Penumbrae

The shadows have their seasons, too.
The feathery web the budding maples
cast down upon the sullen lawn

bears but a faint relation to
high summer's umbrageous weight
and tunnellike continuum—

black leached from green, deep pools
wherein a globe of gnats revolves
as airy as an astrolabe.

The thinning shade of autumn is
an inherited Oriental,
red worn to pink, nap worn to thread.

Shadows on snow look blue. The skier,
exultant at the summit, sees his poles
elongate toward the valley: thus

each blade of grass projects another
opposite the sun, and in marshes
the mesh is infinite,

as the winged eclipse an eagle in flight
drags across the desert floor
is infinitesimal.

And shadows on water!—
the beech bough bent to the speckled lake
where silt motes flicker gold,

or the steel dock underslung
with a submarine that trembles,
its ladder stiffened by air.

And loveliest, because least looked-for,
gray on gray, the stripes
the pearl-white winter sun

hung low beneath the leafless wood
draws out from trunk to trunk across the road
like a stairway that does not rise.

by John Updike

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