Eclipsing Poets



On Monday, we all went a little crazy over an historic cosmic performance not seen in the United States for decades. With the help of some amazing eclipse glasses, my husband and I stood in awe of the celestial dance happening above us. We were alone at home enjoying the view on the Chester, feeling good that we were not stuck in any crowds or in any traffic jams. Friends we know from Baltimore, who watched totality in Cheyenne, Wyoming, missed their flight home from Denver on Monday afternoon because of the traffic after the eclipse.

In Nashville, our daughter, who is the Director of External Programs at Harpeth Hall, a girls’ school for students in Grades 6-12, helped organize a solarbration on their campus with food trucks and fun. They hosted 2000 people waiting for the night sky at totality. The photos are really incredible but the sounds of families cheering in the videos struck me.

Why were we drawn to watch the Sun and the New Moon align this week in the Great American Eclipse? Was it spiritual, scientific, hypnotic or symbolic? Or all of the above. In ancient history, solar eclipses were omens of death. Yet, according to the Greek historian Herodotus, a solar eclipse in 585 BC “stopped the war between the Lydians and the Medes, who saw the dark skies as a sign to make peace with each other.” Perhaps we could learn from them.

I believe it was the effect of the solar eclipse when I finally heard President Trump speak truth on Monday night in his address to the country. “We cannot remain a force for peace in the world if we are not at peace with each other at home.” I could not agree more with this statement. The solar eclipse brought Americans together this week – how can we hold on to this power.

Poets continue to envision a better world where we all live together in peace. Monday was also National Poet’s Day, although it was eclipsed by another event (pun intended). Poet’s Day acknowledges the long history of poetry in our world, and most especially those who give us the gift of their writing. Poets paint with passion and wonder and I appreciate reading poetry, as for me, it is oftentimes a cosmic experience.

Two poets who sprang to mind on Monday were Naomi Nye, a friend whom I admire, and Mary Oliver. Both write of peace in two totally divergent ways.

Naomi Nye’s father was a Palestinian refugee and her mother an American of German and Swiss descent, and she spent her adolescence in both Jerusalem and San Antonio, Texas, where she still resides. Her experience of both “cultural difference and different cultures” has influenced her work. Naomi, known for writing about ordinary events, people, and objects, has said for her, “the primary source of poetry has always been local life, random characters met on the streets, our own ancestry sifting down to us through small essential daily tasks.” Through our shared humanity Naomi envisions a world of peace. As she says in the introduction to This Same Sky, an anthology she curated of poems from around the world, “…what lovely, larger life becomes ours when we listen to one another.” In her poem Gate A4 she describes an airport scene where she helped a Palestinian woman who spoke no English through her knowledge of Arabic and her compassion. “This is the world I want to live in,” she wrote, “the shared world.”

Mary Oliver writes about a peaceful world through the lens of nature. In Upstream, an inspirational book to me, she illustrates the importance of creativity, her insatiable curiosity for the natural world and the great responsibility she feels, handed to her by writers before her, to observe thoughtfully and record her passions. She encourages us to keep moving upstream – to lose ourselves in the beauty of nature and to find time for the creativity that lives inside each of us. “I could not be a poet without the natural world,” she said, “someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.” If we all believe that in our shared nature we can find comfort and creativity, we can also find the way forward to peace.

Americans were one with nature on Monday, standing breathless and awestruck, wearing goofy glasses and gazing upward to experience one of the wonders of our universe. Let’s hold on to the awe – perhaps it will keep our shared humanity before us in a powerful way.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown and a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s. 


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