Poet Derek Furr has given readers something truly beautiful with his poem The Meadow, an idyllic narrative and a parable that both questions whether this life is enough and also gives us the answer. As the narrator of this quiet piece of writing wanders across a seemingly endless meadow, he receives assistance and advice from a mysterious old man, a one-eyed finch, and even from the grass itself. And in the shadow of the pecan tree near the end of the poem, the questioning pilgrim or wanderer is given a simple revelation that imparts peace to even the reader of the poem.
Crossing a meadow with no horizon
I came upon a man in a wooden chair
That needed to be re-caned. He perched
On the back with a bucket between his knees.
“For rain water?” I asked, and he nodded.
“Sometimes a goldfinch visits and sips.”
Grass had just begun to break the sod.
“Am I walking in the right direction?”
He removed his straw hat and waved,
Ran his hand across his baldness,
Stroked his long beard.
“Everyone asks that,” he said,
“Spring has arrived, there will be
More light, and fragrance.”
He replaced his hat and offered water
From a tin ladle on the bucket.
I had not known how thirsty I was.
I worried about taking too much.
He assured me that it would rain
Soon enough, even pour down,
“A barrel would be too small.”
“What about shelter?” I asked,
Seeing no trees or cliffs, only meadow.
“You’re wearing a cap,” he noted,
“And that overcoat should shed water.
Tuck your shoes under your arm
And don’t put them on again till
Your feet dry.” I thanked him
For his advice.
Clouds gathered, flocks of finches,
Dozens, then hundreds, descended
Gold and purple on the meadow.
To my surprise, they were silent.
I held out my cap, and one flew in,
A house finch, missing an eye.
“What happened?” I thought.
She must have read my face.
“Hailstone, when we crossed the gulf.
Don’t be concerned! The benefit
Of a flock is we guide each other.”
She preened while she spoke—or
Sang, her speech was melodic,
Like a recitative, and confident.
“How far to the meadow’s edge?
You must have crossed it in flight.”
She ignored my question.
“In time you will come to a pecan tree.
The ground is covered with nuts
No one harvested. Fill your cap and pockets.”
I scanned the meadow but saw no tree.
“Dare I ask how far?” I dared ask.
My finch hovered by my ear, “Would you
Walk faster or slower if you knew?”
Lifting all at once, the flocks caused a breeze
That raked across the tiny meadow grasses.
It smelled of cinnamon.
I cannot say how long I walked. Night
Came and went and came again, rain
Fell and slaked my thirst, I slept
While walking as if in a dream
Until the tree was before me.
In its broad shade, I lay
Against the trunk and cracked
Pecans in my palms. The meadow stretched
Endless around me, north, south, east, west.
“Is this all?” I wondered aloud.
A breeze rattled the branches in bud.
I foresaw the catkins and new fruit,
A downpour under ten thousand leaves,
Their slow shedding of green for gold,
A fire in winter kindled from windfall,
And the grass soughed, “Sufficient for you.”
Derek Furr is the author of two mixed-genre collections, Suite For Three Voices and Semitones, and a book of literary criticism on poetry and performance. He grew up in rural North Carolina, taught public school in Virginia, and lives now with his family in the Hudson Valley, where he teaches literature and directs the MAT Program at Bard College.