Mosslight

Mosslight by Kimberley Pittman Schulz uses nature to address some of the most common topics, such as life, death, and the beginning of time. She takes her readers on a journey through nature. This journey begins during her childhood. It is during this time she questions who she is and where she had come from. Her writing style encompasses theorist such as Horace, Shelley, and Coleridge. The structure of the book can be confusing in places, but it is overall affective in directing her readers. She attempts to answer the major questions of life through observing nature and describing that to the reader. Schulz believes that all questions can be answered through the observation of nature. It is through observing nature, whether it be animals or human instinct, we find our answers. 

In Art of Poetry, Horace discusses the importance of choosing a subject that is appropriate and compatible for the author, making the work clear and concise, and most importantly the poetry must be seamless and consistent. Horace believes that the author is responsible for producing a piece that is easily understandable and engaging. To do this, the author must use the appropriate words and meter. Words should be current and familiar. Choosing words that aren’t commonly used can cause both meter issues and make the work difficult to understand. Horace says that metering should follow the ancient Creek patterns of Homer to provide structure, consistency, and familiarity. The author may use flashback foreshadowing, or a random selection for the style of the poetry. Using one of these forms provides a visual element to the writing, making it more pleasant to read and comprehend. 

Choosing an appropriate writing style is important in good poetry and creating that connection with the audience. “Take up a subject equal to your strength, o writers, and mull over well what loads your shoulders will bear, and what they will not. The man who chooses a

subject he can really manage won’t be at a loss for the words or the logical order they go in” (Horace 91). Mosslight is written with a calm and familiar tone. Schulz is very personal with her writing. The book is written in first person, and Schulz does an excellent job with her delivery. The poetry seems to work well with her style of writing. Schulz is concise with her poetry, with most poems not exceeding a full page. Each poem is filled with a great deal of information and symbolism. Her use of symbolism is one of the strongest points throughout the book. This symbolism does however, lead to some unclear areas to which Horace would oppose. Schulz paints a great picture for the audience, but the imagery can take away from the message of the poem in some places. Horace says that poetry cannot be simply beautiful, it must also have purpose. “It isn’t enough for poems to be things of beauty: let them STUN the hearer and lead his heart where they will. A man’s face is wreathed in smiles when he sees someone smile; it twists when he sees someone cry; if you expect me to burst into tears, you have to feel sorrow yourself” (Horace 86). The emotional connection is made instantly with her first poem, but throughout the book Schulz emphasizes the beauty and the connection is lost; forcing the reader to regain that connection. 

The consistency of the book is slightly problematic. Schulz aimed to take the reader on a journey through nature. The nature theme is consistent, but there are some parts of confusion in terms of the story line of book. In the first part of the book, she focuses on childhood. Many of the poems have dates as a part of the title to give the reader a sense of time. In the second part she moves on to adulthood with no sense of time or reference to where she is in life. Part one of the book left some unanswered questions that the reader might expect to be answered in the second part of the book, but Schulz never references these cliff hangers. The book seems to have been rearranged in an order that isn't chronological with some parts missing. Horace warns against this, and for good reason. It leaves the reading disoriented at the end of the book. “He is eager to get to the point and hurries the reader along to the middle of things, as if they were already known, and simply leaves out whatever he thinks he can’t bring off shining and clear, and devises so well, intermingling the true and the false, that the middle part fits with the first, the last with the middle” (Horace 87).  Assuming that the reader knows certain information is a flaw of this book. For example, in the fourth and fifth section of the book she talks about her travels. She describes many landmarks and treasures of nature. She doesn’t give any background information on the places that she’s talking about so it is up to the reader to make inferences. Without prior knowledge of the places that she has visited, the reader may find themselves having to do some research just to understand the poetry. These occurrences are minor, and for the most part they don’t hinder the overall understanding of the book. 

The language of Mosslight is very easy to understand. Schulz uses very few uncommon vocabulary. This simple tone lends itself well to the simplicity of the poetry. In this book, it would have completely changed the purpose of the book if Schulz had chosen to use more complex language. Throughout her life, the reader can actively see how the tone changes as she changes from child to adult. As a child her language reflects not only her age, but her mindset during the time of the poem. While most people are more imaginative during childhood, Schulz imagination broadens as she ages. Although the book is written to reflect both childhood and adulthood, the book is mostly flashbacks. There are a few foreshadowing moments, but those only appear during the last poems in the book. Horace suggests using this combination method of telling a story to keep readers engaged. It works well with the descriptions and questioning in the book. The flashbacks give the reader an understanding Schulz and her inner thoughts, and the foreshadowing shows that many of the questions tackled in this book will never had absolute answers. 

Shelley discusses the role of the poet. They have a great responsibility to mankind. Poets are relied upon to see beyond the everyday images to provide advice for the betterment of the human race.  “But Poets, or those who imagine and express this indestructible order, are not only the authors of language and of music, of the dance and architecture and statuary and painting: they are the institutors of laws, and the founders of civil society and the inventors of the arts of life and the teachers, who draw into a certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible world which is called religion” (Shelley 348). Poets have such great responsibility because poetry is more than a craft, or even a basic art form. Poets must be visionaries. They must use art to reveal something about the nature of the world. The poem reproduces the vision of the poet in a way that is comprehensible to the masses. 

The poetry in Mosslight is centered on nature, but the underlying message is the importance of the circle of life. The poem, “Magic” starts the book off with the experience of a dead bird, and Schulz is reminded of a scene from her childhood. Her mother kisses her and her two sisters, and later she is the only child that remains. The death of the bird was similar to the death of her sisters. Each being was small, with its own song and personality. From the beginning, Schulz is drawing correlations between the death of humans and the death of animals. This pattern continues throughout the book. Schulz hopes to send the message that life is precious; no matter which being was killed. In the second part of the book, Schulz kills an animal. Some would argue this as immoral, especially because her message is the importance of life, but Shelley argues that morality is view incorrectly in poetry. 

The whole objection however of the immorality of poetry rests upon a misconception of the manner in which poetry acts to produce the moral improvement of man. Ethical science arranges the elements which poetry has created, and pro- pounds schemes and proposes examples of civil and domestic life: nor is it for want of admirable doctrines that men hate, and despise, and censure, and deceive, and subjugate one another. (Shelley 351)

Immorality in poetry is not equivalent to immorality in everyday life. Many of the animals and people die in Mosslight, but they don’t die simply to make the poem sound better. They die to show a higher power in action, and the beauty that lies in death. In “Mice and Shrews” Schulz recalls one of her encounters with death. 

Already this winter, I’ve buried 

three deer mice and two short-tailed shrews 

under snow, frozen leaves, once in the 

briefly thawed surface of soil. I’ve tucked two 

near the foundation of the house, planted one 

in the stubble of the wildflower bed, laid two 

at the edge of the forest, as if 

returning them to their old lives. 

I find them in the basement— 

this one newly dead, the body tender 

as an overripe peach, this one firm as a fist 

in a suede glove. You’re not supposed 

to touch the dead, remember? Something 

about germs: you can’t see them, 

but they’re there. For years I confused death 

with god and the wind. 

But I want to touch, to hold each 

mouse and shrew in my bare palm, 

stroke the dense nap of brown fur 

that is, I tell you, incredibly soft.

(Schulz 36)

This poem serves to show the divinity of death. The reader later learns that Schulz kills the animals to have an experience with death. This experience helps with the death of some prominent people in her life. Death is a topic that few people understand, yet it is directly related to life. This is a lesson that Shelley would find important for a poet to convey to their audience, and Schulz does this well. 

According to Shelley, poetry adds intensity to everything. It makes things that are beautiful even more beautiful, and things that are ugly become beautiful. “Poetry turns all things to loveliness; it exalts the beauty of that which is most beautiful, and it adds beauty to that which is most deformed: it marries exultation and horror, grief and pleasure, eternity and change; it subdues to union under its light yoke all irreconcilable things” (Shelley 361). This idea is very prominent throughout Mosslight. Each poem is written to show the most beautiful parts of nature. In sections four and five, the reader goes on journey exploring the most beautiful parts of nature. “Simple” addresses the beauty and simplicity in nature.

Deer tracks fill with rain 

and shiver. Some tiny insect flails 

and spins, as if a divided hoof 

creates new, great lakes 

in black mud. High-up spruce needles 

could be stars, a nearby deer fern 

another universe, the bent face of a ‘shy maiden’ 

one far-away angel wondering 

what to do. 

Who says you’re not some part of god? 

When you lift the fleck from its crescent puddle 

and put it on the soft shore 

of sphagnum moss and watch it 

skitter away, who says there is 

no gratitude? Isn’t the world 

larger because you are in it? 

This could be what 

your life was meant to do, this one gesture.

It could really be that simple.

(Schulz 60)

Schulz emphasizes simplicity throughout the book and how it relates to the beauty of nature. Simplicity, according to Schulz, is what makes nature so intensely beautiful. Death, is usually seen as dangerous and scary, but Schulz turns it into a sign of wisdom and beauty. Death is also one of the most simple things in life. Eventually everything dies, and it happens in a way that isn’t complicated. We may not understand what happens after death, but the act of death itself is very simple. Even the rotting flesh of the dead animals was shown to be beautiful. Schulz shows that an understanding of life and death helps one to find their inner peace, and with finding inner peace one will find beauty in everything. 

Shelley’s idea of understanding the poet as more than just an artist relates to Coleridge’s idea that poetry is similar to philosophy. Both ideas empower poets to command the attention of their audiences in hopes of enlightenment and betterment of humanity. “The poet, described in ideal perfection, brings the whole soul of man into activity, with the subordination of its faculties to each other, according to their relative worth and dignity. He diffuses a tone and spirit of unity, that blends, and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by that synthetic and magical power, to which we have exclusively appropriated the name of imagination (Coleridge 329). The poet would be considered the most powerful of artists and visionaries. Schulz follows these ideas through her poems that reference the beginning and ending of time. She looks at these topic from a philosophic perspective. “Genesis” explains the relationship between the begging of time and the loneliness it brings. 

It all began with 

an amoeba singing 

against the fear 

of separation 

one throatless 

note static 

then the fluid soul 

torn apart.

(Schulz 10)

This poem sets the tone for the loneliness of both birth and death. One is born alone and one will die alone. In “If I Could See The End Coming” Schulz faces the end. The end is not only death, but an end to many eras and phases of life. 

I would wait for it. Where?

Beside the sumacs, under the beech 

where the animals I’ve grieved 

are a trellis of bones. I’d ask 

the Carolina wren to spill out 

her song. As the world condensed, 

hyacinths, peonies, stargazing lilies 

would bloom together, bathing everything 

in their thick, sweet scents. 

I wouldn’t expect a sudden white light 

or a familiar crowd on the horizon 

waving me forward— just trees hiking 

down the mountainside, winter creek 

softening at the edges, filling with snowmelt, 

tumbling toward me. My husband, 

a river-runner, would be holding a trout 

he carved from redwood burl, curved grain

giving momentum to fins, his voice 

only in my head. If you’re swept away,   

point your feet downstream. 

Beyond me, there’d be leaping, 

the sporadic glimpse of deer, squirrels 

threading understory. I’d nod 

to a single black bear up on two legs, 

the last wild man, savoring the air 

above his face. I’d watch the low moon 

step down from a locust branch, pause 

at another, and slip away. All would be, 

or seem, a slow process, like falling 

in and out of love, again and again, 

with the same person for years.

(Schulz 106-7)

The end is a topic of uncertainty. This is mainly because there is no returning from the end, mending that no one can come back to talk about it. Mosslight is filled with philosophy, and many question of life, death, where we came from, and where we’re going. Schulz tackles these questions with a presence of certainty through nature. Through nature, many questions can be answered. 

Mosslight uses nature to address some of the oldest questions of mankind. Schulz accomplishes this through an easy comprehensible language, a connection to the work and the reader, and using aspects of philosophy to work with the nature in her poetry. Schulz begins her journey through nature during her childhood where she has her first encounters with death. These experience created the poetry for the sections that followed. Her use of poetry to convey the uncertainties of life and death follow Shelley’s ideas on the proper use of poetry and the responsibility of the poet. Schulz embraces this responsibility in her attempt to answer the most difficult questions many people have about the circle of life and its purpose. Philosophy appears continuously throughout the book. Coleridge believes poets are like philosophers; answering questions of science and nature. Schulz succeeds in fulfilling that role as well. Not only does the work address ideas of philosophy through the experience of the circle of life, but it also explores the science behind nature. There are many things that cannot be proven absolutely, but Schulz shows that there are many things that can be proven with science in relation to nature. She does not provide simple answers to the most common questions, however she gives the reader something to think on for themselves. Poetry should lead to questioning on a deeper level and Schulz delivers. 

Works Cited

Richter, David H. The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin's, 2000. Print.

Pittman-Schulz, Kimberley. Mosslight. Mineral Bluff, GA: FutureCycle, 2011. Kindle.