I read this to my children the other night. I can’t recall what prompted it, but something sparked the memory of this poem.
On Pilgrimage (by Czeslaw Milosz)
May the smell of thyme and lavender accompany us on our journey
To a province that does not know how lucky it is
For it was, among all the hidden corners of the earth,
The only one chosen and visited.
We tended toward the Place but no signs led there.
Till it revealed itself in a pastoral valley
Between mountains that look older than memory,
By a narrow river humming at the grotto.
May the taste of wine and roast meat stay with us
As it did when we used to feast in the clearings,
Searching, not finding, gathering rumors,
Always comforted by the brightness of the day.
May the gentle mountains and the bells of the flocks
Remind us of everything we have lost,
For we have seen on our way and fallen in love
With the world that will pass in a twinkling.
(The Collected Poems, 1931-1987, Echo Press: Hopewell NJ, 1988). 344
I remember reading this poem aloud in class with Dr. Roger Lundin during my senior year at Wheaton College. I loved it then and have loved it since. There is a strong tension in me created by the opposite pulls of “this world is not my home / I’m just a passin’ through” and “ooh heaven is a place on earth.” I love this world. I love its greens and blues, its magic and mystery, its riot of color and people and sights and smells. I love cold drinks of clear water and the texture and taste of food. I love the press of a hand or a hug and peals of laughter that sink into silent shaking. I love the gray green granite of the mountains and the silvery rush of streams, the hush of snowfalls and the deep silence of hidden glades.
At the same time I know this world is bent, broken, burdened. I know it is sick, sorrowful, suffering. I realize that I play a part in that as well, and much of it has to do with the “i” that seems so central to the words in this post. What’s the problem with the world? In no small part, me.
And while I endure on pilgrimage, so it endures a kind of suffering. But it is not lost. Nor am I. Thanks be to God, both this world and I can look forward to the glory that will One Day be revealed for somehow in his economy we are tied together. May it be that those roast meats and wines we enjoy here are foretastes of that “feast of rich food for all peoples,” that “banquet of aged wine and the best of meats” spread on the Mountain of the Lord. Dear God, let there be continuity with the “Place” of new heavens and the new earth – not just discontinuity. And if we have fallen in love with what we have seen on our way, be patient with us as a Father with a boy who loves his toy planes and one day will let him ride the skies.