This week Holly Thompson shared “Eclipse,” a corrugated artwork by Colleen Sakurai, for Day 15 of Lauren Shovan’s 6th Annual February Poetry Project.
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.
Jone at Check it Out is hosting
the week’s Round-Up.
Poetry Friday Schedule
January – June 2018
Thank you for sharing this incredible poem and the process. So lovely.
Thanks for the process notes! I, too, loved the line Irene mentioned.
I love this insight into your creative process!
Have you read Annie Dillard’s essay on an eclipse? This made me think of that. I bet you’d like it, if you haven’t read it. It’s in her book The Abundance. Ruth, thereisnosuchthingasagodforsakentown.blogspot.com
Yes, I’ve read Annie Dillard’s essay, an awesome description of the total eclipse in Feb. 1979, Yakima, WA; whereas, the eclipse Cooper described was in Cooperstown, NY, June 1806, over 200 years ago. I like Cooper’s rural observations, the turns in the descriptive phrases he used, and the glorious feeling of the restoration of light at the end of his essay. I toyed with the idea of combining found phrases from both into one poem, but the voice of each piece was so different.
I love the idea that you “happened upon James Fenimore Cooper’s essay.” Much of what I write is based upon something I have indirectly stumbled upon. Yay, for serendipity! And, yay, for your response to it!
Like Irene, I found this line the turning point in the poem. “It spoke directly to our spirits.” This line brings hope to the darkness, a magical moment. Alice, thanks for sharing this powerful piece based on an amazing author’s work.
This is perfect. Not only do I want to try this myself—but also with students! Well done the finding, making meaning and process notes. Just perfect.
I started playing around with found poetry last summer after attending a week-long writing class at UNH Summer Institutes. I’m hooked, and I’ve love learning so much about different topics from the “research” one does while reading the original source. Terrific job with this.
Thank you, Christie. I’ve posted a few in the past on my blog. Check under “Stuff I write about” for the tag “found poems.” I too love the learning. And I love examining the text — seeing how its compose, playing with the words and phrases, then from it creating something new. It’s great crafting practice. Be sure to go to my post “Rain” — a found poem from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. I think your K-students would like this.
Thank you for this handsome found poem Alice, it moves effortlessly from beginning to end! I also enjoyed hearing about your process.
It’s a wonderful thing you did, Alice, the research, then “finding the poem”, ensuring that you’ve written just what you want it to be. Because I watched the eclipse from on of the ground zero sites this summer, on a bridge over the Missouri River, this touched me so, the changes since: “A dull tramp of hoofs on the village bridge,” We did think this was an amazing experience, and now you’ve brought it back, all those ‘night coming’ events, then the ‘the blessed restoration of light’. Thank you!
I found it amazing that the description of a solar eclipse that happened 200 years ago could have so many sensory details that we also experienced. Of course, as you noted, we didn’t hear the tramp cows coming home.
Beautiful! You did a lovely job with it. “under the movement
Of the moon in a sublime voyage of worlds”
Thanks for sharing this find with us!
Nice poem. I especially love the last stanza. Your idea of marking key words and using them as inspiration is fantastic. I can see this working well for poets as well as for the classroom poetry writing exercises.
Thank you. 🙂 Creating “found poems” is a great reading / writing activity. Usually I write shorter ones taken from one or two paragraphs. This one is probably the longest one I’ve created.
Wow! That is an incredible description of an eclipse – and it does speak to life as well.
Love what you’ve done here. You’ve chosen such vivid phrases to describe the phenomenon. Dramatic and beautiful!
“It spoke directly to our spirits.” Great source material. Thank you for shaping these words so beautifully!