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


  1. "...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."

    Herein lies the difference between the door marked "Lecture on Heaven" and the one marked "Heaven." The former intimates, the latter exults. Though the going is much more difficult, bittersweet, fateful ... What is art beyond itself, beyond "mere singing"? This wind ... - Brendan

  2. I love this way of looking at the lords and ladies of past realms, art (and current ones who don't have a clue and are completely out of touch). Brendan, your doors marked "Lecture on Heaven" and "Heaven" picture this so perfectly! Ha! Thank you.

    I also love what John Serio, the editor of a new collection of Wallace Stevens poems "Selected Poems" said about Stevens: Wallace Stevens once observed that the great poems of heaven and hell have been written and that now it is now time to write the great poem of earth. (This was in the Knopf Daily.) This was an intro to a poem that I think is pertinent coupled with Rilke today. Maybe you'll feel as I did that the loop is tied with the two together.

    The Dove in the Belly

    The whole of appearance is a toy. For this,
    The dove in the belly builds his nest and coos,

    Selah, tempestuous bird. How is it that
    The rivers shine and hold their mirrors up,

    Like excellence collecting excellence?
    How is it that the wooden trees stand up

    And live and heap their panniers of green
    And hold them round the sultry day? Why should

    These mountains being high be, also, bright,
    Fetched up with snow that never falls to earth?

    And this great esplanade of corn, miles wide,
    Is something wished for made effectual

    And something more. And the people in costumes,
    Though poor, though raggeder than ruin, have that

    Within them right for terraces—oh, brave salut!
    Deep dove, placate you in your hiddenness.

  3. they want to bloom, we want to ripen..this is deep and it's strange - but reminds me of people who want to bloom all their life and never come to the place where they can nurture someone by the fruits of their lives

  4. Once again, the rich fruits of Rilke's words are plucked so well by the commenters, letting us savor them more fully. Brendan's image of the two doors and Ruth's releasing here of Wallace Stevens' Dove in the Belly are so apropos. The distinction drawn here between blooming and ripening is very suggestive. Blooms bless us with their beauty and fragrance, but fall to the ground and wither into the soil. It is ripe fruit that nourishes us; yet, after ripening, uneaten fruit will begin to rot. To ripen, fruit must be open to decay and rot, just as he says we must be open to darkness and travail.

    Claudia, and those of you who know German — what is travail in the original? I find it a fascinating choice of words in this translation, with its confluence of labor, pain, childbirth, anguish (even torture in its etymology). I wonder if this is the case in German.

  5. the great miscreant of this brand crazy society -They wanted to bloom and to bloom is to be beautiful. reminds me of a conversation finite empathy initiated in response to a poem about my son and mimes in France the other day, how friends of his fail to see the beauty in a moment and yet feel they can buy it with a tag. this is the same thing, is it not? beauty can not be purchased nor learned through careful study and enacted in a parlor or spoken of antiseptically in a library. beauty is born on the ends of your toes and gnarls as you age, becomes dense and putrid, but oh the fruits it grants! but ever present is the source which tends to be mired in what is now becoming one of my favorite references (thanks to Brendan) in piss and shit, which in this case would be darkness and travail. i love the irony that develops then from this and brendan's reference to the two doors. to get to heaven one must be willing to go through hell. perhaps not even go through it for that suggests leaving it, but perhaps heaven and hell are more closely entwined than we imagine and instead of existing at opposite ends of a line, perhaps they are hands clasped and fingers intertwined.

    i'd like to cuss. in my very unladylike ways this is me excited! (i'd never have made the parlor, i'd have been burned as a witch, or i'd have put trousers on and pulled men to the pantry...oh, i'm losing my way, as i would have, certainly.)

    and then ruth, just having come from your place and telling you how my mythology of you is being broken (and remade, of course) you present me with this line, The whole of appearance is a toy. and i laugh and get more excited. it was that photo of your arm with your shawl. just a small figment of you that i drew around and penned an entirely new and different woman from. should that we all be unembodied voices. and that is kind of what we are here, aren't we? and so, we ask of one another, don't we, what you see - am i beautiful? always, it seems, i return to whitman's the body electric.

    have a beautiful weekend you beautiful people.


  6. Wow, all of this is so potent, "excellence collecting excellence," the doors of heaven and hell fully harrowed (at least, at their zenith and nadir) with so much in between -- here -- to savor, bloom, become one with, as Whitman made his body and lover and life's work the ever-increasing, living, dying earth. And for that, we get to ripen -- which means, we have decades of this travail and delight left. Heaven on earth, hell, too, but between both a singing, loving body. - Brendan

  7. Perhaps this is why we often feel discontented with our own growth. Even as we relish the beauty of the bloom, we long for the deeper ripening that always pulls us forward — often, as Rilke reminds us, through more darkness and travail.


"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Go ahead, bloom recklessly!