Love and Light
the circle burns
all day, all night.
All was taken away from you: white dresses,
wings, even existence.
Yet I believe in you, messengers.
There, where the world is turned inside out,
a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,
you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.
Short is your stay here:
now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear
in a melody repeated by a bird,
or in the smell of apples at the close of day
when the light makes the orchards magic.
They say somebody has invented you
but to me this does not sound convincing
for humans invented themselves as well.
The voice -- no doubt it is a valid proof,
as it can belong only to radiant creatures
weightless and winged (after all, why not?}
girdled with the lightning.
I have heard that voice many a time when asleep
and, what is strange, I understood more or less
an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue.
day draws near
do what you can
Czeslaw Millosz, 1911 - 2004
I've been reading the biography of my favorite poet, Robert Lax, called Pure Act, by Michael N. McGregor. Beautiful story of a beautiful contemplative poet. This is a quote from Lax that I read last night: "This just occurred to me: my idea of a good contemplative is something more like a cow than it is like a dancing master." Ha!
If a tree falls in the forest
and there is no poet to notice it
is it still a poem?
I've never thought of poetry as something someone just makes up and writes down. No more than love is just an emotion. The reason we feel love is that we are made of it and surrounded by it. The reason we write poetry is that we are made of it and surrounded by it. The world itself is composed of poetry. We take note of it or not, write it down or not, but we don't invent it.
The joy of reading a great poem is in the recognition of our own world, isn't it?
Or so it seems to me.
IT GOES WITHOUT
It goes without saying,
there is poetry
everywhere you look.
But who, these days
It goes without saying.
THE DEATH OF JOHN DOE
There is fatigue that will not be addressed by sleep,
failure that will not be corrected by good intentions.
The last precarious moment of John Doe will not be
recorded, even by those who most tried to love him.
A new pairing of poems, in the ancient Chinese tradition. I have translated this quatrain from Han Yu, who lived in T'ang Dynasty China from 768 - 824, and paired it with my own verse.
THE MOON IS FULL
The moon is full, and so am I.
The moon is full, and so am I.
The moon is full, the moon is
full, the moon is full and so am
All plants and trees know spring is passing.
Beautiful pink colors compete with purples.
Fuzzy seeds and pods are different though.
All they can do is fill the sky like flying snow.
Pinks and purples are the fashion of spring,
colors restrained by the cold all winter long.
But white finds its way into every season –
even cottonwood seeds like to mimic snow.
In keeping with my habit of pairing my own poems with poems that I have translated from the ancient Chinese, I offer a short poem from Tu Fu (712-770) with my response.
Knowing the humble qualities of my small study,
swallows from the river often fly freely in and out.
They drop their bits of mud on my lute and books
and, chasing insects, sometimes fly in my face!
- Tu Fu
THE WISDOM OF SWALLOWS
I find comfort in these rude birds,
solace in their presumptive visits.
They are unaware of distinctions
between interior and exterior life.
Last night, lying awake at 3AM, my soul trembling with the angst and sorrow of our times, I turned, as I often do, to poetry, for wisdom and solace. As you may be aware, the great poet, Jack Gilbert, died last November at the age of 87, leaving behind a small but wonderful body of work. I opened his volume Refusing Heaven (from 2005), and read this:
HORSES AT MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON
Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there's music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing.
Our spirit persists like a man struggling
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.
I didn't go back to sleep immediately, but my heart beat more gently after reading this, more hopefully, and I awoke this morning with the grace of this poem still with me.
I have written some poetry, and translated a few short poems from the ancient Chinese.