One wading a Fall meadow finds on all sides
The Queen Anne’s Lace lying like lilies
On water; it glides
So from the walker, it turns
Dry grass to a lake, as the slightest shade of you
Valleys my mind in fabulous blue Lucernes.
The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon’s tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.
Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things’ selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.
Certain poems I find I cannot shake. Richard Wilbur’s poem, “The Beautiful Changes,” is such a poem. It continues to grip me. Perhaps it is because this past week, I visited the eye doctor and I received some news. I don’t need just reading glasses; I don’t need just driving glasses; I don’t need just work glasses. I need glasses—period. My eyes are fading. My years of being an avid reader have caught up with me. My eyes are fading. Yet in some ways, I think I see better. I’ve grown older and my eyes have lost some of their original power. Yet with the years, I understand that time brings some things into focus.
“The Beautiful Changes,” is a three-stanza poem dealing with how beauty endures in spite of time’s effects. The reason people continually pursue beautiful things and moments is because we see how time robs and destroys much of life. The dominant image is of a person walking through a meadow of Queen Anne’s lace. As the character walks through the meadow, the Queen Anne’s lace divides, almost like rippling water. The character sees how his motion causes other motion. He sees a sea of movement. Time is captured in the image of motion.
The second stanza is perhaps the most overt in its expression of the poem’s meaning of how beauty is a bulwark, not just in spite of time, but in a way, because of time. Wilbur writes that a mantis’ presence is “arranged/On a green leaf, [and] grows/Into it, [and] makes the leaf leafier, and proves/Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.” The idea is that people would not notice the beauty unless time ravaged us.
We appreciate beautiful sights when we “see” that we don’t see as well as we used to. The dimness of physical limitations becomes a conduit to seeing the beauty that is there if we could see it. We experience the “second finding” (line 17) more wonderfully for knowing that beauty, not our experience of it, lasts.
As I don my new glasses next week, I will see better. In some ways, however, I already see better because of Wilbur’s poem, “The Beautiful Changes.”