Caught by the River

Caught by the Reaper – John Haines

10th March 2011

I have to confess I had never heard of John Haines before yesterday. This is only odd because today we are publishing his obituary.
The piece below is written by Mr Jeffrey Thrope and originally appeared on his excellent ‘Cold Splinters’ blog. It was brought to our attention by Caught by the River reader Gary Taylor and Mr Thrope has kindly given us permission to re-post it here. Big thanks to Gary for making us aware of John Haines and Cold Splinters, both of whom, I know, are going to bring us much good reading.

John Haines, pictured above in the red V-neck at the 1990 Alaskan Poetry Festival in Fairbanks, died last Wednesday at the age of 86. The NYT has this to say about the poet:

Mr. Haines may have been drawn to the far North in the manner of Robert Service or Jack London, but unlike them he came to stay and carve out a long life. He cleared forest, built cabins, planted gardens, chopped wood, cut trails, traveled by snowshoe and dogsled, trapped lynx and marten, weaved nets for salmon fishing, and had encounters with grizzlies.

Harper’s critic Hayden Carruth labeled John Haines “one of our best nature poets, or for that matter one of the best nature writers of any kind.” Jerry B. McAninch describes Haines in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as a “present-day pioneer,” asserting that the poet “speaks as a man who not only lived on one of the nation’s few remaining frontiers but who, both through long association and innate artistic sensibility, has come to embody that frontier in his writing.”

Read “If The Owl Calls Again” from his 1966 book of poems, Winter News, after the jump.

If The Owl Calls Again

at dusk
from the island in the river,
and it’s not too cold,

I’ll wait for the moon
to rise,
then take wing and glide
to meet him.

We will not speak,
but hooded against the frost
soar above
the alder flats, searching
with tawny eyes.

And then we’ll sit
in the shadowy spruce
and pick the bones
of careless mice,

while the long moon drifts
toward Asia
and the river mutters
in its icy bed.

And when the morning climbs
the limbs
we’ll part without a sound,

fulfilled, floating
homeward as
the cold world awakens.