Waterfall at Journey’s End, by Neil Shepard

Yet another metamorphic
swimming hole, waterfall
where language fails.

Gneiss, schist, slate.
You can hear nouns meta-
morphose to verbs, gnarl, shiver, split,

then strip down, tumble
in granitic kettle-holes
and camouflage themselves

in green water, green
because pines hang
above the fault line

and shade language
from blue-blank sky where some-
body’s watching, listening

to the syllables of delight.
This is the place of pre-
delight, before the light

blinked on in our fore-
brains and pained us with fore-
knowing. No, this place

delivers a hiss, a wordless
rush through gray clefts,
the high chattering scream

of being submerged in momentary
cold so cold the body knows
undeniably, indelibly,

these are the high walls
of journey’s end, of anaerobic
last-gasp, body-turning

blue. And tongues become
like limbs trying to climb
the high cliffs of death

to clutch a purchase
on exposed outcrops
where words can sink

their cleats, pitons,
grappling hooks, inventions
that turn humans pre-

human: moss-crawler, rock-clasper,
some thing attached to cold stone
that owns no language—

micaceous, gneiss-spark,
fissile schist, granite-fault—

that goes on climbing

as if it were stone-dumb,
attached by its tongue
to the thing, the very thing.

I really liked this poem because it reminded me of the British Romantics, and their penchant for nature and appreciation of its power over imagination. I also like writing about nature and using language to try to capture and express the majesty of simple things, such as the waterfall in Shepard’s poem. The part of the poem that really was the hook for me was in the first stanza where he in describing the spot he has found, writes: “where language fails”. I thought this was an excellent description. Sometimes in a scene, especially a great spectacle of nature, there is just too much good going on to even put it into words. All you can do is drink it in. Along with this, the lines: “This is the place of pre-/ delight, before the light / blinked on in our fore- / brains and pained us with fore- / knowing.” also struck me. I found it very effective to classify a place this way, as so serene yet powerful that it takes us out of our own minds almost, and gives a glimpse the world untarnished by our own expectations.

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