Having experienced a total solar eclipse in Oregon on August 21, 2017, I immediately decided I must write a nonfiction descriptive poem. While researching to confirm a few facts, I happened upon James Fenimore Cooper’s essay “The Eclipse,” his personal account of a total solar eclipse in 1806. It was a fascinating read. A beautiful moment by moment description. I couldn’t resist creating a found poem from his words. And when I finished, I realized that though the poem is about a physical event, it is a metaphor for life, one of hope.
Night at Noonday
In the summer of 1806, on Monday, the 16th of June,
The heat of midsummer filled the valley,
The heavens cloudless, a brilliant day,
Not a breath of air, a hot sultry noontide.
The hour drew near.
A sombre, yellowish, unnatural coloring shed
Over the country. Trees, the outline of dark pictures,
Graven on the sky. All creatures thrown into a state
Of agitation, mistrusting, this not the approach of evening.
A quarter of an hour passed and light failed more.
With each second, dimness and darkness increased.
Convinced night was at hand, swallows dropped
Into chimneys, martins returned to their boxes,
Pigeons flew home, and barn fowls went to roost.
The flood of sunshine weakened.
A spark appeared to glitter — a star,
One after another they came in view
More rapidly than in evening twilight,
Crowning the pines on the mountain.
A wonderful vision in noontide hours.
My eyes turned eastward, there floated the moon,
Grand, dark, majestic, mighty to rob us sun’s rays,
Interposed between sun above
And earth on which we stood.
Darkness like early night fell upon the village.
A dull tramp of hoofs on the village bridge,
Cows coming homeward from wild pastures,
Deceived by darkness much deeper than twilight.
Dew fell perceptibly, coolness so great from heat of morning.
Lake, hills, and town were swallowed in darkness.
All labor ceased, hushed voices only broke absolute stillness.
The wild plaintive note of a whippoorwill–that bird of night–
Slowly repeated. A bat came flitting about our heads.
On far distant northern horizon, a brightness of dawn lingered.
Twelve minutes past eleven.
The moon stood revealed, a vast black orb obscuring the sun.
The gloom of night was upon us, a sensation of deepest awe,
Of utter insignificance under the movement
Of the moon in a sublime voyage of worlds.
Three minutes of darkness absolute.
Appalling as withdrawal of light had been
Most glorious, most sublime was restoration.
The corona of light became suddenly brighter.
The heavens beyond were illuminated.
Brightness fell into the valley.
A sudden, joyous return of light
Like the swift passage of
A shadow of a very dark cloud,
It spoke directly to our spirits.
Not like the gradual dawning of day, rising of sun,
It was sudden, amazing, rays flowing through
Darkness in torrents till they again illuminated
Forest, mountains, valley and lake.
Several minutes passed speechless.
Every face turned toward heaven,
The spirit of man in humility
Before his Maker, rejoicing again
In the blessed restoration of light.
After that frightful moment of a night at noon-day.
Writing about my writing
In my post “Rain,” I share what a found poem is and how to write one.
The process I used to create “Night at Noonday” was fairly simple.
- I printed a copy of Cooper’s essay.
- As I read I marked phrases that caught my attention.
- I copied and pasted these selected phrases in the order they occur in the essay. This was my first draft of the found poem.
- I revised by eliminating some words, changing verb tense when necessary, and adding a few function words, i.e., conjunctions, prepositions.
- Then I worked on stanzas, line breaks, and general form.
Here’s a copy of my selection of phrases.