Cold and Planetary

In the Poet’s Corner of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, pause to find Plath’s stone laid bare. Carved upon it is the opening line from her poem, “The Moon and the Yew Tree”:

This is the light of the mind,
Cold and planetary

There will never be a greater statement made in this or any language, for here is an intergalactic declaration of independence.

Radio waves emitted hundreds of years ago– or as recently as today– travel billions of light years into space. The wildest reaches, the greatest unknown, these waves are stumped only when swallowed into black holes but even there, in all likelihood, they continue to exist– as we all will and do– simply in another form. An alternate current moving down a different stream.

Cold and planetary.

You put off thinking about it. You push it out of your mind. It is both too formal and too abstract. But you know this, as you know all truths in blood and bone: our very existence is the stuff of implausible ephemera. Imagine the courage– the sheer strength– it takes to stare into the final void of this ephemera.

And yet, each moment that passes in which we continue to fail to regard, to hold sacred, that void is a lie. The void, ultimately, may well be all there is. And our quest, our constant work, as people alive is to consider the void. To consider all that is.

Our parents walked away from us the moment we were born. The planet turns away from us, ensuring both our imminent death and eternal survival, in whatever form.

Cold. Cold and planetary.

How very nearly we were never here. The chance was but one in billions. Yet how utterly and in total we are. We are here.

Why does this make me shudder? If this does not make you shudder, why not? I want you to tell me. Call me on the phone after you’ve come to your senses having drained a bottle of very good red and please whisper the secret into my still-pulsing ear. Then hang up on me.

For how very nearly I am not here. Nor are you.

Let’s talk.

THE MOON AND THE YEW TREE, by Sylvia Plath (1961)

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky —
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.

The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness —
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.

I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars
Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness —
Blackness and silence