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About this Poem 

"Yeats asked 'did she put on his knowledge with his power?' Which I've always thought is one of the great questions in poetry; in fact I had that question in the first draft, though it was too much of course. But I was thinking about primary experience—essential experience—and trying to find some way to talk about that, or at least sit with it awhile. What does it mean to see a place for the first time—which can be, of course, any time, and where do we go from there, which is to say, where do we go from beauty? As someone who lives next to Acadia, and works in the park every day, I think about these questions a lot—how to get back to the real thing, and keep getting back there."
—Christian Barter

Île des Monts Déserts

It is very high, and notched in places, so that there is the appearance to one at sea, as of seven or eight mountains extending along near each other. The summit of most of them is destitute of trees… I named it Île des Monts Déserts. 
—Samuel de Champlain, 1604

 

When Samuel de Champlain sailed into Frenchman’s Bay
and saw this island’s evergreen mountains
blown clean back to ledge along their ridges,
this utterly foreign land,
an island foreign even to its coast—

it’s founded on a piece of Africa,
brought with us in the drift—

I know there were people living here but I’m thinking
of Champlain because he was coming from
a world not all that different from ours now
of crowded, elbowing streets and long-hour shifts,
a landscape cleared and plowed, or paved and built,
the power to change tight-fisted held by a few,
and grinding, messy wars that go on and on,
from which he had returned to make this voyage—

When Champlain sailed in here in one of those
square-rigged ships that can only follow the wind,
the whole crew thirsty, in clothes that must have been
putrid, having stared for months at nothing
but water, sliced at the world’s edge cleanly

and saw this place we still see from the ocean—
huge rock pushed through by a liquid fire
then sledged by mile-deep ice into a thing
of character, and then grown over
by the green that rules this world—

did he believe again, or for the first time,
in the holiness of the earth, the unassailable
authority of Earth, its calm command
beyond whatever temper tantrum Man
throws on its floor, or did he think

he’d simply entered heaven?

This isn’t exactly the question I have in mind.
Perhaps it isn’t a question. 
But I like thinking about Champlain catching sight
of this humped jungle, these long heads lifted
thoughtfully, then sailing closer
until it became a world—

thinking about his era’s view of the earth,
in which, wherever you sail, it just keeps
sending up mountains and lakes and beaches and forests,
how easy and right it must have seemed
to believe in a power far beyond ourselves,
in a kind of benevolent infinity…

I guess I am looking for my own direction
in the world such as it is—
like his, but lacking that one key hope:
that when this land is burned, there will always be another—

my own way to think of Acadia,
this ever-more-precious island we’ve somehow kept
wooded, and rocky, and punctured through with clear lakes—
enough like it was that if you hold
your finger across the houses at its feet
you can still, sailing into Somes Sound,
see more or less the place that Champlain saw

and, also, know the place for the first time—

which is always the feeling of powerful beauty, isn’t it—
that something has been here the whole time
and we are just now seeing it,
and must now reconsider all our theories
that there could be such a place—

or poem, or string quartet, or person?

They come in droves now, a long string tugging them
ever across the land bridge to gaze down
from the steep western cliff of Cadillac
into the open eye of Eagle Lake,

the tree-massed mountains of Penobscot and Sargent
building up beyond it like the land is still gaining power,
their sheer cliff walls like cities left by dreams,

and the ocean laid out flat, its moss-tuft islands’
miniatures of cliffs and beaches calm
as if you had imagined them—

Is it the kind of life you could live
that you see here?  French Jesuits

came next, to bring around the souls
of those already here; they set up camp
at Fernald Point, and I wonder, too, if they saw

where they were, or just the prospect
of some better place—Mount Saint Sauveur,
not yet named, but standing up

god-like behind them, its sheer rock plunging
straight down into water, down through murk
for miles to find its footing.

 

Copyright © 2016 by Christian Barter. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Copyright © 2016 by Christian Barter. This poem was commissioned by the Academy of American Poets and funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Imagine Your Parks grant.

Christian Barter

Christian Barter is the author of In Someone Else’s House (BkMk Press, 2013), winner of the 2014 Maine Literary Award for Poetry. He lives in Bar Harbor, Maine.