Enter Darkness, Exit Light: Five Poems for Reading After the Reaping. {poetry}


And here we are again, moving away from the light into the darkness, muting our musings in order to preserve the present moment.

As the full moon fell, so did my heart. As the bright orb rose, so did my hope. And on and on I ramble as the brambles dry and thorns become bare on the branches. Leaves and berries no longer in season, the dry spell has come.

It is a time for closing in, reaping the final harvests of the year and turning inward.

And what do you find when you look inside? Are your coffers full? What have you stored up today to get you through the winter’s chill? What have you saved for planting? Have you gathered any seeds worth stowing away for future sowing on a warm spring day?

I find that as I enter the hibernation period, I often stock up on words. Words that reflect the little light that is left as the twilight of the year arrives. Verses that remind me there is delight in dormancy and breadth in darkness.

We struggle to survive daily, and as the dying time comes and we often fight against it. Why? It’s normal, after all. Natural. And death is the only constant, if even but only for a little while.

So, like seeds, I gather words to get me through the dark days ahead.

Here are five poems to read after the reaping is complete, when the shadows stretch long and the lean days of winter ensue. May they fill you with enough sustenance to keep your soul satiated, as they do me.

Five Poems for Dark Times


I came across this poem recently, a forgotten gift from an old friend.  It arose in a time when darkness once again descended upon me, and in it, I can find relief. Here I can enter into the silence of the earth through the words of Father Rilke.

Quiet friend who has come so far,

feel how your breathing makes more space around you.

Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.

Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29


Amidst the constant wax and wane of life and the strife we have no choice but to embrace, I like to turn to the natural rhythms of change. Most pressing of these is the life-death cycle we are each becoming all too familiar with, but upon which, the very Earth depends.

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself–
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

~Mark Strand, Lines for Winter


It’s only natural that as the elongation of hours without the Sun becomes pronounced, we employ mundane methods in an attempt to lengthen the light. We try to hold off the shadows, day by day, as we approach the Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Turning inward is only natural, when the outward world grows dark.

Dawn comes later and later now,
and I, who only a month ago
could sit with coffee every morning
watching the light walk down the hill
to the edge of the pond and place
a doe there, shyly drinking,

then see the light step out upon
the water, sowing reflections
to either side — a garden
of trees that grew as if by magic —
now see no more than my face,
mirrored by darkness, pale and odd,

startled by time. While I slept,
night in its thick winter jacket
bridled the doe with a twist
of wet leaves and led her away,
then brought its black horse with harness
that creaked like a cricket, and turned

the water garden under. I woke,
and at the waiting window found
the curtains open to my open face;
beyond me, darkness. And I,
who only wished to keep looking out,
must now keep looking in.

~ Ted Kooser, A Letter in October


As we turn inward, we often tumble out into words and verses from well we draw from, deep inside. This poem captures not only the natural seasons but the power of nature to awaken the creative force within us.

The ground is tilled
and deep within it,
the most fertile of soil
and a top layer
that inhales an opening
for a seed to fall
fall and grow

Everything I plant, grows
and what doesn’t,
grows me

And today’s sun settled deep and low
on its knees to sing
a prayer for me
that came to me
out of the lines I wrote
while taking my pen to the sky
to bring its vast open-wide
to the ground with me

And I write
as easy as I breathe
I write
as deep as that prayer
on bended knee
I write
the story behind my eyes
inside and outside the lines
I write

Black on white
and white across black
when the night takes over
takes me over
to the deepest well I swim in
to dip ink into the blood
of the vein until death
and even then…

I’ll write
in the under of the afterworld
sending letters through the blood-red bark
of a manzanita tree
seeping the poetry of me
from the beyond

Where I need no pen
no paper
no keyboard

Only the mind inside of holy fingers
reaching out to spill
more life-force into the living
more life-force into
the living

That will be me

In every fallen leaf
and every new leaf unfurling
on the bud of a stretched-out branch
spiraling its rooted wings
out to birth me
breathe me
breathe and birth me
into a great wide-open

~ Leslie Caplan, In Every Fallen Leaf


Finally, when all the leaves have gone and the winter has fallen, we feel the starkness and stillness descend. The lovely thing about descent is the quiet rest that ensues. Even in the most barren of times, the artist continues to grow.

In winter
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
where the wind-bird

with its white eyes
shoves and pushes
among the branches.
Like any of us

he wants to go to sleep,
but he’s restless —
he has an idea,
and slowly it unfolds

from under his beating wings
as long as he stays awake.
But his big, round music, after all,
is too breathy to last.

So, it’s over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he’s done all he can.

I don’t know the name of this bird,
I only imagine his glittering beak
tucked in a white wing
while the clouds —

which he has summoned
from the north —
which he has taught
to be mild, and silent —

thicken, and begin to fall
into the world below
like stars, or the feathers
of some unimaginable bird

that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent —
that has turned itself
into snow.

~Mary Oliver, White Eyes

Let the darkness descend. Be at peace.

Gather up your harvest and settle in with these words to warm your soul.


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SR Atchley

SR Atchley

A writer, artist & dreamer, Shanna has been potentiating talent since childhood. She is moved by nature, the arts, and academia, along with the vast mysteries of our inner and outer worlds. Shanna has a BSN, and has spent the majority of her career caring for others. It is possible to share your dreams & talents with Shanna by emailing her, or connecting via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. If all else fails, she’ll likely find you in a dream, in which case, please feel free to introduce yourself.
SR Atchley
SR Atchley