elegant, and full of surprises. Think of a Fred Astaire dance routine, or a Bach minuet: the underlying order is there, but never belabored on the surface. There’s no egotism or careerism in Pratt’s displays of skill. Not that I have anything against “confessional” poetry, but it’s also refreshing to read an author who echoes an earlier age, when poems could be reticent about personal details yet full of emotion.

From the Box… was the first volume in Hobblebush Books’ Granite State Poetry Series, which publishes authors with a connection to New Hampshire. Many of Pratt’s poems concern his work as an apple-grower, describing the farming life with humor, wistfulness, and reverence. There are also poems of family life, European travel, meditations on aging and and the mystery that lies beyond.

The poem below is reprinted by permission. This one stood out for me because of the mood, delicately balanced between modern empiricism and timeless wonder, and the intricate pattern of the rhymes. Note the deft double meaning of the closing line.


Transparent on transparency,
A lacewing on the windowpane.
Pale green traceries of vein
In the lancets of its wings sustain
A membrane too fine for the eye.
As tranquil on the mystery
Of glass as if taught by its wings
How to put faith in invisible things,
In slow sweeps back and forth it swings
Its frail antennae thoughtfully,
Like compasses that leave no mark:
Geometers imagining the arc.

In the cathedral treasury
I’ve gazed, unmoved, at the Virgin’s shift,
Draped like dead insect wings—enough,
The histories repeat, to lift
That heap of masonry so high.
Others believed in it; now I
Where the great stained windows raise
Their winged parabolas of praise
Day after day can bring to graze,
Sheepish, my agnostic eye.
Such precious straining of the light
Surprises stone and souls of stone to flight.

Small concentration of the evening air,
Lacewing, I look through you and glass to where
Beyond the fields the late sun condescends
To denseness, and its true brightness bends
And bursts to beauty where the transparent ends.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.