Part of a world
Nobody seemed able to explain
But that had to be
Put up with.”
—Seamus Heaney, “A Herbal”
Splitting wood, I think of my enemy.
It seems to me a useful kind of striking
Back, feeding, as it does, fire with a better
Kind of fire: it’s an upcycling of lost limbs, a judo
Of redemptive violence, and it leaves no one
Very much the worse
for wear. I raise the splitter
High and swing it low, baffled by the poverty
Of my enemy’s soul, so very like my own,
Sorry to have been the cause of such banality
Of thought and word, but very, very certain
Of my aim: not at the log,
But through it. And when this afternoon—
Thinking of the head, in particular, of the one
Who’s chosen me as his work, and libel
As his play—
when this afternoon
I brought my splitter
Down, and brought it down hard, on what
I’d thought would be the toughest round
Of all, it split like a pumpkin and spilled a million
Termite larvae, pale unheavened angels, across
The rainy and all-hallowed end of day.
© Mark Tredinnick
About Splitting Wood:
It shouldn’t, but it comes as a shock to find myself passionately disliked here and there in the middle of my life. Emerson, of course, would have us know that enemies are a sure sign of success, but one feels that really life is too short. “Splitting Wood” is a poem of compassion, and all compassion for others begins in compassion for oneself. In another little poem I wrote about the same time as this one (autumn 2014), I reflected that the maybe we hate in another what we cannot forgive in ourselves. “Splitting Wood” is a poem about practising forgiveness by swinging an axe. Like most poems, this one is a metaphor; it tells a big story small. But also it’s a poem about splitting wood one afternoon, spending, in the process, some pent up animosity, turning some resentments into a pile of wood for the fire that warms my family. One log, the biggest and the last, a round of weathered stringybark, split so much more easily than I had planned, and a shower of termite larvae spilled out of it, and there seemed to be parable in that moment, so I wrote the poem to find out, and to thank the dusk for the epiphany and the enemy for the exercise. Mark Tredinnick
We have been using the splitter on ash and just sitting down now resting and reading the poetry about what we have just done
Actually splitting wood is an art for any wood worker when you know the technique.Without technique, you may go to a failure person.Muscle work is less important compared with technique.Thanks for you sharing
Mark, thank you for this poem. It rings so true.
Poetry as a way to discover a truth about oneself is the best kind of writing. Writing has the power to make us kinder to ourselves and others. Thank you Mark.
Totally agree Sanaa, thank you for commenting.