February 28, 2011

The Unspeaking Center

 Abandon, by Camille Claudel;
Claudel was Auguste Rodin's troubled muse

She who reconciles the ill-matched threads
of her life, and weaves them gratefully
into a single cloth—
it's she who drives the loudmouths from the hall
and clears it for a different celebration

where the one guest is you.
In the softness of evening
it's you she receives.

You are the partner of her loneliness,
the unspeaking center of her monologues.
With each disclosure you encompass more
and she stretches beyond what limits her,
to hold you.

The Book of Hours I, 17

February 27, 2011

The Secret of Death

Skull, by Paul Cézanne

The great secret of death, and perhaps its deeper connection with us, is this: that, in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves.

Letter to Countess Margo Sizzo-Noris-Crouy
January 23, 1924

February 26, 2011

What You Cannot Hold

Rilke and Clara
by Paula Modersohn-Becker

You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing
that is more than your own.
Let it brush your cheeks
as it divides and rejoins behind you.

Blessed ones, whole ones,
you where the heart begins:
You are the bow that shoots the arrows
and you are the target.

Fear not the pain. Let its weight fall back
into the earth;
for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.

The trees you planted in childhood have grown
too heavy. You cannot bring them along.
Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 4

February 25, 2011

Parents and Children

Mother and Child, by Auguste Rodin

Oh, if only our parents were born at the same moment we were, how much conflict and bitterness we would be spared. But parents and children can only go after each other—not with each other. And so an abyss lies between us, which, now and then, nothing but a little love can span.

Early Journals

February 24, 2011

Let Life Happen to You

Young Man with Skull, by Paul Cézanne

What should I say about your tendency to doubt your struggle or to harmonize your inner and outer life? My wish is ever strong that you find enough patience within you and enough simplicity to have faith. May you gain more and more trust in what is challenging, and confidence in the solitude you bear. Let life happen to you. Believe me: life is in the right in any case.

Furnborg, Jonsered, Sweden, November 4, 1904
Letters to a Young Poet

February 23, 2011

What Links Us

The Ties That Bind, by Bonnie of Original Art Studio

Bless the spirit that makes connections,
for truly we live in what we imagine.
Clocks move alongside our real life
with steps that are ever the same.

Though we do not know our exact location,
we are held in place by what links us.
Across trackless distances
antennas sense each other.

Pure attention, the essence of the powers!
Distracted by each day's doing,
how can we hear the signals?

Even as the farmer labors
there where the seed turns into summer,
it is not his work. It is Earth who gives.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 12

February 22, 2011

Knots of Our Own Making

Girl in White in the Woods, by Vincent van Gogh

How surely gravity's law,
strong as an ocean current,
takes hold of even the smallest thing
and pulls it toward the heart of the world.

Each thing—
each stone, blossom, child—
is held in place.
Only we, in our arrogance,
push out beyond what we each belong to
for some empty freedom.

If we surrendered
to earth's intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things,
because they are in God's heart;
they have never left him.

The Book of Hours II, 16

February 21, 2011

To Trust Our Sadness

 Orpheus & Eurydice, by Auguste Rodin

Consider whether great changes have not happened deep inside your being in times when you were sad. The only sadnesses that are unhealthy and dangerous are those we carry around in public in order to drown them out. Like illnesses that are treated superficially, they only recede for a while and then break out more severely. Untreated they gather strength inside us and become the rejected, lost, and unloved life that we may die of. If only we could see a little farther than our knowledge reaches and a little beyond the borders of our intuition, we might perhaps bear our sorrows more trustingly than we do our joys. For they are the moments when something new enters us, something unknown. Our feelings grow mute in shy embarrassment, they take a step back, a stillness arises, and the new thing, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it all and says nothing.

Borbeby gärd, Sweden, August 12, 1904
Letters to a Young Poet

February 20, 2011

What is Within You

Think, dear sir, of the world you carry within you... be it remembrance of your own childhood or longing for your own future. Only be attentive to what is arising in you, and prize it above all that you perceive around you. What happens most deeply inside you is worthy of your whole love. Work with that and don't waste too much time and courage explaining it to other people.

Rome, December 23, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

February 19, 2011

There is No Image

I want to utter you. I want to portray you
not with lapis or gold, but with colors made of apple bark.
There is no image I could invent
that your presence would not eclipse.

From The Book of Hours I, 60

February 18, 2011

Live the Questions

The Thinker, by Auguste Rodin

I want to ask you, as clearly as I can, to bear with patience all that is unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves, as if they were rooms yet to enter or books written in a foreign language. Don't dig for answers that can't be given you yet: you live them now. For everything must be lived. Live the questions now, perhaps then, someday, you will gradually, without noticing, live into the answer.

Worpswede, July 16, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

February 17, 2011


Night, so still,
where things entirely white
and things of red and all colors of the rainbow
are lifted into the one stillness
of one darkness—
bring me as well
to immersion in the Many.

Is my mind too taken with light?
If my face were not visible,
would I still feel separate from other things?

Look at my hands:
Don't they lie there like tools?
Doesn't the ring on that finger
look just like itself? Does not the light
lie upon them with such trust—
as if knowing they are the very same
when held in darkness.

Book of Images

February 16, 2011

Born of Both Worlds

Still Life with Skull, by Paul Cézanne

Is Orpheus of this world? No. The vastness of his nature
is born of both realms.
If you know how the willow is shaped underground,
you can see it more clearly above.

We are told not to leave food
on the table overnight: it draws the dead.
But Orpheus, the conjuring one,
mixes death into all our seeing,
mixes it with everything.
The wafting of smoke and incense
is as real to him as the most solid thing.

Nothing can sully what he beholds.
He praises the ring, the bracelet, the pitcher,
whether it comes from a bedroom or a grave.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 6

February 15, 2011

To Darkness

The Church at Auvers, by Vincent van Gogh

You, darkness, of whom I am born—

I love you more than the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illumines
and excludes all the rest.

But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations—just as they are.

From the Book of Hours I, 11

February 14, 2011

Love Song

Rodin — The Eve. Edward Steichen, 1907

How shall I hold my soul
to not intrude upon yours? How shall I
lift it beyond you to other things?
I would gladly lodge it
with lost objects in the dark,
in some far still place
that does not tremble when you tremble.

But all that touches us, you and me,
plays us together, like the bow of a violin
that from two strings draws forth one voice.
On what instrument are we strung?
What musician is playing us?
Oh sweet song.

New Poems

February 13, 2011

The Buddha

Image by Bonnie of Original Art Studio

As if he were listening; stillness, distance.
We hold our breath and cease to hear it.
He is like a star surrounded
by other stars we cannot see.

He is all things. Do we really expect him
to notice us? What need could he have?
If we prostrated ourselves at his feet,
he would remain deep and calm like a cat.

For what threw us down before him
has circled in him for millions of years.
He, who has gone beyond all we can know
and knows what we never will.

New Poems

February 12, 2011

In the Asylum Garden

 The Courtyard of the Hospital at Arles
by Vincent van Gogh

The abandoned cloister still encloses the courtyard
as if it were holy.
It remains a retreat from the world
For those who live there now.

Whatever could happen has already happened.
Now they are glad to walk the trusted paths
that draw them apart and bring them back together,
so simple and willing.

Some, on their knees beside the planted beds,
are absorbed by what they are tending.
When no one can see, there is
a secret little gesture they make.

To touch the tender early grass,
shyly to caress it.
The green is friendly and needs protection
from the rose whose red can be too fierce

and can overpower once again
what they know in their hearts to be true.
Still the inner knowledge is always there:
how good the grass is and how soft.

New Poems

February 11, 2011

If the Confident Animal

 Flying Fox, by Vincent van Gogh

If the confident animal coming toward us
had a mind like ours,
the change in him would startle us.
But to him his own being is endless,
undefined, and without regard
for his condition: clear,
like his eyes. Where we see future,
he sees all, and himself
in all, made whole for always.

From the Eighth Duino Elegy

February 10, 2011

The Space Within Us

The Mulberry Tree, by Vincent van Gogh

The space within us reaches out, translates each thing.
For the essence of a tree to be real for you,
cast inner space around it, out of the space
that exists in you. Encircle it with restraint.
It has no borders. Only in the realm
of your renouncing can it, as tree, be known.
Uncollected Poems

February 9, 2011

Listeners at Last

Road with Cypress and Star, by Vincent van Gogh

Oh when, when, when will we ever have enough
of whining and defining? Haven’t champions
in the weaving of words been here already?
Why keep on trying?

Are not people perpetually, over and over and over again,
assaulted by books as by buzzing alarms?
When, between two books, the quieting sky appears,
or merely a patch of earth at evening—

Louder than all the storms, louder than all the oceans,
people have been crying out:
What abundance of quietude
the Universe must yield, if we screaming humans
can hear the crickets, and if the stars
in the screamed-at ether
can appease our hearts!

Let the farthest, oldest, most ancient
ancestors speak to us!
And let us be listeners at last, humans
finally able to hear.
Uncollected Poems

February 8, 2011


Landscape with Couple Walking and Crescent Moon
Vincent van Gogh

Exposed upon the mountains of the heart. See how small over there
the last outpost of words, and higher up,
just as small, one last farmyard of feeling.
Do you recognize it? Exposed
upon the mountains of the heart. Stony ground
under the hands.

Something still blooms here, on the dumb cliff face
blooms an unconscious weed, singing.
But where is the conscious one? He who began to be conscious
now is silent, exposed upon the mountain of the heart …

Uncollected Poems

February 7, 2011


Landscape with Carriage and Train in the Background
Vincent van Gogh

God will not let himself be lived like an easy morning.
Whoever enters that mineshaft
leaves wide-open earth behind,
crouches in tunnels to break Him loose.

Uncollected Poems

February 6, 2011


The White House at Night, by Vincent van Gogh

Things are not nearly so comprehensible and sayable as we are generally made to believe. Most experiences are unsayable; they come to fullness in a realm that words do not inhabit. And most unsayable of all are works of art, which —alongside our transient lives— mysteriously endure.

Paris, February 17, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

February 5, 2011

Inside the Rose

What can enclose
this ample innerness?
So soft is this touch,
it could soothe any wound.
What skies are reflected
on the inland lake
of these open roses,
these untroubled ones?
See how loose and lax they lie,
as if an abrupt gesture
would not scatter them.
They barely keep their shape.
They fill to overflowing
with inner space, spilling out
into days that swell
and close around them
until the whole summer becomes a room,
a room in a dream.
New Poems

February 4, 2011


Old Man in Sorrow, by Vincent van Gogh

You, God, who live next door:
If at times, through the long night, I trouble you
with my urgent knocking—
this is why: I hear you breathe so seldom.
I know you're all alone in that room.
If you should be thirsty, there's no one
to get you a glass of water.
I wait listening, always. Just give me a sign!
I'm right here.

As it happens, the wall between us
is very thin. Why couldn't a cry
from one of us
break it down? It would crumble
it would barely make a sound.

The Book of Hours I, 6

February 3, 2011

It Is All About Praising

It is all about praising.
Created to praise, his heart
is a winepress destined to break,
that makes for us an eternal wine.

His voice never chokes with dust
when words for the sacred come through.
All becomes vineyard. All becomes grape,
ripening in the southland of his being.

Nothing, not even the rot
in royal tombs, or the shadow cast by a god,
gives the lie to his praising.

He is ever the messenger,
venturing far through the doors of the dead,
bearing a bowl of fresh-picked fruit.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 7

February 2, 2011

Experiencing God

In the last analysis, I have a completely indescribable passion for experiencing God, and this God is unquestionably closer to that of the Old Testament than He is to the Messiah's Gospels. I must admit that what I have most wanted in this life has been to discover within myself a temple to earth, and to dwell therein.

Letter to Rudolph Zimmerman
March 10, 1922

February 1, 2011

Go to the Limits of Your Longing

The Inner Voice, Auguste Rodin

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

From the Book of Hours I, 59