village square —
old faces borrowing angles
from the stone
H. F. Noyes
The poet speaks of angles
in a poem that is aurally and visually angular. The words “square”
and “angles,” the sharp cut at the end of the first line,
and the sparseness of all the words save one — these
factors lend physical and lingual shape. Use of the present participle
is the key to the poem’s musicality. Rounder in pronunciation
than the remaining words and having a third syllable, “borrowing”
slows the pace. I immediately read “village square” aloud
several times to enjoy its rhythm, and quickly became fascinated by
the implication of the last two lines.
With apparent ease and a perfect economy of speech, H. F. Noyes describes
an intriguing occurrence, one that is representative of humanity’s
interactive relationship with its surroundings. Though the animal
kingdom was the first to participate, humans are major players in
this ancient and continuing phenomenon. The poet sums it up with one
word: “borrowing.” Not only do our creative outward expressions
reflect our inner states of being, we seem to take on the appearance
of our milieu, whether it be artifactual or nature’s creation.
All things, including humans, show the effects of time and the elements.
Nowhere is this more evident than among people who spend much of their
lives out of doors. I first began to notice this as a child growing
up in a South Georgia farming community. Working long hours season
after season, in relentless heat under a glaring sky, the people who
worked the farms lost the bloom of youth by the time they reached
their early twenties. The lean, wiry men and women became more sun-dried
with each passing year. By middle age, their faces and necks had become
leathery and as furrowed as the plowed fields, and all those who stayed
lean developed a certain angularity.
In many traditional Greek towns, the stone-built houses, stone walls,
and cobblestone streets have been preserved and are still in use.
I imagine H. F. Noyes as he strolls through a village square, absorbing
the sunlit beauty of whitewashed stone, red tile roofs, and large
earthenware pots spilling with colorful blooms. Perhaps he sits agreeably
among some of the elder residents, men and women of indeterminate
age, who live in the houses their ancestors built. He sees that the
faces of his companions, like the ancient buildings, reveal the essence
of the village.
Whether we experience it in a mountain burg, a small farming town,
a fishing village, or a bustling city, most of us will be able to
share the poet’s insight. In his excellent book, still here*,
H. F. Noyes shares a comment from a letter he wrote to vincent tripi:
“Growing old gracefully is giving back to life what was never
ours.” With “village square,” the poet seems to
be showing us that we are no more separate from our habitats than
any other species.