“Matins” by Charles Wright

Sunlight like Vaseline in the trees,

                                   smear and shine, smear and shine.

Ten days of rain and now the echoing forth of bland and blue

Through the evergreens.

Deer stand on their hind legs

                                    in the bright meadow grasses.

The sound of the lilac up-surge rings bells for the bees.

Cloud puffs, like mortar rounds from the afterlife,

                                  pockmark the sky.

Time, in its crystal goblet, laps and recedes, laps and recedes.


If we were the Rapture’s child, if we

Were the Manichaean boy,

If we were the Bodisattva baby,

                                  today would be a good day

To let the light in, or send it out.

We’re not, however. We’re Nature’s nobodies,

                                  and we’d do well

To put on the wu wei slippers and find a hard spot

To sit on,

             sinking like nothing through the timed tides of ourselves.


Charles Wright was born in 1935 and has published several acclaimed poetry collections throughout his life. His rural Tennessee upbringing has forged a motif of nature and self-reflection throughout many of his works.  As one of the preeminent poets of the last fifty years, Wright’s poetry collections have won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize, the Griffin International Poetry Prize, and a Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Most recently the Library of Virginia celebrated his work with its lifetime achievement award.

Originally published in the Appalachian Poetry Spring/Summer 2005 Volume 55 number 1 of Shenandoah, Matins is one of several poems previously published by Shenandoah.  With a strong reliance on natural imagery and religious allusion, Wright creates a breathtaking scene that reminds the reader of the inevitable passage of time as well as the ultimately useless human imperative to understand our world through religion. He paints a picture of the perfect sunlit clearing, with light streaming through leaves and perfect “cloud puffs” that are so perfect they appear like something from the afterlife.  The poem references the passage of time in an almost meditative exhalation before moving on to question existence, first by referencing the Christian ideal of the Rapture as it relates to a child. Then Manichaeism, a part of the Gnostic religions founded in Iran, also applied to a youth. Then a reference to the Bodisattva, a term for Gautama Buddha before he reached enlightenment, culminates this triad of youthful religious allusions.  These allusions serve to orient the narrator as an unenlightened, less-than-wise person, which Wright concludes by bringing the reader into the equation as a fellow “nobody.” Finally, Wright mentions wu wei, which is the Dao tenant of inaction. Suggesting  that we put on the “wu wei slippers” is tantamount to saying “let’s put on our philosophizing cap” and that most people could use some time alone with themselves if meaning is ever to be attributed to this chaotic world.