Today's poem, The Groundhog, by the late American poet, Richard Eberhart, has far more to do with death and decay than it does with the large rodents commonly referred to as groundhogs or woodchucks. And though the groundhog at the center of this tale is dead on arrival, it does serve as a macabre reminder that Groundhog's Day is next Sunday, a day on which we will all learn how much winter is left for us to endure.
(According to folklore, if it is sunny when the groundhog exits his burrow on February 2nd, he will see his shadow, become frightened, and run back into his hole - and there will be six more weeks of winter. I don't think my friends in the Midwest can tolerate six more weeks of winter!)
Richard Eberhart was the Poet Laureate of the United States at one time, and he was also a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He published a dozen volumes of poetry during his lifetime.
Dust to dust . . .
by Richard Eberhart
I saw a groundhog lying dead.
Dead lay he; my senses shook,
And mind outshot our naked frailty.
There lowly in the vigorous summer
His form began its senseless change,
And made my senses waver dim
Seeing nature ferocious in him.
Inspecting close maggots' might
And seething cauldron of his being,
Half with loathing, half with a strange love,
I poked him with an angry stick.
The fever arose, became a flame
And Vigour circumscribed the skies,
Immense energy in the sun,
And through my frame a sunless trembling.
My stick had done nor good nor harm.
Then stood I silent in the day
Watching the object, as before;
And kept my reverence for knowledge
Trying for control, to be still,
To quell the passion of the blood;
Until I had bent down on my knees
Praying for joy in the sight of decay.
And so I left; and I returned
In Autumn strict of eye, to see
The sap gone out of the groundhog,
But the bony sodden hulk remained
But the year had lost its meaning,
And in intellectual chains
I lost both love and loathing,
Mured up in the wall of wisdom.
Another summer took the fields again
Massive and burning, full of life,
But when I chanced upon the spot
There was only a little hair left,
And bones bleaching in the sunlight
Beautiful as architecture;
I watched them like a geometer,
And cut a walking stick from a birch.
It has been three years, now.
There is no sign of the groundhog.
I stood there in the whirling summer,
My hand capped a withered heart,
And thought of China and of Greece,
Of Alexander in his tent;
Of Montaigne in his tower,
Of Saint Theresa in her wild lament.