The Wind Is Awake (But Will You Stir?)

Adolf Kosarek, “Night Wind,” ca. 1855

Spiritual Sunday

As Christians look ahead to Lent, which begins Wednesday, here’s a haunting John Burt to poem that clarifies the meaning of the season.  Lent is the time to get down and get real, cutting through distractions and focusing on what is important. That is why some people engage in various forms of abstinence: they reason that indulgence takes our mind away from spiritual search. As Sir Gawain and the Green Knight puts it,

After Christmas there came the cold cheer of Lent,
When with fish and plainer fate our flesh we reprove.

Perhaps reproving their flesh gets some people closer to God, but I find that poetry works better for me. Last year I gave myself over to Milton’s Paradise Regained. This year I’ve chosen Wordsworth’s Prelude.

Poems like Burt’s “On the Will to Believe” are also useful, especially as I wrestle with the parts that elude me.

The opening line points towards spiritual awakening—the Holy Spirit is often described as a wind—but isn’t certain if something within us will stir in response. Will our souls awake? Will we have the will to believe?

Who is awake? The wind is awake.
But will you stir? Her wakefulness is part of yours.

The remainder of the first stanza gives us discouraging images, suggestions of a dark night of the soul that may cause us to lose faith. To be sure, the wind offers us a guiding star that “she stole for you alone,” which sounds comforting—even more so because the wind is female—but the remaining lines offer no guarantees. As we gaze into the night sky, we see nothing but crucifixion, empty hands, broken relationships, and emptiness:

Will you walk with her in the darkness?
Here is the star she stole for you alone.
She will show to you a tree of thorns,
Her empty hands, that broken bridge.
You will read in the book of faces
But you will not find your own.

The second stanza provides some relief. After all, don’t we sometimes need to be brought up short to find God? Only when we stop and lie down do we begin to pay attention:

And you will remember then to stop, to lie
Down still, to say that if there were a mark
It would be there, and there would demonstrate
The love, the will, the calm necessity.

We’re not home free yet, however. After all, we’ve been given an “if”–if there is an indicator marking God’s presence in the dark sky above us–and upon that “if” hangs our belief in love and purpose. Once again, the final lines offer us no guarantees as we wander through a cold world, watched over by an unresponsive moon:

The clouds will scud among the glaciers of the mountain.
The idiot moon will watch in the cold.

Or as a discouraged Yeats puts it:

I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:   
That you were beautiful, and that I strove   
To love you in the old high way of love; 
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown   
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.

Will be push ourselves past despair and will ourselves to believe? The poet leaves the final choice up to us.

Here’s the poem in its entirety:

On the Will to Believe

By John Burt

Who is awake? The wind is awake.
But will you stir? Her wakefulness is part of yours.
Will you walk with her in the darkness?
Here is the star she stole for you alone.
She will show to you a tree of thorns,
Her empty hands, that broken bridge.
You will read in the book of faces
But you will not find your own.

And you will remember then to stop, to lie
Down still, to say that if there were a mark
It would be there, and there would demonstrate
The love, the will, the calm necessity.
The clouds will scud among the glaciers of the mountain.
The idiot moon will watch in the cold.

This entry was posted in Burt (John) and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

  • AVAILABLE NOW!

  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!
  • Twitter Authentication data is incomplete