2: “The richer for regret” (Richard Wilbur)

Tomorrow I’ll start back to Oklahoma from California. Saying goodbye to one place, even when I’m excited to say hello to another, often leaves me feeling sad. Don’t we lose so much when we leave a place behind? Well, yes, says Richard Wilbur’s “The Sirens”–but then it says more.

I never knew the road
From which the whole earth didn’t call away,
With wild birds rounding the hill crowns,
Haling out of the heart an old dismay,
Or the shore somewhere pounding its slow code,
Or low-lighted towns
Seeming to tell me, stay.

Lands I have never seen
And shall not see, loves I will not forget
All I have missed, or slighted, or forgone
Call to me now. And weaken me. And yet
I would not walk a road without a scene.
I listen going on,
The richer for regret.

Whatever path we walk, we miss something: awake to watch the stars, we miss the sunrise. Present at one table to make a new friend, we miss another. It’s like picking a foreign language in school: at 14, how was I supposed to know which language, which culture, which entire world I wanted to try and enter? There is simply too much: too much for any of us to see, too much to drink in, too much to love, and while our heart can seek out new friends, it can’t meet all the new friends that might be. And yet–

These sights and sounds that call us away from one path are the glimmers of the world’s vastness. The promise around us (sometimes playful, sometimes poignant) is that we’ll find something when we go look. There are other things we won’t find, of course: but it would be a poor, sad world if there were only one path, only one set of views. So now, as I’m sitting in my regret (regret that the summer’s setting, that I won’t see my family for a little while; that I won’t see many of you, or the California rains when they start up) I’m trying to remember that this regret is my sense for the abounding, unending beauty of the world.

Look: here is more than we could ever dream of having, offered to us to share.

2 thoughts on “2: “The richer for regret” (Richard Wilbur)

  1. And like just today
    When I task out hours ahead
    Do iget “work” done
    In timely fashion
    And feel greataccomplishment?
    Or break for.my kids
    And everchanging
    Moods and mysteriesthatbare
    Their very existence.
    Never to be caught
    Again in this lifetime of ours?


    1. I love the compound words: greataccomplishment (whatever that is, that we keep thinking we can find if we just keep searching really really really hard!), and the lovely gentle power of mysteriesthatbare. Thank you, Jenny, and I hope you’re well.


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