Saturday, December 22, 2012

The stirring of the beast

"We all have something within ourselves to batter down, and we get our power from this fighting. I have never 'produced' a play in verse without showing the actors that the passion of the verse comes from the fact that the speakers are holding down violence, or madness - 'down Hysterica Passio'.

All depends on the completeness of the holding down, on the stirring of the beast underneath. Without this conflict we have no passion, only sentiment and thought."

W.B.Yeats, in a letter to Dorothy Wellesley. From 'Yeats: The Man and the Masks', by Richard Ellmann
Notebook 5, 12 June 1989

The Decision

There is a moment before a shape
hardens, a color sets.
Before the fixative or heat of   kiln.

The letter might still be taken
from the mailbox.
The hand held back by the elbow,
the word kept between the larynx pulse
and the amplifying drum-skin of the room’s air.

The thorax of an ant is not as narrow.
The green coat on old copper weighs more.
Yet something slips through it —
looks around,
sets out in the new direction, for other lands.

Not into exile, not into hope. Simply changed.
As a sandy track-rut changes when called a Silk Road:
it cannot be after turned back from.

Jane Hirshfield

Trains Pull Away Slowly

Sometimes you see things the way
they used to be - clouds of white smoke
standing over power stations
washing blowing in the wind,
a bike thrown down. Poplar trees hark back
to third-class carriages
with leather window straps
and periscopes in guard's vans.

Now all the houses have a seaside look
with giant purple weeds.
The sun is going down behind a shed,
leaving a vapour trail in salmon pink.
Hay bales are small and square
the way they used to be.
Trains pull away slowly,
leaving one or two people on the platform.

Hugo Williams

Winter Happiness

Pride, pride, pride, pride, pride,
pride and happiness. Winter
and empty fields and beyond the trees
the Aegean. The night sky
bright in the puddles of this lane.
Such dear loneliness. Going along
to no man's clock. No one who knows
my middle name for a thousand miles.
Thinking back to childhood. Astonished
that I could find the way here.

Jack Gilbert

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Looking for first light


When we love, when we tell ourselves we do,
we are pining for first love, somewhen,
before we thought of wanting it. When we rearrange
the rooms we end up living in, we are looking
for first light, the arrangement of light,
that time, before we knew to call it light.

Or talk of music, when we say
we cannot talk of it, but play again
C major, A flat minor, we are straining
for first sound, what we heard once,
then, in lost chords, wordless languages.

What country do we come from? This one?
The one where sun burns
when we have night. The one
the moon chills; elsewhere, ?

Why is our love imperfect,
music only echo of itself,
the light wrong?

We scratch in dust with sticks,
dying of homesickness
for when, where, what.

Carol Ann Duffy


When sorrow lays us low
for a second we are saved
by humble windfalls
of the mindfulness or memory:
the taste of a fruit, the taste of water,
that face given back to us by a dream,
the first jasmine of November,
the endless yearning of the compass,
a book we thought was lost,
the throb of a hexameter,
the slight key that opens a house to us,
the smell of a library, or of sandalwood,
the former name of a street,
the colors of a map,
an unforeseen etymology,
the smoothness of a filed fingernail,
the date we were looking for,
the twelve dark bell-strokes, tolling as we count,
a sudden physical pain.

Eight million Shinto deities
travel secretly throughout the earth.
Those modest gods touch us–
touch us and move on.

Jorge Luis Borges

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


"..Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” Annie Dillard

Illuminare [pronounced 'i-lloo-mi-naa-rrey'] (Italian): To light, to give light, to enlighten, from Latin illūmināre to light up, from lūmen light.

At 9 AM on a Sunday morning in the park, it is too early for families, and too late for joggers. The familiar trees welcome you in a different way, "Hey, there's just us right now!", they whisper. "Lover of trees, found worthy of loneliness", you remember the words of the unknown dervish, and you smile back, stopping to watch a riot of squirrels careering crazily down a branch.

Some of the ordinary dark green leaves are no longer the same, in the slow dawning of a December morning. For Light passes through them. And they are transformed. Every vein outlined, every scar exposed. And how they shine. As we do, only when the light passes through us.

Is that why we are drawn to certain people, for reasons we cannot quite fathom? They remember to place themselves in the light at times, and it passes through them. Every wound exposed, every fragile thing that holds them together stretched out like yearning. And yet, how they shine.

Illuminare. Draw me into the light.  

Great Things Have Happened

We were talking about the great things
that have happened in our lifetimes;
and I said, "Oh, I suppose the moon landing
was the greatest thing that has happened
in my time." But, of course, we were all lying.

The truth is the moon landing didn't mean
one-tenth as much to me as one night in 1963
when we lived in a three-room flat in what once had been
the mansion of some Victorian merchant prince
(our kitchen had been a clothes closet, I'm sure),
on a street where by now nobody lived
who could afford to live anywhere else.
That night, the three of us, Claudine, Johnnie and me,
woke up at half-past four in the morning
and ate cinnamon toast together.

"Is that all?" I hear somebody ask.

Oh, but we were silly with sleepiness
and, under our windows, the street-cleaners
were working their machines and conversing in Italian, and
everything was strange without being threatening,
even the tea-kettle whistled differently
than in the daytime: it was like the feeling
you get sometimes in a country you've never visited
before, when the bread doesn't taste quite the same,
the butter is a small adventure, and they put
paprika on the table instead of pepper,

except that there was nobody in this country
except the three of us, half-tipsy with the wonder
of being alive, and wholly enveloped in love.

Alden Nowlan

The whole gift of the day

It was passed from one bird to another,
the whole gift of the day.

The day went from flute to flute,
went dressed in vegetation,
in flights which opened a tunnel
through the wind would pass
to where birds were breaking open
the dense blue air -
and there, night came in.

When I returned from so many journeys,
I stayed suspended and green
between sun and geography -
I saw how wings worked,
how perfumes are transmitted
by feathery telegraph,
and from above I saw the path,
the springs and the roof tiles,
the fishermen at their trades,
the trousers of the foam;
I saw it all from my green sky.

I had no more alphabet
than the swallows in their courses,
the tiny, shining water
of the small bird on fire
which dances out of the pollen.

Pablo Neruda

We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars

Tear It Down

We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.

We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.

We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.

But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.

Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of racoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.

We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.

Jack Gilbert

Saturday, December 1, 2012

For we have seen on our way

I have never been on a pilgrimage, nor have any plans to go on one, but am always deeply moved every time I cross, on the highway, people walking for weeks together to a holy place.

Is the very purpose of a pilgrimage to show us our own riches? Maybe all pilgrimages finally lead us to ourselves, the essential "innocent" self open to joy and beauty, not wearied and blinded by "knowledge", the "bluebird" whose song we stifle?

On Pilgrimage

May the smell of thyme and lavender accompany us on our journey
To a province that does not know how lucky it is
For it was, among all the hidden corners of the earth,
The only one chosen and visited.

We tended toward the Place but no signs led there.
Till it revealed itself in a pastoral valley
Between mountains that look older than memory,
By a narrow river humming at the grotto.

May the taste of wine and roast meat stay with us
As it did when we used to feast in the clearings,
Searching, not finding, gathering rumors,
Always comforted by the brightness of the day.

May the gentle mountains and the bells of the flocks
Remind us of everything we have lost,
For we have seen on our way and fallen in love
With the world that will pass in a twinkling.

Czeslaw Milosz
New & Collected Poems, translations by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass

The Greek Harp

Clio Karabelias on the Greek Harp, two beautiful pieces with Marie Saintonge on the flute:

Humanity, Clio's composition:

A Cuban melody:

You can hear more of her music here:


Your words are all you have

"Good grammar is credibility, especially on the internet. In blog posts, on Facebook statuses, in e-mails, and on company websites, your words are all you have. They are a projection of you in your physical absence. And, for better or worse, people judge you if you can’t tell the difference between their, there, and they’re."

Poor Writing Is No Laughing Matter


Love Poem

I live in you, you live in me;
We are two gardens haunted by each other.

Sometimes I cannot find you there.
There is only the swing creaking, that you have just left,
Or your favourite book beside the sundial.

Douglas Dunn

Did I miss the willow tree?

Twenty Questions

Did I forget to look at the sky this morning
when I first woke up? Did I miss the willow tree?
The white gravel road that goes up from the cemetery,
but to where? And the abandoned house on the hill,
did it get even a moment?

Did I notice the small clouds so slowly
moving away? And did I think of the right hand
of God? What if it is a slow cloud descending
on earth as rain? As snow? As shade?

Don't you think I should move on to the mop? How it just sits there,
too often unused? And the stolen rose on its stem?
Why would I write a poem without one?
Wouldn't it be wrong not to mention joy? Sadness,
its sleepy-eyed twin?

If I'd caught the boat
to Mykonos that time when I was nineteen
would the moon have risen out of the sea
and shone on my life so clearly
I would have loved it
just as it was?

Is the boat still in the harbor, pointing
in the direction of the open sea? Am I
still nineteen? Going in or going out,
can I let the tide make of me
what it must? Did I already ask that?

Jim Moore

14 Degrees Centipede :)

From "Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You'll Ever Need":

"Another well-known Paris landmark is the Arc de Triomphe, a moving monument to the many brave men and women who have died trying to visit it, which we do not recommend because it's located in the middle of La Place de La Traffic Coming from All Directions at 114 Miles Per Hour."

"Finland is also home to the sauna, which is a wooden box in which you subject your body to extreme heat, which causes you to become very relaxed, unless of course the door gets stuck, in which case it causes you to become lasagna."

"Modern-day Denmark is a tourism wonderland, boasting a year-round average temperature of 14 degrees Centipede (108 degrees Richter)."

"Although it is now covered with agriculture, Kansas was at one time very historic. It was the on-scene location of the "Wild West", where "longhorns" riding "six-shooters" used to "rustle up" some "varmints". This era eventually ended due to a shortage of quotation marks."

"Louisiana was discovered by the Cajuns, a dynamic group of people who came down from Canada and decided to stay after they forgot where they had parked."

As far from myself as ever

In the Winter of My Thirty-Eighth Year

It sounds unconvincing to say When I was young
Though I have long wondered what it would be like
To be me now
No older at all it seems from here
As far from myself as ever

Walking in fog and rain and seeing nothing
I imagine all the clocks have died in the night
Now no one is looking I could choose my age
It would be younger I suppose so I am older
It is there at hand I could take it
Except for the things I think I would do differently
They keep coming between they are what I am
They have taught me little I did not know when I was young

There is nothing wrong with my age now probably
It is how I have come to it
Like a thing I kept putting off as I did my youth

There is nothing the matter with speech
Just because it lent itself
To my uses

Of course there is nothing the matter with the stars
It is my emptiness among them
While they drift farther away in the invisible morning.

W. S. Merwin (1993)

I live my life in widening circles

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not complete this last one
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, around the primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

Ranier Maria Rilke, Book of Hours:Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Yearning upwards


Perhaps the purpose
of leaves is to conceal
the verticality
of trees
which we notice
in December
as if for the first time:
row after row
of dark forms
yearning upwards.

And since we will be
horizontal ourselves
for so long,
let us now honor
the gods
of the vertical:

stalks of wheat
which to the ant
must seem as high
as these trees do to us,
silos and
telephone poles,
and skyscrapers.

But most of all
these winter oaks,
these soft-fleshed poplars,
this birch
whose bark is like
roughened skin
against which I lean
my chilled head,
not ready
to lie down.

Linda Pastan, from Traveling Light. © Norton, 2010.

Blog Archive