It's high time we had a poem here - and this one is oddly apposite, as our house is currently in the grip of two simultaneous flooring crises, with floorboards up and strange, alarming sights on view. Of course Richard Wilbur's poem is not about flooring. The subject is the hole, the hidden darkness and mystery - the 'buried strangeness' - that sustain the life we think we're living, here in the light. The poem has a characteristically controlled and orderly surface, but there's a strong undertow, something threatening to break through. Looking into a hole is not far from staring into the abyss. 'For God's sake, what am I after?'
The poem is dedicated to Rene Magritte.
A Hole in the Floor
The carpenter's made a hole
In the parlor floor, and I'm standing
Staring down into it now
At four o'clock in the evening,
As Schliemann stood when his shovel
Knocked on the crowns of Troy.
A clean-cut sawdust sparkles
On the grey, shaggy laths,
And here is a cluster of shavings
From the time when the floor was laid.
They are silvery-gold, the color
Of Hesperian apple-parings.
Kneeling, I look in under
Where the joists go into hiding.
A pure street, faintly littered
With bits and strokes of light,
Enters the long darkness
Where its parallels will meet.
Rises in middle distance
Like a shuttered kiosk, standing
Where the only news is night.
Here it's not painted green,
As it is in the visible world.
For God's sake, what am I after?
Some treasure, or tiny garden?
Or that untrodden place,
The house's very soul,
Where time has stored our footbeats
And the long skein of our voices?
Not these, but the buried strangeness
Which nourishes the known:
That spring from which the floor-lamp
Drinks now a wilder bloom,
Inflaming the damask love-seat
And the whole dangerous room.