Six inches of fresh snow with flakes still in the air at mid-morning. A friend who works at Penn State had told me she might ski up the hollow this morning if the university closed, but according to the radio “non-essential employees” must still report to work by 10:30. Looking out across the snowy yard and the curve of driveway skirting the edge of the woods, I am reminded of a poem a courtesan wrote with one swift dash of her brush across a scented page in the 11th century – a celebration of the ephemeral that somehow still makes the throat catch all these centuries later. Czelaw Milosz, whose taste in poetry is impeccable, called attention to it in his blog-like journal A Year of the Hunter (trans. Madeline G. Levine, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1994). In the entry for February 26, 1988, Milosz wrote,
“I have an overwhelming aversion to discoursing on poetry, an aversion that sets me apart from the thousands of theoreticians, scholastics, martyrs of one or another “ism” who construct their university careers on that “ism.” I prefer a poem that was written a thousand years ago by the Japanese woman poet Izumi Shikibu (974-1034):
If he whom I wait for
Should come now, what will I do?
This morning the snow-covered garden
Is so beautiful without a trace of footprints.
“Is such poem an instrument of knowledge? Yes, of knowledge, and on a more profound level than philosophy.”