Musings + Essays

I Will Look at Cliffs and Clouds with Quiet Eyes.

By: Jen Shoop

Our rental for early July was cancelled — I am sure because the house has been occupied since the dawn of quarantine and a family has arranged a way to extend their rental through the end of summer. Or maybe the owner decided she didn’t want Manhattanites up there and is leaving it vacant. Or maybe she moved into the house with her own family for the long haul. Or maybe she discovered she could charge much more by breaking our agreement and reposting the house with a higher rate and a longer minimum stay.

Why I sit here and muse over the possibilities is beyond me. The point is: our plans have been canceled for us.

Possibly a gift? In that we no longer need to negotiate with the pros and cons of leaving the city, or fretting over whether we will be out of “shelter in place” order by then?

Mainly, though, a heavy sigh. I have been clinging to the naive, irrational, and unfounded belief that our week away with our best friends and our children would mark a turning point in all of this. That talk of “a second wave” would disappear; that life would somehow, miraculously, “return to normal,” even though I comprehend that no such thing will take place. July was — for whatever reason — meant to be a turning point. Curves flattened, normalcies resumed. “A nasty business,” I imagined us saying to one another, dusting ourselves off, grieving–but moving.

And, selfishly–pettily, I will admit–I have been desperately hungry for that July trip if only for a view unhemmed by buildings and blessedly vacant of other people. For space.

At the same time, I have been desperate, like everyone, for companionship: “When I see you, I will hug you and never let you go again,” my sister texted me earlier today.

But now the summer extends before us, flat and unmarked, and the virus persists and numbers climb, and I must continuously remind myself to count my blessings, to remember that this, too, shall pass, etc, etc — all the things we must tell ourselves to shore up against these ruins.

I have been lingering, in the face of this, over an excellent pair of stanzas in an otherwise mildly cloying poem from Edna St. Vincent Millay:

I will be the gladdest thing
    Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
    And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
    With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
    And the grass rise.

When I read this recently, I found the use of the future tense cheering: I will be. Not “I want to be,” not “I would be.” I will be. Never have I felt a verb tense so electrically encouraging.

On second reading, I found the tense newly evocative of a pledge: “If you let me see this, I promise I will…” Also resonant for me. I’m game for such vows at the moment.

On a third reading: is it supplication…? “If you would only give me this, please please please please–” A tone not alien either.

But mainly, across all readings, I clung to the speaker’s appreciative spectatorship of nature — no ownership, no manipulation, no interaction. She does not pluck the flowers. She watches, with quiet eyes. She lets the wind work its magic. And the recursion of the word “grass” in such close — almost irritatingly close — proximity in that final couplet: you feel nature’s movement in the very structure of verse, sense its unbrookable force. That second “grass” is there because it must be there, not because Millay couldn’t have found a more artful way to avoid such close repetition.

I admire, in short, the speaker’s reserve and self-control: I will let these things move around me, she is saying. And I will be glad about it.

And so I will, too. I will watch with quiet eyes from the inside, gilding my desktop with lilacs and hydrangeas from the corner bodega, writing as I wait for the grass to bow down and rise again.


+OK, this pool float is everything.

+This $80 dress really nails a lot of the microtrends happening right now.

+Totally in love with this Innika Choo dress.

+These earrings remind me of the blue and white chinosierie I’m so obsessed with.

+MAJOR Missoni vibes, for under $50. I’d pair this with a white midi skirt.

+The kind of thing you never knew you always needed.

+Would have loved to wear this bag over the Fourth of July weekend.

+Some REALLY good scores in Shopbop’s new sale section:






+Prettiest ribbon to pair with simple kraft paper for a summer birthday.

+I swapped out the steel wool you can buy from any grocery store for this chain mail scrubber and WOW! Obsessed with it, and it doesn’t get all frayed and raggedy and clotted with random debris. (Dishwasher-safe.)

+Clever tool for laundering intimates.

+Love the hand embroidery.

+More poetry musings here and here.

+There are many ways to read.

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9 thoughts on “I Will Look at Cliffs and Clouds with Quiet Eyes.

  1. I’m sorry about your travel plans! I was due to go out west to visit family in April, but that was cancelled early on. It will be all the sweeter to reunite with them when we are able to meet again!

    I love the gentleness of the stanzas you shared. No forcing or manhandling our way into the future, just a humble & hopeful expectation for the days ahead. Thank you for sharing!

  2. I can so so relate! Summer plans are the bread and butter of anticipators!! Also there’s something here that people from other parts of the country may not grasp – the summers here are EARNED and they are full of splendor and glory. And they are short! I hope you can find another house and will keep us posted! I have other location recs
    as well… I think you need this getaway!
    Thank you for your authenticity about all the highs and lows.

    1. Haha — summers as “the bread and butter” for anticipators. Love that, and so true. Have I had swimsuits for this vacation lined up for the children since last July?! Maybe…(yes).

      Thank you friend!


  3. I’m sorry about your Hamptons trip! I feel similarly about a trip I’d planned for July, to celebrate my niece’s first birthday on the West Coast — it’s not going to happen, and I’m so disappointed, but understanding at the same time. I feel guilty, grieving these cancelled extravagances when so many are suffering — I’m trying to keep perspective.

    Hope you are staying healthy and safe!


    1. I feel you on the mix of emotions!! May next summer be The Season of Health and Travel for us all!


  4. What lovely stanzas! To touch a hundred flowers, and not pick one — I’ve never read a better metaphor for treating life as sacred without clinging to it.

    So sorry about your trip. Maybe poetry is a necessary comfort in times like these. Yesterday, on a run with a mask (inspired by your post), as I ran by blooming trees in Brooklyn, I remembered the opening of “Saint Francis and the Sow” by Galway Kinnell:

    “The bud stands for all things.”

    Are you familiar with that poem? Would love to hear what you think of it.

    1. Joyce – yes!!! “Treating life as sacred without clinging to it.” I had a hard time putting her sentiment into words, but you’ve nailed it. I love that ethos as well.

      I hadn’t heard of that poem but it’s now open in the next browser tab and I will spend some time with it a little later today — thank you.


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