April 30, 2011

The Donor

That is what he had ordered from the painters' guild.
It's not that the savior himself had appeared to him,
or even that one single bishop
ever stood beside him, as depicted here,
gently laying his hand upon him.

But this, perhaps, was all he wanted:
to kneel like this.
He had known the desire to kneel,
to hold his own outward thrusting
tightly in the heart,
the way one grasps the reins of horses.

So that when the Immense might happen,
unpromised and unpaid for,
we might hope that it wouldn't notice us
and thus, undistracted, deeply centered,
it would come closer, would come right up to us.

New Poems

April 29, 2011


Still Life with Cabbage and Clogs

Impermanence plunges us into the depth of all Being. And so all forms of the present are not to be taken and bound in time, but held in a larger context of meaning in which we participate. I don't mean this in a Christian sense (from which I ever more passionately distance myself) but in a sheer earthly, deep earthly, sacred earthly consciousness: that what we see here and now is to bring us into a wider—indeed, the very widest—dimension. Not in an afterlife whose shadow darkens the earth, but in a whole that is the whole.

Letter to Witold Hulewicz
November 13, 1925

April 28, 2011

Being Ephemeral

Two Women in the Moor

Does Time, as it passes, really destroy?
It may rip the fortress from its rock;
but can this heart, that belongs to God,
be torn from Him by circumstances?

Are we as fearfully fragile
as Fate would have us believe?
Can we ever be severed
from childhood's deep promise?

Ah, the knowledge of impermanence
that haunts our days
is their very fragrance.

We in our striving think we should last forever,
but could we be used by the Divine
if we were not ephemeral?

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 27

April 27, 2011


Cambodian Dancers, by Auguste Rodin

Birds begin their calls to praise.
And they are right. We stop and listen.
(We, behind masks and in costumes!)
What are they saying? A little report,

a little sorrow and a lot of promise
that chips away at the half-locked future.
And in between we can hear the silence
they break—now healing to our ears.

Uncollected Poems

April 26, 2011

Your First Word Was Light

Sketch, by Auguste Rodin

Your first word of all was light,
and time began. Then for long you were silent.

Your second word was man, and fear began,
which grips us still.

Are you about to speak again?
I don't want your third word.

From the Book of Hours I, 44

April 25, 2011

It Was As Though a Girl Came Forth

Still Life with Plaster Statuette,
a Rose and Two Novels

It was as though a girl came forth
from the marriage of song and lyre,
shining like springtime.
She became inseparable from my own hearing.

She slept in me. Everything was in her sleep:
the trees I loved, the distances
that had opened, the meadows—
all that had ever moved me.

She slept the world. Singing god, how
have you fashioned her, that she does not long
to have once been awake? See: she took form and slept.

Where is her death? Will you discover
the answer before your song is spent?
If I forget her, will she disappear?

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 2

April 24, 2011

Hours of Childhood

Bather with Outstretched Arms

...Oh hours of childhood,
when each figure hid more than the past
and no future existed.
We were growing, of course, and we sometimes tried
to do it fast, half for the sake of those
whose grownupness was all they had.
Yet when we were by ourselves,
our play was in eternity. We dwelt
in the interval between world and toy,
that place created from the beginning of time
for the purest of actions.

From the Fourth Duino Elegy

April 23, 2011

It Will Reveal Itself

working in her studio

Seek the inner depth of things, and when they lead you to the edge of a great discovery, discern whether it arises from a necessity of your being. Either this discovery will strike you as superficial and you will shed it, or it will reveal itself as intrinsic to you and grow into a strong and honest tool of your art.

Viareggio, April 5, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

April 22, 2011

With Silence or a Solitary Joy

Woman Walking in a Garden

Just as bees gather honey, so we collect from all that happens what is sweetest—and we build Him. Even with the littlest, most insignificant thing, when it comes from love, we begin. We begin with effort and the repose that follows efforts, with silence or a solitary joy, with everything we do alone without anyone to join or help us, we begin Him whom we will not live to see, any more than our ancestors could experience us. Yet they are in us, those long departed ones, they are in our inclinations, our moral burdens, our pulsing blood, and in gestures that arise from the depths of time.

Rome, December 23, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

April 21, 2011

We, When We Feel, Evaporate

La Faunesse, by Auguste Rodin

We, when we feel, evaporate.
We breathe ourselves out and gone.
Like the glow of an ember,
the fragrance we give off grows weaker.
One could well say to us,
"You have entered my blood,
this room, this springtime is full of you ...."
What use is that when he cannot hold us
and we disappear into him and around him?

From the Second Duino Elegy

April 20, 2011

Springtimes Have Needed You

Bulb Fields, by Vincent van Gogh

Springtimes have needed you.
And there are stars expecting you to notice them.
From out of the past, a wave rises to meet you
the way the strains of a violin
come through an open window
just as you walk by.

As if it were all by design.
But are you the one designing it?

From the First Duino Elegy

April 19, 2011


Leda and the Swan, by Paul Cézanne

When the god in his urgency assumed its form,
he was startled by the beauty of the swan,
so swiftly did he disappear within it.
But his deception drove him to act

before he could feel
what this unknown body was like.
The woman recognized who was upon her
and already knew what he demanded,

and what she, confused in her resistance,
could no longer withhold. His weight bearing down,
his long neck thrusting her hand aside,

the god released himself into his beloved.
Only then did he delight in his feathers
and, in that moment, become truly a swan.

New Poems

Sculpture, by Auguste Rodin

April 18, 2011

The Joys of Travel

The Seine at Bercy

Oh, the joys of travel! To feel the excitement of sudden departure, not always knowing whither. Surely you and I are in agreement about that. How often did my life seem concentrated in that single moment of departure. To travel far, far—and that first morning's awakening under a new sky! And to find oneself in it—no, to discover more of oneself there. To experience there, too, where one has never been before, one's own continuity of being and, at the same time, to feel that something in your heart, somehow indigenous to this new land, is coming to life from the moment of your arrival. You feel your blood infused with some new intelligence, wondrously nourished by things you had no way of knowing.

Letter to a friend

April 17, 2011

Ever Again

Old Church Tower at Nuenen
(or "The Peasants' Churchyard)

Ever again, though we've learned the landscape of love
and the lament in the churchyard's names
and the terrible, silent abyss where the others have fallen;
ever again we walk out, two together,
under the ancient trees, ever again find a place
among the wildflowers, under heaven's gaze.

Uncollected Poems

April 16, 2011

In the Drawing Room

Basket of Apples, by Vincent van Gogh

They are all around us, these lordly men
in courtiers' attire and ruffled shirts
like an evening sky that gradually
loses its light to the constellations; and these ladies,
delicate, fragile, enlarged by their dresses,
one hand poised on the neck-ribbon of their lapdog.
They are close to each of us, next to the reader,
beside us as we gaze at the objets d'art
they left behind, yet still possess.

Tactful, they leave us undisturbed
to live life as we grasp it
and as they could never comprehend it.
They wanted to bloom
and to bloom is to be beautiful.
But we want to ripen,
and for that we open ourselves to darkness and travail.

New poems

April 15, 2011

Survival of the Soul

Two White Butterflies

What more can we accomplish now than the survival of the soul. Harm and decay are not more present than before, perhaps, only more apparent, more visible and measurable. For the harm which humanity has lived daily since the beginning cannot be increased. But there is increasing insight into humanity's capacity for unspeakable harm, and perhaps where it leads. So much in collapse, so much seeking new ways out. Room for what new can happen.

Letter to Karl and Elisabeth von der Heydt
November 6, 1914

April 14, 2011

Spanish Trilogy (3)

 Bibemus Quarry, by Paul Cézanne

When I re-enter, alone, the city's crush
and its chaos of noise
and the fury of traffic surrounds me,
may I, above that hammering confusion,
remember sky and the mountain slopes
where the herds are still descending homeward.

May my courage be like those rocks
and the shepherd's daylong work seem possible to me—
the way he drifts and darkens, and with a well-aimed stone
hems in his flock where it unravels.
With slow and steady strides, his posture is pensive
and, as he stands there, noble. Even now a god might
secretly slip into this form and not be diminished.

In turn, he lingers and moves on like the day itself,
and cloud shadows pass through him, as though all of space
were thinking slow thoughts for him.

Uncollected Poems

April 13, 2011

Spanish Trilogy (2)

Still Life with Basket of Vegetables

How is it that people go around
and pick up random things
and carry them about? Like the porter
who heaves market baskets from stall to stall
as they keep filling up, and he lugs his burden
and never asks, Sir, for whom is this feast?

How is it that one just stands here, like that shepherd,
so exposed to the energies of the universe,
so integral to the streaming events of space
that simply leaning against a tree in the landscape
gives him his destiny; he need do nothing more.
And yet he lacks in his restless gaze
the tranquil solace of the herd,
has nothing but world, world, each time he looks up,
world in each downward glance.

Uncollected Poems

April 12, 2011

Spanish Trilogy (1)

 Mont Sainte Victoire Seen from les Lauves
by Paul Cézanne

From these clouds, that carelessly cover
the star that just was there—
from these mountains over there, now, for a while,
taken by the night—
from this river on the valley floor,
that glimmers with the sky's broken light—
from me and all of this: to make one thing.

From me and from the feel of the flock
brought back to the fold, to outlast
the great dark closing down of the world—
from me and from each flicker of light
from the shadowed houses—God, to make one thing.

From the strangers, among whom I know not one, God,
and from me, from me—
to make one thing. From all the slumbering ones,
coughing old men in the hospice,
sleep-drunken children in crowded beds,
from me and all I don't know,
to make the thing, oh God, God, that thing,
that, half-heaven, half-earth, gathers into its gravity
only the sum of flight,
weighing nothing but arrival.

Uncollected Poems

April 11, 2011

The Future Enters Us

 Rainer Maria Rilke

It seems to me that all our sadnesses are moments of tension that we feel as paralysis because we can no longer experience our banished feelings. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us, because we feel momentarily abandoned by what we've believed and grown accustomed to; because we can't keep standing as the ground shifts under our feet. That is why the sadness passes over like a wave. The new presence inside us, that which has come to us, has entered our heart, has found its way to its innermost chamber, and is no longer even there—it is already in our blood. And we don't know what it was. We could easily be persuaded that nothing happened, and yet something has changed inside us, as a house changes when a guest comes into it. We cannot say who has entered, we may never know, but there are many indications that the future enters us in just this way, to transform itself within us long before it happens. That is why it is so important to be alone and attentive when you are sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than any loud and accidental point of time which occurs, as it were, from the outside.

Borgeby gärd, Sweden, August 12, 1902
Letters to a Young Poet

April 10, 2011

Woman in Love

Rainbow, by Auguste Rodin

There is my window.
I awoke just now so gently, I thought I was floating off.
How far does my life extend
and where does night begin?

I could believe that everything
surrounding me is I,
transparent as a crystal,
dark and still as a crystal's depths.

I could contain within me
all the stars; so vast
is my heart, so gladly
it let him go again, the one

I have perhaps begun to love,
perhaps to hold.
Strange and unimagined,
my fate turns toward me.

What am I? Set down
like this in such immensity,
fragrant as a meadow,
moved by each passing breeze.

Calling out, yet fearful
that my call will be heard,
and destined to be drowned
in another's life.

New Poems

April 9, 2011

From Their Listening, a Temple

Trees and Undergrowth

A tree rose there. What pure arising.
Oh, Orpheus sings! Now I can hear the tree.
Then all went silent. But even in the silence
was signal, beginning, change.

Out of the stillness of the unbound forest,
animals came forth from dens and nests.
And it was not fear or cunning
that made them be so quiet,

but the desire to listen. Every cry, howl, roar
was stilled inside them. And where
not even a hut stood

or the scantest shelter
to contain their ineffable longing,
you made them, from their listening, a temple.

Sonnets to Orpheus, I, 1

April 8, 2011

How to Bloom

Almond Tree in Blossom

The almond trees in bloom: all we can accomplish here is to ever know ourselves in our earthly appearance.

I endlessly marvel at you, blissful ones—at your demeanor, the way you bear your vanishing adornment with timeless purpose. Ah, to understand how to bloom: then would the heart be carried beyond all milder dangers, to be consoled in the great one.

Uncollected Poems

April 7, 2011

Solitude Will Be a Support

Miners in the Snow at Dawn
letter sketch by Vincent van Gogh

It is good that you are about to enter a profession [the military] that will make you self-sufficient and set you on your own feet. Wait patiently to see if your inner life narrows in the grip of this profession. I consider it to be a very difficult and challenging one, for it is greatly burdened with conventions and allows little room for personal interpretations of its duties. But in the midst of these very unfamiliar conditions your inner solitude will be a support and a home to you. It will be the starting point of all your journeys.

Worpswede, July 16, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

April 6, 2011

A New Place

View of the Church of Saint-Paul-de-Mausole

How delicious it is to wake up in a place where no one, no one in the world, guesses where you are. Sometimes I have stopped spontaneously in towns along my way only to taste the delight that no living being can imagine me there. How much that added to the lightness of my soul!

I remember certain days in Cordova where I lived as if transparent, because I was completely unknown. The sweetness of staying in a little Spanish town, if only to relate to certain dogs and a blind beggar—more dangerous, that blind man, because he can read you. But three days later, if he hears you come back toward his church at the same hour, he counts you now as someone who henceforth exists, and he incorporates you into his world of sound.

And there you are, destined to new birth, mystical and nocturnal.

Letter to a friend
February 3, 1923

April 5, 2011


Desperate Adolescent, or Narcissus

Narcissus vanished. All that remained
was the fragrance of his beauty—
constant and sweet, the scent of heliotrope.
His task was only to behold himself.

Whatever emanated from him he loved back into himself.
He no longer drifted in the open wind,
but enclosed himself in a narrowing circle
and there, in its grip, he extinguished himself.

Uncollected Poems

April 4, 2011

Threshold of Spring

Avenue of Plane Trees Near Arles Station

Harshness gone. All at once caring spreads over
the naked gray of the meadows.
Tiny rivulets sing in different voices.
A softness, as if from everywhere,

is touching the earth.
Paths appear across the land and beckon.
Surprised once again you sense
its coming in the empty tree.

Uncollected Poems

April 3, 2011

Shining in the Distance

 Provence, by Paul Cézanne

Already my gaze is upon the hill, the sunlit one.
The way to it, barely begun, lies ahead.
So we are grasped by what we have not grasped,
full of promise, shining in the distance.

It changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something we barely sense, but are;
a movement beckons, answering our movement . . .
But we just feel the wind against us.

Uncollected Poems

April 2, 2011

To Make Sense of Things

 Boris Pasternak Writing

I yearn for my work, because it always helps me make sense of things. For never was a horror experienced without an angel stepping in from the opposite direction to witness it with me.

Letter to Marianne von Goldschmidt Rothschild
December 5, 1914

April 1, 2011

The Olive Grove (2)

Olive Grove, by Vincent van Gogh

They would say no angel came.

Why angel? What came was night,
moving indifferently amidst the trees.
The disciples stirred in in their dreams.
Why an angel? What came was night.

The night that came was like any other,
dogs sleeping, stones lying there—
like any night of grief,
to be survived till morning comes.

Angels do not answer prayers like that,
nor do they let eternity break through.
Nothing protects those who lose themselves.

New Poems