Reflections on “fens of cedar”

Dank fens of cedar; hemlock-branches gray
With trees and trail of mosses, wringing-wet;
Beds of the black pitchpine in dead leaves set
Whose wasted red has wasted to white away;
Remnants of rain and droppings of decay, —
Why hold ye so my heart, nor dimly let
Through your deep leaves the light of yesterday,
The faded glimmer of a sunshine set?
Is it that in your darkness, shut from strife,
The bread of tears becomes the bread of life?
Far from the roar of day, beneath your boughs
Fresh griefs beat tranquilly, and loves and vows
Grow green in your gray shadows, dearer far
Even than all lovely lights and roses are?

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (1821-1873)
from Sonnets, First Series, VI

If you’ve ever been deep inside a cedar brake, you’ve seen how the boughs can be so thick they block sunlight from reaching the soil. Few things grow beneath a cedar tree. In Tuckerman’s sonnet, he imagines taking refuge in the dim light of a cedar brake. There, the sunlight cannot reach him, nor it seems can the sadness of his memories, “the light of yesterday.” Like so many guests in the Frio Canyon, Tuckerman’s poem describes the peace we find in nature where “the bread of tears become the bread of life far/from the roar of day.” In the comfort of nature’s gray shadows, our human “griefs beat tranquilly.” May we find new lovely joys in the midst of any grief, renewed by our Creator’s creation.

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