Jul 28 2017

A. R. Ammons – Eyesight

Published by at 8:44 am under Poetry

Eyesight
by A. R. Ammons

It was May before my
attention came
to spring and

my word I said
to the southern slopes
I’ve

missed it, it
came and went before
I got right to see:

don’t worry, said the mountain,
try the later northern slopes
or if

you can climb, climb
into spring: but
said the mountain

it’s not that way
with all things, some
that go are gone

— from Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971, by A. R. Ammons


/ Image by Warren Rohner /

I quite like the way this poem reminds us to pay attention, to be present.

It was May before my
attention came
to spring…

It is easy to get so busy with our lives that we miss life. Too much dedication to the minutia and the demands of each day can cause our peripheral vision to collapse. And then too often we miss the important stuff. We lose context and meaning. It is as if we go on a journey and then train ourselves to only stare down at our moving feet. Continuing this metaphor, we certainly can’t ignore our feet, particularly on difficult or uneven terrain. But if we don’t regularly look up we are more likely to lose our way… and the joy of the journey itself.

my word I said
to the southern slopes
I’ve

missed it, it
came and went before
I got right to see:

I love the poet’s phrase, that the spring came and went before he “got right to see.” Seeing is not simply a mechanical action, is it? It requires an inner readiness, a willingness to be open to the encounter of what is witnessed. We have to be receptive, and ready for surprise. We don’t just look, we have to get right to see.

don’t worry, said the mountain,
try the later northern slopes
or if

you can climb, climb
into spring…

I’m not sure if the meaning of this is obvious to everyone. In the natural world, seasonal patterns are cooler and move in reverse as we go away from the equator or higher in elevation. I live near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. If, like Ammons, May has come and I have forgotten to pause and appreciate spring — the wildflowers, the new grasses, the birdsong in the cool mornings — I can drive up into the mountains and find it all there waiting for me.

In other words, many of the things we were too preoccupied to recognize and appreciate at the right moment in life can still be found with a little “climbing,” a little effort, a change in perspective. If we missed it when it came to us, we can go to it.

…but
said the mountain

it’s not that way
with all things, some
that go are gone

But not all things are so. Some things, when they are gone, they are gone. We might say that this is closer to the greater truth, that all things, really, when they go are gone. Even an experience repeated is entirely new the second time. That first experience is gone. And, once experienced, that second experience is gone too.

This may sound tragic, but it is not really so. It is simply the nature of the flow of reality. Nothing is truly stable or repeatable. Everything, every encounter, every moment is entirely unique to itself. This is the blessing and the challenge of life. When we feel trapped in a sameness, we are simply not seeing. There is constant change and mystery unfolding within that apparent sameness.

The ephemeral, flowing nature of experience invites us to keep paying attention. Because that is what we truly have. We don’t “have” experiences. They can’t be grasped or held. We can catalog them, list them as part of our personal histories, but that doesn’t truly make them ours. All we truly have is our awareness of experiences as they pass through our lives. If our awareness isn’t engaged, then those experiences were never truly experienced.

So, yes, let’s climb the mountains to find the wildflowers, but better still not to miss them when they sprout in our own back yards.


Recommended Books: A. R. Ammons

Collected Poems: 1951 – 1971 Brink Road: Poems Selected Poems A Coast of Trees: Poems by A R Ammons Uplands: New Poems by A R Ammons
More Books >>


A. R. Ammons, A. R. Ammons poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry A. R. Ammons

US (1926 – 2001) Timeline
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3 responses so far

3 Responses to “A. R. Ammons – Eyesight”

  1. Amardeep Singhon 28 Jul 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Very nice commentary, Ivan. I especially liked this part:

    “The ephemeral, flowing nature of experience invites us to keep paying attention. Because that is what we truly have. We don’t “have” experiences. They can’t be grasped or held. We can catalog them, list them as part of our personal histories, but that doesn’t truly make them ours. All we truly have is our awareness of experiences as they pass through our lives. If our awareness isn’t engaged, then those experiences were never truly experienced.”

  2. Annaon 29 Jul 2017 at 12:57 am

    When I read any poem about mountains,
    I always smiled with an ‘aha’,
    and the thought spontaneously arise:

    “The author for sure has influenced by Chinese poetry,
    and especially by Li Po”.

    Let enjoy some of them and to feel the similarity.

    GREEN MOUNTAIN

    By Li Bai

    “You ask me why I dwell in the green mountain;
    I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
    As the peach-blossom flows down stream and is gone into the unknown,
    I have a world apart that is not among men.”
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Alone Looking at the mountain

    By Li Po

    “The birds have vanished down the sky.
    Now the last cloud drains away.

    We sit together, the mountain and me,
    until only the mountain remains.”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Climbing T’ai-po’s Peak

    By Li Po

    “To the west I ascend the peak of Grand White –
    In dusky sunlight finish with my scrambling and climbing.
    Grand White grants to me a colloquy,
    And for my sake opens up the Barriers of Heaven!
    I will mount the cooling wind and be gone –
    Breaking straight out through the floating clouds.
    Lifting my hand, I may draw near the moon,
    Proceeding onwards, as if there is no mountain now!
    Once parted and gone away from Wu-kung,
    What time would I come back here again?”

    ~~~~~~~~~~~

    The Mountain for me is a metaphor of Consciousness.

    Inviting to climb the mountain, for me
    means to
    expand Consciousness
    to higher and higher levels,
    beyond the reality of the physical eyes and
    the physical sense of ‘me’,
    beyond the ordinary human experiences,
    transcendence the loop of the linear time
    and duality.

    As Ivan said in his commentary,
    ‘BE Present’.

    Yes, BE and be Present.

    From the top of the Mountain
    we are aware of the floating nature of the
    Consciousness and the choice as to where to

    FOCUS

    our attention –
    in past, present or future –
    that all are happening simultaneously,
    outside of the linear time.

    So, let climb,climb the mountain….

  3. Carolon 31 Jul 2017 at 6:41 am

    Hi Ivan – thank you for this peaceful and gentle poem. After a week of
    political chaos, it was a real blessing! Peace and Love, Caroll

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