Sitting at “White Heron Pond”

by whitney cooper  ·  April 13, 2016

camp_in_massachusetts_3___fence_post_by_the_pond_by_rowyestock-d8xjorhIn our busy lives, we all come to long for peace and rest. In David Baker’s “White Heron Pond,” this is exactly what we find. Reading “White Heron Pond,” first published in Five Points Vol. 5, No. 3,  I can’t help but be reminded of Elizabeth Bishop’s “Seascape,” in which the poet also eloquently praises the uncluttered beauty in nature over the complex, unnatural workings of the human mind. Such pure, upfront elegance can also be found in Baker’s poem. The poem opens with the image of the speaker either easing his own mind into a peaceful silence—one that ignores the noises of the cicadas around him—or falling asleep altogether. Within these first few lines the speaker is subtly inviting us to sit with him at the pond:

Either the cicadas hushed,
or I fell asleep as they kept on.
But I go on hearing them, in willows,
in wild, ancient oaks,
in the slow orbit of my sleep, or waking,
as I lie beside White Heron Pond.

The persistent image of the cicadas seems to illustrate the simplicity of natural life. The voice here is powerful, yet clearly in awe marveling: “[the cicadas’] slender glass wings… flar[ing] in the shadows and circulating air (8-9).” The poem takes a more blatantly philosophical approach when we’re presented with the image of Su Shih, an ancient Chinese official and poet. Through this, we get another image within the imagery of the poem, in which the Chinese poet asks, (“Who says poetry must stick to the theme?”). This acts on its own accord, leading us into another discussion within the speaker’s self before taking us back to the cicadas. It also adds to the poem’s interest in rest and tranquility, and by the end of the poem, we know the factors in our lives are largely out of our control, but we are instructed not to worry about them and to simply be, as the cicadas do.

Image Source: Google images (from Creative Commons)