The Day Before April

The day before April
   Alone, alone,
I walked in the woods
   And I sat on a stone.

I sat on a broad stone
   And sang to the birds.
The tune was God’s making
   But I made the words.

— Mary Carolyn Davies

This time of year, I often recall this poem from my childhood. Out of doors and alone in the chill of early spring, I would repeat the poem’s two stanzas, wonder at the haunting effect they had upon me, and try to name the strange feeling the words evoked. Revisiting this poem today, I still feel its power, though now from the perspective of an adult who has lived through much of the time typically allotted our species. I still ponder and fail to name the precise feeling the poem calls forth, but now can understand some of the causes for the mysterious effect it had upon my younger self.

The tune was God’s making / But I made the words.

Through these few simple words, the poem intimated the deep encounter and pre-occupation that would characterize my life in the decades to come: the visitation of the Divine to the particular being that I am, and my willingness to abide in accord, in unity, with the Life that was manifest. To each of us, God sounds the underlying refrain, the particular order and cadence of Being, to which we each contribute our unique offering, which must attune to and express the same melodious grace. We are such that our purpose and joy is to adhere to and amplify the goodness, truth, and beauty that announces itself within the soul. “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” (Lk. 1:46) says Mary, the archetypal one who in purity of heart brings forth into the world that which is Holy.

The words “Alone, alone, / I walked in the woods” spoke to my early and growing recognition that solitude was a necessary condition for inward reflection. Consciousness reflecting back on itself was a burgeoning element in late-childhood, as I took my first steps in the long, arduous journey toward maturity with its new complexity and powers. I’d found in fascinating fairy tales, and would later find in classic literature, that “the woods” symbolize the confusion and anxiety of existing without clear direction or bearings, such as in this example found in the beginning lines of Dante’s Inferno:

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
for I had wandered off from the straight path.

How hard it is to tell what it was like,
this wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn
(the thought of it brings back all my old fears),

a bitter place! Death could scarce be bitterer.
But if I would show the good that came of it
I must talk about things other than the good.

How gentle is Davies in her child’s poem to lighten the dark meaning of the walk “in the woods,” an image that usually signifies vulnerability to and danger of becoming lost, fearful, or preyed upon. She benignly assures us the woods are a place where one can walk peacefully and find a place to rest that is solid and secure: “a broad stone,” such as one that might be used in a foundation (1 Cor. 3:11). Upon that broad foundation stone, she tells us, we can find and sing our words to creation, and in so doing perform those things that are in concert with and thus pleasing to the Father (Jn. 8:29).  How surely must Mary Carolyn Davies have pleased the Father when she wrote this poem! Her words hint to the child – and still speak to the adult – of beauty, goodness, and truth.

Young Girl Giacomo Manzu, 1955
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