Poem Hunter
(18 February 1926 – 25 February 2001 / Whiteville, North Carolina)


I know if I find you I will have to leave the earth
and go on out
over the sea marshes and the brant in bays
and over the hills of tall hickory
and over the crater lakes and canyons
and on up through the spheres of diminishing air
past the blackset noctilucent clouds
where one wants to stop and look
way past all the light diffusions and bombardments
up farther than the loss of sight
into the unseasonal undifferentiated empty stark

And I know if I find you I will have to stay with the earth
inspecting with thin tools and ground eyes
trusting the microvilli sporangia and simplest
and praying for a nerve cell
with all the soul of my chemical reactions
and going right on down where the eye sees only traces

You are everywhere partial and entire
You are on the inside of everything and on the outside

I walk down the path down the hill where the sweetgum
has begun to ooze spring sap at the cut
and I see how the bark cracks and winds like no other bark
chasmal to my ant-soul running up and down
and if I find you I must go out deep into your
far resolutions
and if I find you I must stay here with the separate leaves

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Other poems of AMMONS (34)

Comments (1)

What a gripping, challenging poem; what a triumph of meaningfulness. Ammons plays in a minor key, but his motifs are recurrent and his chords satisfying and simple. What his persona is looking for will be found 'partial and entire, ' it will be found far beyond the earth around us and deep within the world within us, outside and inside of what we see; he must go far and stay here. The culminating image is the sweetgum tree in spring: its 'far resolutions' and its 'separate leaves'; its sap and its bark. What it brings together are the 'empty stark' of infinity and the 'chemical reactions' and visible 'traces' of the here and now. Only the two opposites taken as one can ultimately satisfy our humanness. We simply can't be fulfilled by one or the other. We love the sweetgum because it's so familiar and sensible and clear to us and because, at the same time, it lifts us to the highest level of our imagination, it sweeps to the farthest reaches of (okay, let's be explicit here) spirituality. His poems are simple - but demanding. One ask simple questions and accept simple answers. But most of us must keep a dictionary handy (I suspect he enjoys using words hat are new, even to him, expecting them to do his bidding, and expecting us to enjoy their obscurity, rendering it translucent) . And must of us must read and reread his lines, decoding every one of our own satisfaction. So I begin this one (and, as it turns out, end up) asking two simple questions: who is the 'I' of the poem and who is the 'you'? Both anwers, I think, permit opposites - maybe even require opposites (the far and near, if you will; the insider and outside, the here and there) . For me, the 'I' is the poet himself, or the persona of a poet, or ultimately seeking a meaning/a message to share with others. And, for me, the 'you' is that meaning or message, the poem itself, or poetry in general, or all 'sense' in both 'senses' of that word: meaningful ideas and sense perceptions, the physical and the metaphysical, rational satisfaction and emotional pleasure.