With their harsh leaves old rhododendrons fill The crevices in grave plots' broken stones. The bees renew the blossoms they destroy, While in the burning air the pines rise still, Commemorating long forgotten biers. Their roots replace the semblance of these bones. The weight of cool, of imperceptible dust That came from nothing and to nothing came Is light within the earth and on the air. The change that so renews itself is just. The enormous, sundry platitude of death Is for these bones, bees, trees, and leaves the same. And splayed upon the ground and through the trees The mountains' shadow fills and cools the air, Smoothing the shape of headstones to the earth. The rhododendrons suffer with the bees Whose struggles loose ripe petals to the earth, The heaviest burden it shall ever bear. Our hard earned knowledge fits us for such sleep. Although the spring must come, it passes too To form the burden suffered for what comes. Whatever we would give our souls to keep Is merely part of what we call the soul; What we of time would threaten to undo All time in its slow scrutiny has done. For on the grass that starts about the feet The body's shadow turns, to shape in time, Soon grown preponderant with creeping shade, The final shadow that is turn of earth; And what seems won paid for as in defeat.
Edgar Bowers - 1924-2000
For Louis Pasteur
"Who is Apollo?" College student
How shall a generation know its story If it will know no other? When, among The scoffers at the Institute, Pasteur Heard one deny the cause of child-birth fever, Indignantly he drew upon the blackboard, For all to see, the Streptococcus chain. His mind was like Odysseus and Plato Exploring a new cosmos in the old As if he wrote a poem--his enemy Suffering, disease, and death, the battleground His introspection. "Science and peace," he said, "Will win out over ignorance and war," But then, the virus mutant in his vein, "Death to the Prussian!" and "revenge, revenge!" How shall my generation tell its story? Their fathers jobless, boys for the CCC And NYA, the future like a stairwell To floors without a window or a door, And then the army: bayonet drill and foxhole; Bombing to rubble cities with textbook names Later to bulldoze streets for; their green bodies Drowned in the greener surfs of rumored France. My childhood friend, George Humphreys, whom I still see Still ten years old, his uncombed hair and grin Moment by moment in the Hürtgen dark Until the one step full in the sniper's sight, His pastor father emptied by the grief. Clark Harrison, at nineteen a survivor, Never to walk or have a child or be A senator or governor. Herr Wegner, Who led his little troop, their standards high And sabers drawn, against a panzer corps, Emerging from among the shades at Dachau Stacked like firewood for someone else to burn; And Gerd Radomski, listening to broadcasts Of names, a yearlong babel of the missing, To find his wife and children. Then they came home, Near middle age at twenty-two, to find A new reunion of the church and state, Cynical Constantines who need no name, Domestic tranquility beaten to a sword, Sons wasted by another lie in Asia, Or Strangeloves they had feared that August day; And they like runners, stung, behind a flag, Running within a circle, bereft of joy. Hearing of the disaster at Sedan And the retreat worse than the one from Moscow, Their son among the missing or the dead, Pasteur and his wife Mary hired a carriage And, traveling to the east where he might try His way to Paris, stopping to ask each youth And comfort every orphan of the state's Irascibility, found him at last And, unsurprised, embraced and took him in. Two wars later, the Prussian, once again The son of Mars, in Paris, Joseph Meister-- The first boy cured of rabies, now the keeper Of Pasteur's mausoleum--when commanded To open it for them, though over seventy, Lest he betray the master, took his life. I like to think of Pasteur in Elysium Beneath the sunny pine of ripe Provence Tenderly raising black sheep, butterflies, Silkworms, and a new culture, for delight, Teaching his daughter to use a microscope And musing through a wonder--sacred passion, Practice and metaphysic all the same. And, each year, honor three births: Valéry, Humbling his pride by trying to write well, Mozart, who lives still, keeping my attention Repeatedly outside the reach of pride, And him whose mark I witness as a trust. Others he saves but could not save himself-- Socrates, Galen, Hippocrates--the spirit Fastened by love upon the human cross.