A Rushed Account of the Dew

by Alice Oswald

I who can blink
to break the spell of daylight

and what a sliding screen between worlds
is a blink

I who can hear the last three seconds in my head
but the present is beyond me
              listen

in this tiny moment of reflexion
I want to work out what it’s like to descend
out of the dawn’s mind

and find a leaf and fasten the known to the unknown
with a liquid cufflink
              and then unfasten

to be brief

to be almost actual

oh pristine example
of claiming a place on the earth
only to cancel

Notes on the Poem

Our Poem of the Week choices for the next several weeks come from the newly announced 2017 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist. This week's selection comes from Alice Oswald's Falling Awake, a poetry collection that absorbed the 2017 judges at every level: "line, image, lilt." Oswald's collection also entranced reviewer Kate Kellaway of The Guardian, whose assertions about the poet's achievements across the entire collection seem acutely applicable to this particular poem, "A Rushed Account of the Dew." Kellaway claims that "[Oswald] finds words for encounters with nature that ordinarily defy language" and "she articulates what you might occasionally recognise but have never before seen described." We could even go so far as to say Oswald captures occurrences in nature that many of us have not seen or experienced, perhaps due to lack of attention or patience. "A Rushed Account of the Dew" seems to suggest the narrator is being hasty and heedless, but someone with this microscopic consciousness of detail "and what a sliding screen between worlds is a blink" is surely anything but. Someone "who can hear the last three seconds in my head" even if "... the present is beyond me" is actually living very precisely in the moment. We'd argue that "what it’s like to descend out of the dawn’s mind and find a leaf and fasten the known to the unknown with a liquid cufflink" is a fluidly beautiful way to depict how dew transpires, even if Kellaway finds that very image "for all its loveliness, an effortful ornament." What has in fact happened in a rush is that we've learned a lot in just one brief cascade of gorgeously pointed observations by Oswald's chronicler of the fine and miniscule. The unpunctuated "only to cancel" at the end leaves us breathless and now more willing to slow down, take notice and wonder.

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