Eyesight

by A. R. Ammons


Original Language English

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

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/ Image by Warren Rohner /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

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
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Eyesight