Geography Poem: A.R. Ammons’s “Cascadilla Falls”

A.R. Ammons (1926-2001) was one of history’s preeminent walking poets.  Like Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman, and William Wordsworth before him, it was not uncommon for Ammons to compose entire poems in his head during his walks through town and country.  As a result, many of his poems take nature as their subject and concern themselves with modern man’s role in the face of this nature.  Such is the case in “Cascadilla Falls,” the poem below.  It’s a typical Ammons poem of widening scope.  It has a scientist’s mind, an existentialist’s conscious, and a tinge of sophomoric humor.  The poem originally appeared in Ammons’s Selected Poems (1951-1971), which won both the National Book Award and the prestigious Bollingen Prize in Poetry.

Cascadilla Falls

I went down by Cascadilla
Falls this
evening, the
stream below the falls,
and picked up a
handsized stone
kidney-shaped, testicular, and

thought all its motions into it,
the 800 mph earth spin,
the 190-million-mile yearly
displacement around the sun,
the overriding
grand
haul

of the galaxy with the 30,000
mph of where
the sun’s going:
thought all the interweaving
motions
into myself: dropped

the stone to dead rest:
the stream from other motions
broke
rushing over it:
shelterless,
I turned

to the sky and stood still:
oh
I do
not know where I am going
that I can live my life
by this single creek.

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