Gwendolyn MacEwan (1941-1987)
The T.E. Lawrence Poems, 1982
Is it true, then, that one fears all that one loves?
These spirits are my awful companions; I can't tell
anyone when they move in me.
They are so mighty they are unclean it is the end
Of cleanlinesss; it is the great crime.
I can only kill them by becoming then. They are all
I have ever loved or wanted; their hooves and paws
smell of honey nad trodden flowers.
Those who do not know me sip their bitter coffee
and mutter of war. They do not know
I am wrestling with the spirits
and have almost won. They do not know
I am looking out from the camels' eyes, out
from the eyes of the horses.
It is vile to love them; I will not love them.
My brain is sudden and silent as a wildcat.
Teach me to be lean, and wise. Nothing matters,
WOULD YOU LIKE TO LIE DOWN WITH THE LIGHT ON AND CRY
Frank Stanford (1948 - 1978)
Death and the Arkansas River
My night are like valleys
Where the night falls soon
And the mist rises early.
The work I do is not easy,
But it is not bad.
When the white barns of the aftermoon
Are dark and quiet
With their wasps and snakes
I wonder why we lie to one another:
Spots on the aged
Are called little flowers of the cemetery,
On the young they are marks
Left by the teeth of beauty.
Clutch their genitals
And shake like trestles
When the locomotive of death passes by,
Like their trains
In the trembling bridges of their beds.
When no one is looking
We touch the thin underthings
Of out death to our lips.
I remember my death
And I remember desire,
And they are not the same.
Nine months from tonight
A woman will be holding
Her belly in pain.
Summer delights the scholar
With knowledge and reason.
Who is happy in hedgerow
Or meadow as he is?
Paying no dues to the parish,
He argues in logic
And has no care of cattle
But a satchel and stick.
The showery airs grow softer,
He profits from his ploughland
For the share of the schoolmen
Is a pen in hand.
When midday hides the reaping,
He sleeps by a river
Or comes to the stone plain
Where the saints live.
But in winter by the big fires,
The ignorant hear his fiddle,
And he battles on the chessboard,
As the land lords bid him.
To Brooklyn Bridge
Hart Crane (1899-1932)
The Bridge (1930)
How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty--
Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
--Till elevators drop us from our day . . .
I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;
And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,--
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!
Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.
Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.
And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,--
Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path--condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .
O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
-- Hart Crane
Men Made Out of Words
Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955)
Transport to Summer, 1947
What should we be without the sexual myth,
The human revery or poem of death?
Castratos of moon-mash -- Life consists
Of propositions about life. The human
Revery is a solitude in which
We compose these propositions, torn by dreams,
By the terrible incantations of defeats
And by the fear that defeats and dreams are one.
The whole race is a poet that writes down
The eccentric propositions of its fate.
Tell Me a Story
Robert Penn Warren
[ A ]
Long ago, in Kentucky, I, a boy, stood
By a dirt road, in first dark, and heard
The great geese hoot northward.
I could not see them, there being no moon
And the stars sparse. I heard them.
I did not know what was happening in my heart.
It was the season before the elderberry blooms,
Therefore they were going north.
The sound was passing northward.
[ B ]
Tell me a story.
In this century, and moment, of mania,
Tell me a story.
Make it a story of great distances, and starlight.
The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.
Tell me a story of deep delight.
George Herbert (1593-1633)
O who will show me those delights on high?
Thou Echo, thou art mortall, all men know.
Wert thou not born among the trees and leaves?
And are there any leaves, that still abide?
What leaves are they? impart the matter wholly.
Are holy leaves the Echo then of blisse?
Then tell me, what is that supreme delight?
Light to the minde : what shall the will enjoy?
But are there cares and businesse with the pleasure?
Light, joy, and leisure ; but shall they persever?
from Oda A La Vida Retrirada
Fray Luis de Leon (1527-1591)
Vivir quiero conmigo,
gozar quiero del bien que debo al cielo
a solas, sin testigo,
libre de amor, de celo,
de odio, de esperanzas, de recelo.
from The Bedbug Variations
It would be cruel & yet it would be kind.
It dresses itself in a string of light.
It dresses itself in string. Of "the light"
It could be said we failed to love each kind
Equally though our failures be a form
Of love & law & each a new lesson.
O love, the law (& each anew) lessens
Us & like a bell rung it finds its form
& spreads from the center of the city
Through dense fog. Like language it is empty
Though dense. Fog-like, language (is it empty?)
Spreads from what center?/Rises like a city,
Its origins long-razed, buried, & sleeping.
Fog dusts the empty bell-tower. Housekeeping.
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky, --
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat -- the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.
Go Far; Come Near
Walter de la Mare (1873-1956)
Go far; come near;
You still must be
The centre of your own small mystery.
Range body and soul--
Goal on to further goal,
Still shall you find
At end, nought else but thee.
And yet, your smallest whim
By secret grace
To look the simplest flower in the face
Gives an inevitable reflection back,
Not of your own self only,
But of one
Who, having achieved its miracle,
Rests there, and is not gone;
Who still o'er your own darker deeps
Into whatever shallows you may stray.
Whatever quicksands loom before you yet,
Indifference, the endeavour to forget
Whatever truce for which your soul
Gives you but smaller room
In which to turn,
Your are your Universe. Could
death's quick dart
Be aimed at aught less mortal than the heart?
Could body's end,
Whereto it soon shall go,
Be end of all you mean, and are,
Ah, when clocks stop, and no-more-
May he who gave the flower
Its matchless hour,
And you the power
To win the love that only loving wins
Have mercy on your miseries and
Carl Sandburg (1878–1967)
Have me in the blue and the sun.
Have me on the open sea and the mountains.
When I go into the grass of the sea floor, I will go alone.
This is where I came from—-the chlorine and the salt are blood and bones.
It is here the nostrils rush the air to the lungs. It is here oxygen clamors to be let in.
And here in the root grass of the sea floor I will go alone.
Love goes far. Here love ends.
Have me in the blue and the sun.
A la noche
Lope de le Vega (1562-1635)
Noche, fabricadora de embelecos,
loca, imaginativa, quimerista,
que muestras al que en ti su bien conquista
los montes llanos y los mares secos;
habitadora de cerebros huecos,
mecánica, filósofa, alquimista,
encubridora vil, lince sin vista,
espantadiza de tus mismos ecos:
la sombra, el miedo, el mal se te atribuya,
solícita, poeta, enferma, fría,
manos del bravo y pies del fugitivo.
Que vele o duerma, media vida es tuya:
si velo, te lo pago con el día,
y si duermo, no siento lo que vivo.
Between Going And Staying
Translated by Eliot Weinberger
Between going and staying the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.
All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can't be touched.
Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.
Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.
The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theater of reflections.
I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.
The moment scatters. Motionless,
I stay and go: I am a pause.
from Later Life
Christina Georgina Rossetti
WE lack, yet cannot fix upon the lack:
Not this, nor that; yet somewhat, certainly.
We see the things we do not yearn to see
Around us: and what see we glancing back?
Lost hopes that leave our hearts upon the rack,
Hopes that were never ours yet seem’d to be,
For which we steer’d on life’s salt stormy sea
Braving the sunstroke and the frozen pack.
If thus to look behind is all in vain,
And all in vain to look to left or right,
Why face we not our future once again,
Launching with hardier hearts across the main,
Straining dim eyes to catch the invisible sight,
And strong to bear ourselves in patient pain?
Long and Sluggish Lines
It makes so little difference, at so much more
Than seventy, where one looks, one has been there before.
Wood-smoke rises through trees, is caught in an upper flow
Of air and whirled away. But it has been often so.
The trees have a look as if they bore sad names
And kept saying over and over one same, same thing...
In a kind of uproar, because an opposite, a contradiction,
Has enraged them and made them want to talk it down.
What opposite? Could it be that yellow patch, the side
Of a house, that makes one think the house is laughing;
Or there--escent--issant pre-personae: first fly,
A comic infanta among the tragic drapings,
Babyishness of forsythia, a snatch of belief,
The spook and makings of the nude magnolia?
...Wanderer, this is the pre-history of February.
The life of the poem in the mind has not yet begun.
You were not born yet when the trees were crystal
Nor are you now, in this wakefulness inside a sleep.
Algernon Charles Swinburne
In the outer world that was before this earth,
That was before all shape or space was born,
Before the blind first hour of time had birth,
Before night knew the moonlight or the morn;
Yea, before any world had any light,
Or anything called God or man drew breath,
Slowly the strong sides of the heaving night
Moved, and brought forth the strength of life and death.
And the sad shapeless horror increate
That was all things and one thing, without fruit,
Limit, or law; where love was none, nor hate,
Where no leaf came to blossom from no root;
The very darkness that time knew not of,
Nor God laid hand on, nor was man found there,
Ceased, and was cloven in several shapes; above
Light, and night under, and fire, earth, water, and air.
Sunbeams and starbeams, and all coloured things,
All forms and all similitudes began;
And death, the shadow cast by life's wide wings,
And God, the shade cast by the soul of man.
Then between shadow and substance, night and light,
Then between birth and death, and deeds and days,
The illimitable embrace and the amorous fight
That of itself begets, bears, rears, and slays,
The immortal war of mortal things that is
Labour and life and growth and good and ill,
The mild antiphonies that melt and kiss,
The violent symphonies that meet and kill,
All nature of all things began to be.
But chiefliest in the spirit (beast or man,
Planet of heaven or blossom of earth or sea)
The divine contraries of life began.
For the great labour of growth, being many, is one;
One thing the white death and the ruddy birth;
The invisible air and the all-beholden sun,
And barren water and many-childed earth.
And these things are made manifest in men
From the beginning forth unto this day:
Time writes and life records them, and again
Death seals them lest the record pass away.
For if death were not, then should growth not be,
Change, nor the life of good nor evil things;
Nor were there night at all nor light to see,
Nor water of sweet nor water of bitter springs.
For in each man and each year that is born
Are sown the twin seeds of the strong twin powers;
The white seed of the fruitful helpful morn,
The black seed of the barren hurtful hours.
And he that of the black seed eateth fruit,
To him the savour as honey shall be sweet;
And he in whom the white seed hath struck root,
He shall have sorrow and trouble and tears for meat.
And him whose lips the sweet fruit hath made red
In the end men loathe and make his name a rod;
And him whose mouth on the unsweet fruit hath fed
In the end men follow and know for very God.
And of these twain, the black seed and the white,
All things come forth, endured of men and done;
And still the day is great with child of night,
And still the black night labours with the sun.
And each man and each year that lives on earth
Turns hither or thither, and hence or thence is fed;
And as a man before was from his birth,
So shall a man be after among the dead.
A R Ammons
I don't know somehow it seems sufficient
to see and hear whatever coming and going is,
losing the self to the victory
of stones and trees,
of bending sandpit lakes, crescent
round groves of dwarf pine:
for it is not so much to know the self
as to know it as it is known
by galaxy and cedar cone,
as if birth had never found it
and death could never end it:
the swamp's slow water comes
down Gravelly Run fanning the long
hair and narrowing roils between
the shoulders of the highway bridge:
holly grows on the banks in the woods there,
and the cedars' gothic-clustered
spires could make
green religion in winter bones:
so I look and reflect, but the air's glass
jail seals each thing in its entity:
no use to make any philosophies here:
I see no
god in the holly, hear no song from
the snowbroken weeds: Hegel is not the winter
yellow in the pines: the sunlight has never
heard of trees: surrendered self among
unwelcoming forms: stranger,
hoist your burdens, get on down the road.
"Nature" is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse—the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn't Frank just slip on the ice,
didn't he heal, weren't the spring seeds planted
didn't the night end,
didn't the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters
wasn't my body
rescued, wasn't it safe
didn't the scar form, invisible
above the injury
terror and cold,
didn't they just end, wasn't the black garden
harrowed and planted--
I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren't the seeds planted,
didn't the vines climb the south wall
I can't hear your voice
for the wind's cries, whistling over the bare ground
I no longer care
what sound it makes
when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound
what it sounds like can't change what it is--
didn't the night end, wasn't the earth
safe when it was planted
didn't we plant the seeds,
weren't we necessary to the earth,
the vines, were they harvested?
Summer after summer has ended,
balm after violence:
it does me no good
to be good to me now;
violence has changed me.
Daybreak. The low hills shine
ochre and fire, even the fields shine.
I know what I see: sun that could be
the August sun, returning
everything that was taken away--
You hear this voice? This is my mind's voice;
you can't touch my body now.
It has changed once, it has hardened.
don't ask it to respond again.
A day like a day in summer.
Exceptionally still. The long shadows of the maples
nearly mauve on the gravel paths.
And in the evening, warmth. Night like a night in summer.
It does me no good; violence has changed me.
My body has grown cold like the stripped fields;
now there is only my mind, cautious and wary,
with the sense it is being tested.
Once more, the sun rises as it rose in summer;
bounty, balm after violence.
Balm after the leaves have changed, after the fields
have been harvested and turned.
Tell me this is the future,
I won't believe you.
Tell my I'm living,
I won't believe you.
Snow had fallen. I remember
music from an open window.
Come to me, said the world.
This is not to say
it spoke in exact sentences
but that I perceived beauty in this manner.
Sunrise. A film of moisture
on each living thing. Pools of cold light
formed in the gutters.
at the doorway,
ridiculous as it now seems.
What others found in art,
I found in nature. What others found
in human love, I found in nature.
Very simple. But there was no voice there.
Winter was over. In the thawed dirt,
bits of green were showing.
Come to me, said the world. I was standing
in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal--
I can finally say
long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty
the healer, the teacher--
death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me,
my beloved life.
The light has changed;
middle C is tuned darker now.
And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed.
This is the light of autumn, not the light of spring.
The light of autumn: you will not be spared.
The songs have changed; the unspeakable
has entered them.
This is the light of autumn, not the light that says
I am reborn.
Not the spring dawn: I strained, I suffered, I was delivered.
This is the present, an allegory of waste.
So much has changed. And still, you are fortunate:
the ideal burns in you like a fever.
Or not like a fever, like a second heart.
The songs have changed, but really they are still quite beautiful.
They have been concentrated in smaller space, the space of the mind.
They are dark, now, with desolation and anguish.
And yet the notes recur. They hover oddly
in anticipation of silence.
The ear gets used to them.
The eye gets used to disappearances.
You will not be spared, nor will what you love be spared.
A wind has come and gone, taking apart the mind;
it has left in its wake a strange lucidity.
How privileged you are, to be still passionately
clinging to what you love;
the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you.
This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us.
Surely it is a privilege to approach the end
still believing in something.
It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.
at work, though I am silent.
misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley
lined with trees; we are
companions here, not speaking,
each with his own thoughts;
behind the trees, iron
gates of the private houses,
the shuttered rooms
somehow deserted, abandoned,
as though it were the artist's
duty to create
hope, but out of what? what?
the word itself
false, a device to refute
perception--At the intersection,
ornamental lights of the season.
I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against
this same world:
you are not alone,
the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.
The brightness of the day becomes
the brightness of the night;
the fire becomes the mirror.
My friend the earth is bitter; I think
sunlight has failed her.
Bitter or weary, it is hard to say.
Between herself and the sun,
something has ended.
She wants, now, to be left alone;
I think we must give up
turning to her for affirmation.
Above the fields,
above the roofs of the village houses,
the brilliance that made all life possible
becomes the cold stars.
Lie still and watch:
they give nothing but ask nothing.
From within the earth's
bitter disgrace, coldness and barrenness
my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?
|from the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho)
Musashi Miyamoto (1584-1645)
This is the Way for men who want to learn my strategy:
- Do not think dishonestly.
- The Way is in training.
- Become aquainted with every art.
- Know the Ways of all professions.
- Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
- Develop intuitive judgement and understanding for everything.
- Perceive those things which cannot be seen.
- Pay attention even to trifles.
- Do nothing which is of no use.
Vita Nova, 1999
was whole because
it shattered. When it shattered,
then we knew what it was.
It never healed itself.
But in the deep fissures, smaller worlds appeared:
it was a good thing that human beings made them;
human beings know what they need,
better than any god.
On Huron Avenue they became
a block of stores; they became
Fishmonger, Formaggio. Whatever
they were or sold, they were
alike in their function: they were
visions of safety. Like
a resting place. The salespeople
were like parents; they appeared
to live there. On the whole,
kinder than parents.
feeding into a large river: I had
many lives. In the provisional world,
I stood where the fruit was,
flats of cherries, clementines,
under Hallie's flowers.
I had many lives. Feeding
into a river, the river
feeding into a great ocean. If the self
becomes invisible has it disappeared?
I thrived. I lived
not completely alone, alone
but not completely, strangers
surging around me.
That's what the sea is:
we exist in secret.
I had lives before this, stems
of a spray of flowers: they became
one thing, held by a ribbon at the center, a ribbon
visible under the hand. Above the hand,
the branching future, stems
ending in flowers. And the gripped fist--
that would be the self in the present.
Dream Work (1986)
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
Odysseus Elytis on his Poetry
Athens, 27 March 1972
I never was a disciple of the surrealist school. I found certain congenial elements there, as I have told you, which I adapted to the Greek light. There is another passage in my “Open Book” where I say that Europeans and Westerners always find mystery in obscurity, in the night, while we Greeks find it in light, which is for us an absolute. To illustrate this I give three images. I tell how once, at high noon, I saw a lizard climb upon a stone (it was unafraid since I stood stock-still, ceasing even to breathe) and then, in broad daylight, commence a veritable dance, with a multitude of tiny movements, in honor of light. There and then I deeply sensed the mystery of light. At another time I experienced this mystery while at sea between the islands of Naxos and Paros. Suddenly in the distance I saw dolphins that approached and passed us, leaping above the water to the height of our deck. The final image is that of a young woman on whose naked breast a butterfly descended one day at noon while cicadas filled the air with their noise. This was for me another revelation of the mystery of light. It is a mystery which I think we Greeks can fully grasp and present. It may be something unique to this place. Perhaps it can be best understood here, and poetry can reveal it to the entire world. The mystery of light. When I speak of solar metaphysics, that’s exactly what I mean.
I am not for the clarity of the intelligence, that which the French call “la belle clarté.” No, I think that even the most irrational thing can be limpid. Limpidity is probably the one element which dominates my poetry at present. The critic Varonitis has perceived this. He says that in my book “The Light Tree” there is an astonishing limpidity. What I mean by limpidity is that behind a given thing something different can be seen and behind that still something else, and so on and so on. This kind of transparency is what I have attempted to achieve. Is seems to me something essentially Greek. The limpidity which exists in nature from the physical point of view is transposed into poetry. However, as I told you, that which is limpid can at the same time be altogether irrational. My kind of clarity is not that of the ratio or of the intelligence, not clarté as the French and Westerners in general conceive it.
The Sonnets of Orpheus XIII
Rainer Maria Rilke
translated by Stephen Mitchell
Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.
Be forever dead in Eurydice-more gladly arise
into the seamless life proclaimed in your song.
Here, in the realm of decline, among momentary days,
be the crystal cup that shattered even as it rang.
Be-and yet know the great void where all things begin,
the infinite source of your own most intense vibration,
so that, this once, you may give it your perfect assent.
To all that is used-up, and to all the muffled and dumb
creatures in the world's full reserve, the unsayable sums,
joyfully add yourself, and cancel the count.