New and Selected Poems [Peggy Pond Church]
Peggy Pond Church
Peggy Pond Church spent nearly her whole life among the mesas and mountains of New Mexico, and her love of that landscape permeates many of the poems in this collection. Born in 1903, Church authored four volumes of poems between 1933 and 1954, and this book makes twelve additional uncollected works available.
“Mrs. Church’s poetry is distinctly of this time, the work of a fine human being, concerned with the terror of the hour,” wrote William Rose Benét, reviewing the book Ultimatum for Man for Saturday Review of Literature in 1946, the year of its publication. As T.M. Pearce notes in his introduction to this volume, “Ultimatum for Man is . . . an adjustment to a new point of view in which the poet sees individuals as units in a social group.”
In 1943 the Los Alamos Ranch School, a preparatory school for boys where her husband taught for more than twenty years, was taken over by the United States government for the nuclear physics laboratory which was to design the atomic bomb. In perhaps one of the earliest poems to chronicle nuclear destruction, “The Nuclear Physicists,” Church wrote movingly of “the shape of evil, towering leagues high into heaven / in terrible, malevolent beauty” and men “with eyes that have seen too far into the world’s fate.”
The full text of Peggy Pond Church’s New and Selected Poems is stored at Albertson Library at Boise State University, and can be downloaded here. You may also purchase a copy of the book.
Ultimatum for Man
Now the frontiers are all closed.
There is no other country we can run away to.
There is no ocean we can cross over.
At last we must turn and live with one another.
We cannot escape any longer.
We cannot continue to choose between good and evil
(the good for ourselves, the evil for neighbors);
We must all bear the equal burden.
At last we who have been running away must turn and face it
There is no room for hate left in the world we must live in.
Now we must learn love. We can no longer escape it.
We can no longer escape from one another.
Love is no longer a theme for eloquence, or a way of life for a few to choose whose hearts can decide it.
It is the sternest necessity; the unequivocal ultimatum.
There is no other way out; there is no country we can flee to.
There is no man on earth who must not face this task now.
Copyright © 1976 by Peggy Pond Church
A reader can trace the influence of landscape upon a poet whether the background of the poetry consists of lakes and mountains, or city towers and slums. Poetrv must have a setting, and the excellent poet is one who relates the scenes for poetic dramas to action and to characters. not for color and decoration. Poems are always dramatic. since a poet must concentrate upon himself and others, or upon himself with others.
Peggy Pond Church has written many of her poems in the settings of mesas and mountains as they mark the scenery of northern New Mexico where she was born on December 1, 1903. and where, except for her school years, she has spent the greater part of her life. In Foretaste (1933) she writes: "I have been part of earth's beauty in moments beyond the edge of living." Such lines as "the black rain on silver days." sheep described as moving up a slope "like a grey cloud" and "yellow fruit spread to the sun" make this book refreshing to both mind and eye.
Of Familiar Journey (1936) the poet Haniel Long remarked in a personal letter to the author. "It is a fuller picture of a Being, a Life, than any I know in contemporary letters. The three aspects of our sentience—environment, personality, racial memory—are in a really wonderful balance. The triple harmony you have woven here makes a music as sane and sound as it is lyric." The subject of the book is love, considered not as something that belongs to any one of us. but a road we travel," a ritual journey, an ancient pilgrimage.
Ultimatum For Man (1946) is a right-angle turn for Mrs. Church, a turn not away from the landscape line, but an adjustment to a new point of view in which the poet sees individuals as units in a social group. In 1943 the Los Alamos Ranch School, a preparatory school for boys where her husband taught for more than twenty years, was taken over by the United States government for the nuclear physics laboratory which was to design the atomic bomb. Mrs. Church refers to the scientists as men who worked against great odds. secretly and often at night. to construct a weapon which moved "in terrible. malevolent beauty" both to save and to destroy. William Rose Benét, reviewing the book for the Saturday Review of Uterature in 1946, remarked "Mrs. Church's poetry is distinctly of this time, the work of a fine human being, concerned with the terror of the hour."
A group of fifteen sonnets entitled "The Ripened Fields" was reprinted as a pamphlet in the fall of 1954 after they had been published in a Quaker quarterly called Inward Light. The sonnets detail the contests between minds and hearts sealed by the contract of marriage. The series begins in defiance which is sustained by reflection, but ends in the discovery that love may set a single course however far the paths may wander back and forth. Only the introductory poem is here reprinted.
A poet's career is a journey made in despite of himself. His experience as a writer is a journey in directions he cannot predetermine. The reader of Peggy Pond Church's poetry will join her in a search for beauty and understanding of both nature and humanity.
University of New Mexico
September 17, 1975