Quiet and green was the grass of the field,
The sky was whole in brightness,
And O, a bird was flying, high, there in the sky,
So gently, so carelessly and fairly.
Here, once, Indians shouted in battle,
And moaned after it.
Here were cries, yells, night, and the moon over these men,
And the men making the cries and yells; it was
Hundreds of years ago, when monks were in Europe,
Monks in cool, black monasteries, thinking of God, studying Virgil;
Monks were in Europe, a land having an ocean, miles of water, between
It and this land, America, possessing Montana.
(New York, Vermont, New Mexico, America has too.)
Indians, Indians went through Montana,
Thinking, feeling, trying pleasurably to live.
This land, shone on by the sun now, green, quiet now,
Was under their feet, this time; we live now and it is hundreds of years after.
Montana, thou art, and I say thou art, as once monks said of God,
And thought, too: Thou art.
Thou hast Kansas on thy side;
Kansas is in the newspapers, talked of by men;
Idaho thou hast, and far away, Singapore, Alabama, Brazil.
That bird over this green, under that sun, God, how sweet and graceful it is!
Could we ever do that? Machines that fly are clumsy and ugly;
Birds go into the air so softly, so fairly; see its curves; Earth!
In Montana, men eat and have bodies paining them
Because they eat.
Kansas, with Montana, in America, has, too, men pained by their eating;
So has England, with Westminster Abbey, where poets lie, dead now;
O, what their poetry can do; what poetry can do.
There is the brain of man, a soft, puzzling, weak affair;
Lord, the perfect green of this meadow.
Look at the pure heat and light of that big sun,
And the cleanness of the sky.
Night comes, night has come.
Was not Montana here in the Middle Ages, when old Rome was at its oldest, when
In Greece, Greece by the Aegean, with the Mediterranean near?
Indians killed each other here,
With the moon over them.
Indians killed each other near Cape Cod, near Boston, in Louisiana, too.
It was before white men came from England, to see them; the white men were seen by them.
Snows have been here, in Montana, while the Indians have been.
Girls are in Helena, mines are in Helena,
Men work in them painfully and long for the bodies of girls;
And long for much more that is in the world, in thee, Earth.
Men work, suffer, are little, ugly, too.
O, mountains are in Montana,
The Rocky Mountains are in California, Utah, Colorado, Montana.
Indians were here, too, by rivers, in these mountains, lived in mountains.
Europe has its Paris, and men live there; Stendhal, Rabelais, Gautier, Hume were there.
God, what is it man can do?
There are millions of men in the world, and each is one man,
Each is one man by himself, taking care of himself all the time, and changing other men and being changed by them;
The quiet of this afternoon is strange, haunting, awful;
Hear that buzzing in the hot grass, coming from live things; and those crows' cries from somewhere;
There is a sluggish, sad brook near here, too.
The bird is gone now, so graceful, fair as it was,
And the sky has nothing but the brightness of air in it.
The clean color of air.
The sun makes it be afternoon here;
In Paris and Sumatra, it is night;
Dark Malays are in lands by the Indian Ocean,
An ocean there is we call the Indian;
Men went to these Malays near the Indian Ocean, in the eighteenth century, in frigates and ships-of-the-line;
And men living here are Indians, too.
O, the cry of the Indian in battle, hundreds of years ago, in woods, in plains, in mountains;
War might have been seen once in this meadow, now in green, now hot;
Hundreds of years ago it might have been seen, and tens of years, and a thousand.
There was love among Indians; there is love in Paris, Moscow, London, and New York.
Men have been in war, ever,
And men have thought, and written books, about war, love, and mind.
Mist comes in this earth,
And there have been sad, empty, pained, longing souls going through mist.
O, the green in mist that is to be seen in the world.
And time goes on, the world is moving, all of it, so time goes on in this world.
It is now a hot, quiet afternoon in Montana,
Montana with the Rocky Mountains;
Virginia with the Allegany Mountains:
(Indians ambushed Braddock in the Allegany Mountains; the woods, once quiet, once dark,
Sounded sharply and deeply with cries, moans, and shots;
Washington was there;
Washington Irving wrote of Washington, so did Frenchmen who knew Voltaire;
In 1755, Braddock was ambushed and died, and then, in Paris men and women wrote of philosophy who were elegant, witty and thought spirit was of matter; say Diderot, Helvetius, and Madame du Deffand; Samuel Johnson was in London then; Pitt was in England; men lived in Montana,
Honolulu, Argentina and near the Cape of Good Hope;
O, life of man, O, Earth; Earth, again and again!)
And there have been hot afternoons, all through time, history, as men say;
Hot afternoons have been in Montana.
There have been hot afternoons, and quiet, soft, lovely twilights;
Gray, Collins, Milton wrote of these;
There have been hot afternoons in quiet English churchyards, and hot afternoons in America, in Montana; and green everywhere and bright sky; there are deserts in Africa, America, and Australia;
Clear air is healthful; men go to Colorado, near Wyoming, near Montana in the mountains, sick men go to the mountains where Indians once lived, fought and killed each other.
O, the love of bodies, O, the pains of bodies on hot, quiet afternoons, everywhere in the world.
Men work in factories on hot afternoons, now in Montana, and now in New Hampshire; walk the streets of Boston on hot afternoons;
Novels stupid and forgot, have been written in afternoons;
Matinées of witty comedies in London and New York are in afternoons;
Indians roamed here, in this green field, on quiet, hot afternoons, in years now followed by hundreds of years.
Hot afternoons are real; afternoons are; places, things, thoughts, feelings are; poetry is;
The world is waiting to be known; Earth, what it has in it! The past is in it;
All words, feelings, movements, words, bodies, clothes, girls, trees, stones, things of beauty, books, desires are in it; and all are to be known;
Afternoons have to do with the whole world;
And the beauty of mind, feeling knowingly the world!
The world of girls' beautiful faces, bodies and clothes, quiet afternoons, graceful birds, great words, tearful music, mind-joying poetry, beautiful livings, loved things, known things: a to-be-used and known and pleasure-to-be giving world.
From Hot Afternoons Have Been in Montana: Poems (Definition Press)
© 1957 by Eli Siegel