Category Archives: Birger Sandzen

As Watchers hang upon the East

Colorado Landscape, 1931, Birger Sandzen
Background Image: Colorado Landscape, 1931, Birger Sandzen

While the previous poem, ‘If this is “fading”‘ dealt with the sun setting, this poem is an image of the sun rising. Here she equates waiting for the sun to come up with a “Beggar” – and not just poor economically, but perhaps a spiritual beggar too – with the hope that there is a “Heaven” to come. She replaces the darkness with “the lid of Amethyst” as light satisfies faith.

However, there is a lot of uncertainty about heaven in this poem. The most unusual line is the final line of the first stanza, “Heaven beguiles the tired”. When I first read this I passed over it quickly assuming she meant that “Heaven” is given respite to the tired, but there is an odd paradox in this line in that how can “Heaven” deceive (“beguile”) and why is “Heaven” deceiving the tired? Is she referring to “the tired” as an apostrophe which needs to be driven out of the “Beggar”, or are “the tired” the same people who are the “Watchers” who are up before dawn as they “hang upon the East” (stand waiting for the sun to rise) and heaven is deceiving them? She describes the “Watchers” as being “Beggars” who are “too far for the delight” of the “brooks” which are the oasis in the “Deserts”. Thus while there is the image of people waiting for the relief of dawn, she introduces an uncertainty that “Heaven” will actually appear.

The second stanza seems at first to resolve this issue of waiting as “the East / Opens the lid of Amethyst / And lets the morning go” – which, by the way, is a remarkable image of a sunrise – but she ends the stanza with the question “if true”, as if “Heaven” really can satisfy the needs of the “Beggar”. Emily has no doubt the sun will rise in the astronomical heavens, but even as she looks at this glorious sunrise, she still seems to doubt if there is a spiritual heaven after all. She leaves us wondering if the need each of us (might) have for an afterlife will actually be satisfied and will we beggars be presented with the jewel (“Amethyst”) of heaven to cure our hunger? She has the hunger and desire for faith, but she also has her doubts if “Heaven” is “true”.

Yet there is another way to read the final line of the poem this is not as doubtful. She could be suggesting that “Heaven” exists for us “if true”, meaning if WE are true. A true person (an honest, good person) will be presented with the jewel of “Heaven” if they have enough faith. And this dual meaning could be her way of describing how we are all spiritual beggars full of needs and doubts and how easily we can be beguiled by the possibility that there could be a brook somewhere in our desert but which is too “far off” for us in our own lifetimes. The image of wandering in a desert is right out of Exodus and Moses never did enter the promised land, but he believed it existed and he was able to at least see his “Heaven” because he remained “true”.

This is a very clever poem which can be read as someone who has a tremendous amount of faith or as someone who has doubts which makes this a very human and honest poem because who doesn’t have doubts? Even when we are presented with a feast or a beautiful sunrise, we can still find a way to doubt, and on the other hand even when we are wandering in a desert, we can still be filled with faith that there is a brook to satisfy our thirst. It’s odd how when presented with evidence we doubt and yet we believe more strongly when we lack any evidence at all.