Yale Class of 1975

Poetry Project, Week 10

Letter

I had wanted to begin
By telling you I saw another
tanager below the pond
where I had sat for half an hour
feeding on wild berries
in the little clearing near the pines
that hide the lower field
and then looked up from red berries
to the quick red bird brilliant
in the light. I have seen
more yarrow and swaying
Queen Anne’s lace around the woods
as hawkweed and nightshade
wither and drop seed. A new blue flower,
sweet, yellow-stamened, ovary inferior,
has recently sprung up.
                                     But I had the odd
feeling, walking to the house
to write this down, that I had left
the birds and flowers in the field,
rooted or feeding. They are not in my
head, are not now on this page.
It was very strange to me, but I think
their loss was your absence. I wanted
to be walking up with Leif, the sun
behind us skipping off the pond,
the windy maple sheltering the house,
and find you there and say
here! A new blue flower (ovary inferior)
and busy Leif and Kris with naming
in a world I love. You even have
my field guide. It’s you I love.
I have believed so long
In the magic of names and poems.
I hadn’t thought them bodiless
at all. Tall Buttercup. Wild Vetch.
“Often I am permitted to return
to a meadow.” It all seemed real to me
last week. Words. You are the body
of my world, root and flower, the
brightness and surprise of birds.
I miss you, love. Tell Leif
you’re the names of things.

— Robert Hass from Field Guide. Yale Series of Younger Poets. Vol. 68. Yale University Press, 1973.

Ken Rosenbaum: I was a Bio major. One afternoon during sophomore or junior year, I was browsing natural history books at the Yale Coop, and I came upon one titled simply Field Guide. Curious, I opened it. It was not a field guide. It was a book of poetry, very accessible, clearly written by someone with a love of nature and West Coast landscapes. I bought it. About twenty years later, when Robert Hass was serving as poet laureate of the United States, I went to hear him at a reading, and afterwards he kindly autographed my copy of Field Guide. Here is one of the poems from the book.