Study Guide

Meditation at Lagunitas Man and the Natural World

By Robert Hass

Man and the Natural World

Meditation at Lagunitas (title)

The title is the only reference to a place with a proper name in the poem. It helps let us know that the poem is a pastoral, or a celebration of nature. A "meditation" is a kind of deep spiritual or philosophical reflection, and "Lagunitas" is a cool woodsy spot in northern California, with lakes and forests a’plenty. But, if you didn’t know the title of this poem, would you think that it is inspired by a specific place?

That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. (lines 4-8)

The speaker makes fun of the philosophical thinkers who say that particular things are not as good as general ideas. The imagery of the woodpecker is super-specific, even down to the "sculpted" shape of the trunk that it pecks into. The Platonic philosopher would say that the perfect, original idea of the woodpecker is "lost," which the speaker jokingly calls "tragic." But, the woodpecker doesn’t seem to mind its tragic situation very much. Its colorful, "clownish" face is a total contrast to the grim, sad view of the philosophers. It’s as if the bird says, "Lighten up! You guys think too much. You should get in on some of this ‘sculpted trunk’ action. It’s pretty sweet."

Or the other notion that, because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies. (lines 8-11)

The "other notion" is that words don’t actually refer to or "correspond" with real things in nature. So, when we say "blackberry," we’re not actually talking about the sweet little things that grow on bushes; we’re talking about some perfect idea that doesn’t exist in nature. By calling the word blackberry a "bramble," though, the speaker uses poetry to connect words with nature. The real blackberry bush is a "bramble," and so is the word. The two seem to "correspond," right?

I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. (lines 19-23)

"General ideas" exist in the human mind, and "particulars" or specific things exist in nature. Although it can be fun to think about ideas, only particulars can make us feel a "violent wonder" at the existence of something. Here, the specific nature of the woman’s body makes the speaker remember a bunch of other specific things from his past. He connects with nature through his desire for her body.

Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry. (lines 30-31)

The word "blackberry" has such an intense sound that we might think that the speaker remembers a time of picking or eating real blackberries on "those afternoons and evenings." But, he’s not talking about the physical fruit here. For him, even repeating the word can be a "sweet" and "tender" experience. When we’re not in the presence of nature, we can experience some of the pleasant characteristics of nature through language. Like, say, reading a pastoral poem?

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