One wish worth working is to be here
with no light but the speckled night,
with no friends but the framing boughs
whose voice the wind alone can coax;
to think nothing but wonder and worship;
to want nothing but for this glory to go on;
to be filled with that pseudonatural something
that one never knows he has forgotten
until he touches it again with tears, repenting.
To wonder that humankind was made for wonder
is not to know it.
I wrote this poem on Katy and my summer camping trip in 2018, at Hartley Springs Campground north of Mammoth, CA.
Seeing the stars again in a clear dark sky after months of city living gives me a sense of wonder that few other things do. It’s hard for me to look away. I wrote this poem because I wanted to capture that feeling.
I began with the desire to call the stars “the speckled night.” The poem quickly grew beyond that, and by the end I was considering changing those words to “the naked night” to bring in more alliteration. Ultimately, I decided that I liked the image of “speckled” better, and that “naked” was not as clearly luminescent in my mind’s eye.
The poem hangs on the idea of a wish, which feels a bit cliched to me. I hoped to mitigate this by communicating that the wish is something to be “worked” (which also aided my opening alliteration) and not made, an idea that pairs well with “repenting” at the end of the stanza.
The final line is a bit of moralizing, but it’s a moral that comes directly from that feeling of wonder. In a note below my draft, I wrote
Is it so unfathomable that we can have eternal joy in eternal worship before the throne of God when his creation can leave us in such awe—can make us sick to look away?
Church worship has often left me with little of the feeling I would call worship and made me doubt what the Westminster Catechism purports for us: to enjoy God forever. I’ve felt a little like Tarwater does about the Bread of Life in Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away:
The boy would have a hideous vision of himself sitting forever with his great-uncle on a green bank, full and sick, staring at a broken fish and a multiplied loaf.
Joy can be a hideous thing to the one who doesn’t experience it. I thank God that he has given me these clearer glimpses from time to time.