Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Pansy's Purple Patience

When the snow-girt earth
Cracks to let through a spurt
Of sudden green, and from the muddy dirt
A snowdrop leaps, how mark its worth
To eyes frost-hardened, and do weary men
Feel patience then?
—Amy Lowell, “Patience”

On our way to work on Friday I felt strangely happy to notice we were following a builder’s truck, with two pieces of planed wood sticking out over the tailgate, a bucketful of trowels for smoothing a new sidewalk (though a pawprint or a name will afterwards be left in its hardening surface for a lifetime) or perhaps for scraping a thousand years of accumulation off the surface of an archaeological dig, and in the back window of the passenger cab a small jaunty white terrier.

Today, for my well-being, I’m asked to reflect on the power of patience.  It is that, I think, those few small details that connect us to the earth.

Patience is laying out the walk, smoothing the fresh cement, observing laid-down building rituals so the entirety will stand.  A new foundation, a new life or home, life going on.

Wendell Berry, in his “In a Hotel Parking Lot Thinking of Dr. Williams” writes similarly about people needing to have, and no longer having, patience—

     the patience for beauty: the weighted

     grainfield, the shady street,
     the well-laid stone and the changing tree
     whose branches spread above.

     For want of songs and stories
     they have dug away the soil,
     paved over what is left,

     set up their perfunctory walls
     in tribute to no god,
     for the love of no man or woman,

     so that the good that was here
     cannot be called back
     except by long waiting, by great

     sorrows remembered and to come
     by invoking the thunderstones
     of the world, and the vivid air.

Patience involves (and enables) a particular relationship with the world, with time.  Care and tenderness and an awareness of what’s past and what’s ahead, while living yet in the moment in the manner of sages, poets, saints.

The most patient I have been was pruning a fenceful of overgrown potato vine one summer, cutting out the dead layers without cutting the new, tracing tendrils.  One bit at a time, seeing the fence and garden and my mind itself and my heart clear.

Patience on a monument.  Patience is a monument.  The time-worn statue visited each day over the years, the heartsease visiting it brings, the sturdy friendship with the stone and elements that write on it the slow and patient stories, some with multiple endings.

E.E. cummings writes about patience a lot—

     i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

     i am a little church (far from the frantic
     with its rapture and anguish) at peace with nature


     Being is
     patience is patient is (patiently

     all the eyes of these with listening
     hands only fishermen are prevented by cathedrals

and again

     the lilac's smoke the poppy's pompous fire

     the pansy's purple patience and the grave

     frailty of daises

The pansy’s purple patience says it all.  All peace and well-being are there.

image:  Patience on a Monument Smiling at Grief, John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (the artist's life moving from Yorkshire to Florence)


  1. a truly beautiful post on patience. of which i have none.
    it is the acquired virtue on every new year resolution.
    and alas.
    i'm still the buzzard that looks down and says . . .
    "patience my ass. i'm gonna kill somethin'."
    i adore ee cummings.
    . . . " no. not even the rain has such small hands. "

  2. E.E. Cummings mostly just for you, Tammy J! And I do think you have patience over the long run, the way you describe your life. Moment by moment is another thing entirely . . . How well I know!