Who, if I sung out, would hear?

Echo Bridge, Waban, Massachusetts

Echo Bridge, Waban, Massachusetts

The rock looked inviting.

Rocks, as I am sure you know, do not often look inviting. But this one did. Its cold, rough, mossy surface jutted out over the Charles River. It was bathed in sunlight.

I had not been exploring Hemlock Gorge very long, but I wanted to sit. And I wanted to read in the sunlight. What did it matter that I was wearing a business suit and a light trench coat, and had a laptop bag with two books slung across my shoulders? The river spirits wouldn’t care how I was dressed.

The soles of my shoes slipped and I was afraid of falling in. But, settling myself on the rock, I looked out at the river. I felt like child again, in a world of unlimited possibilities.

I pulled Ahead of All Parting from out my bag.

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’
hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me
suddenly against his heart: I would be consumed
in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to
   endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.

–Rainer Maria Rilke, from “The First Elegy”, Ahead of All Parting (Stephen Mitchell, trans. and ed.)

The river spirits heard as I sang out the first four of the Rilke’s Duino Elegies in their entirety.

After sitting for a time, I slipped my way off the rock, careful knowing things break. I walked along the river bed, using trees and rocks as handholds, avoiding poison ivy. Looking just at the leaves, I don’t think I would have recognized it. I recognized it more from the vine snaking around the trees, with the roots digging into the bark.

I finally reached the bridge. While doing an errand for a client at the bank on Monday, I had to drive the area where Route 9 meets Route 128. Although I have been to that area, I had never seen the Hemlock Gorge Reservation. Had I not had that errand to run, I may never have. I saw the stonework bridge, with its big barrel spans from the road. When I saw the stairs leading up the side of it, I figured it was a railroad bridge.

Some whim told me to climb up. And I followed it. There were no railroad tracks, nor road. The bridge is a pedestrian walkway.

I stood looking over the Charles River, thinking of poetry, thinking of this bridge as a picturesque setting for a scene in a novel. I looked up to the sky and thought of the opening stanza of the Rilke’s “First Elegy”.

A woman stooped by the stairs on the other side of the bridge. Her red dog with its hoary muzzle trotted over to me. I knelt down. He sniffed my hand, circled me and then presented his head. I petted him while the woman walked over.

“Excuse me, ma’am, does this bridge have a name?”

She smiled. “Yes, this is Echo Bridge.” She told me how it was part of the old Boston aqueduct system, how it had just recently been employed after the recent troubles eastern Massachusetts had with its drinking water. She walked off.

I thought about shouting off the edge of the bridge and seeing if anything happened except scaring a number of birds.

“Oh, I forgot to mention,” she called to me. “There’s a little wooden platform on this side of the bridge. That’s where you’ll get the echo.”

I had explored that platform on my walk. I had thought it strange, but it gave a handsome view of some of the nice mill buildings.

Standing there, I wished I had a volume of the poetry of W.B. Yeats. I wondered if my voice would complete his “Man and the Echo.” I heard my own voice come back to me as I recited two poems by Keats from memory. First, “Ode to a Nightingale” and then one of my newer favorites.

When I have fears that I may cease to be
  Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charactry,
  Hold like rich garners the full ripen’d grain:
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
  Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance
And think that I may never live to trace
  Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
  That I may never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the fairy power
  Of unreflecting love;–then on the shore
Of a wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

–John Keats

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