‘Grieving with the Animals’
By Polly Roberts
Nature and humans merge in the original, compelling lines of ‘Grieving with the Animals’. Mourning and bereavement are profoundly explored in an attempt to overcome the suffering and find new reasons to carry on. Nature is closely observed in an osmosis that makes the poet part of it. Humanity, animals and plants therefore combine in a harmonious empathy that helps the poet to overcome grief and accept loss. The poet’s narrative voice guides the reader through this process. The poems and prose poems are structured in sequences that set out the important steps of her healing journey.
The lines are double spaced to highlight the isolation and detachment the poet is experiencing. Sometimes there is only one line on the page, allowing the negative white space to emphasise the void that surrounds the poet’s existence. The recovery is slow and sometimes painful, resounding in well-crafted sounds and fascinating imageries:
The day before I received the news, two swans flew low
over my head. Their wings thrummed like a helicopter.
Eyes turned to watch the rescue vehicle, and instead saw
Animals are in communion for you,
as are we,
nosing each other’s armpits
as we bed in
for warm companionship.
Because you went cold.
(‘Animals are in communion’)
The fragmented lines convey the unspeakable mysteries of feeling lost and alone after the death of someone dear. The poet looks for reasons to carry on living in the luscious landscape that surrounds her and in the animals whose vitality testifies to a wish to accept life as it is without asking too many questions. The poet therefore experiences her merging with nature as a metamorphosis, a change that allows her to observe her situation from different viewpoints:
I caw like a crow.
I wail like an elephant.
I moan like a cow giving birth.
I yelp like a puppy.
I sniff like a mouse.
Words no longer speak for me.
I stand on the precipice of the waterfall and peer over
the edge. An end of land strangely satisfying.
River moves on beneath me. A life force, fierce and
strong, going, gone.
River falls. Fast and heavy, top tumbling, desperate to
River. A rushing sheet that slips and seems to slow
before meeting bottom. A reflected snippet of sky and
clouds along the way.
The world is alive. Every colour, every shade, every blade,
(‘In Conversation with You’)
Nature speaks to her, communicating a renewed strength that has no precise goal; it is a flowing, living force despite the encounters with difficulties and obstacles. This process of transformation in communion with nature is crucial in the acceptance of the death of her dear one. She experiences ups and downs when periods of depression alternate with a deep immersion in nature that is her only source of comfort:
Grief momentarily slips away as I soak in rivers
and seas. I might have to live underwater soon.
I am a speck on the mountain.
Rings of light stream around me. Caught in a spotlight
I might be vacuumed to another world. There’s no further to go.
Wind pushes uneasily against my body, disturbed by this new
Emptiness and death seem overwhelming at certain points, but death never actually happens. Some poems have haiku structures, conveying in essential lines strong, moving imageries that engage the reader in the poet’s search for new purpose in life, which inevitably ends in death, leaving the survivors bewildered and alone.
The poet’s empathy and communion with nature are also connected with environmental concerns about global warming: the earth is drying and decaying under her feet. This is described in engaging, sharp lines that reveal a deep involvement at personal and worldwide levels. The line breaks and the punctuation highlight the dramatic tone of the poem:
It is decaying beneath me.
The colour of nicotine stained skin.
between each lessening puff of wind.
I lie on my deathbed of moss, yellow,
Earth, panting its last words dry and hollow.
(‘It Hasn’t Rained for Weeks’)
Grieving and growing while aware of and in communion with nature work in parallel in the poet’s journey towards acceptance, an experience that eventually enriches her life and her poetry. The sequence ‘Except the Birds’ beautifully summarises this journey, which is also a quest for significance in the apparent dichotomy between life and death. The refrain ‘I still can’t believe he’s gone. Burned to nothing.’ (where the second half is slightly changed in ‘Burned to dust’, ‘Burned to air.’, ‘Burned to earth’ and ‘Burned to everything’) encompasses all the elements in an attempt to reach a wholeness that might give a sense of completeness but, at the same time, is vacant:
Faraway, the tide stirs. A crashing fizz for open ears on
a paradise below. White sand with no footprints except
(‘Except the Birds’)
It is a world in which humans are barely present, but this is the world where the poet finds her voice, which she can use to meditate and express her bereavement. Polly Roberts’s poetry reveals a sincere and engaging involvement in nature’s secrets that she explores through her grieving for the death of a person who was dear to her, conveying innovative imageries in captivating lines.