June 30, 2011

I Dig for You, God, Like Treasure

Landscape at Auvers in the Rain

My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.

Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.

What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
like a spring rain?

From The Book of Hours II, 34

June 29, 2011


Painting of Auguste Rodin in the Musée Rodin, Paris
artist unknown, shared here

As for me, my internal pace is slow. Mine is the intrinsic slowness of the tree that embraces its growth and its blooming. Yes, I have a bit of its admirable patience. I had to train myself in it from the moment I understood the secret slowness that engenders and distills any work of art. But if I know its temporal measure, I know nothing of its immobility. Oh, the joys of travel!

Letter to a friend
February 3, 1923

June 28, 2011

Gathering God

Man is at Sea, by Vincent van Gogh

The poets have scattered you.
A storm ripped through the stammering.
I want to gather you up again
in a vessel that makes you glad.

I wander in the thousand winds
that you are churning,
and bring back everything I find.

The blind man needed you as a cup.
The servant concealed you.
The beggar held you out as I passed.

You see, I am one who likes to look for things.

The Book of Hours I, 55

June 27, 2011


Seascape at Saintes-Maries

Breath, you invisible poem!
Pure, continuous exchange
with all that is, flow and counterflow
where rhythmically I come to be.

Each time a wave that occurs just once
in a sea I discover I am.
You, innermost of oceans,
you, infinitude of space.

How many far places were once
within me. Some winds
are like my own child.

When I breathe them now, do they know me again?
Air, you silken surround,
completion and seed of my words.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 1

June 26, 2011

Charged with the Transfiguration of All Things

The Peasants' Churchyard

How all things are in migration! How they seek refuge in us. How each of them desires to be relieved of externality and to live again in the Beyond which we enclose and deepen within ourselves. We are convents of lived things, dreamed things, impossible things; all that is in awe of this century saves itself within us and there, on its knees, pays its debt to eternity.

Little cemeteries that we are, adorned with the flowers of our futile gestures, containing so many corpses that demand that we testify to their souls. All prickly with crosses, all covered with inscriptions, all spaded up and shaken by countless daily burials, we are charged with the transmutation, the resurrection, the transfiguration of all things. For how can we save what is visible if not by using the language of absence, of the invisible?

And how to speak this language that remains mute unless we sing it with abandon and without any insistence on being understood.

Letter to Sophy Giauque
November 26, 1925

June 25, 2011

David Sings Before Saul (III)

Saul and David

Oh king, you conceal yourself in darknesses,
and yet I have you in my power.
See, nothing has stopped this song of mine.
The room grows cold around us.
My orphaned heart and your wasted one
are caught together in the blindness of your wrath,
our teeth sunk into each other,
our claws twisted in a single fist.

Can you feel now how we are changing places?
My king, my king, what is heavy turns to spirit.
If we just keep hold of each other,
you grasping the young one and I the old,
we could revolve together like stars.

New Poems

June 24, 2011

David Sings Before Saul (II)

David Playing the Harp before Saul

My king, all of this was yours.
The force of your living
oppressed and overshadowed me.
Come down from your throne and break this harp
that you have wearied.

It is like a tree picked bare, and
through branches that once bore you fruit
a depth is staring as from days to come,
days I cannot know.

Let me sleep no more beside the harp.
Look at my hand, still a boy's hand.
Do you think it could not span
the octaves of a lover's body?

New Poems

June 23, 2011

David Sings Before Saul (I)

David and Saul

My king, hear how my fingers on the strings
open distances we can travel through.
Stars careen around us
and we find we are falling like the rain.
Earth blooms where this rain has fallen.

Girls you still remember are blooming too.
They are women now, and they draw me.
Young boys wait by the still closed door.
Slender and tense, they hold their breath.

Oh, might my playing restore it all to you!
But my music reels drunkenly.
It's those nights of yours, those nights—
my singing moves me to imagine
the exhausted forms when you had done with them.

I can accompany your memories
because I feel them. But on which strings
can I pluck for you the dark groans of your lust?

New Poems

June 22, 2011

I Find You There

The Mulberry Tree

I find you there in all these things
I care for like a brother.
A seed, you nestle in the smallest of them,
and in the huge ones spread yourself hugely.

Such is the amazing play of the powers:
they give themselves so willingly,
swelling in the roots, thinning as the trunks rise,
and in the high leaves, resurrection.

The Book of Hours I, 22

June 21, 2011


Lovers in the Moonlight

Look at the sky. Is there no constellation called Rider?
For the image is imprinted on the mind:
this arrogance made from Earth and a second one astride,
driving him and holding him back.

Hunted, then harnessed: isn't this
the sinewy nature of our being?
Path and turning, a touch to guide.
New distances. And the two are one.

But are they? Or is it only the going
that unites them? When they stop
they belong again to table or pasture.

The story pattern fools us, too. Still,
it pleases us for a moment
to believe in them. That is all we need.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 11

June 20, 2011

With Each Thing

Bedroom at Arles

Who can say what is? Who is able to judge the true worth of things?

I can only measure the world in terms of longing. All things are so ready to accommodate our many and often mistaken thoughts and wishes. With each thing I would like to rest for a night, after a day of "doing" with other things. I would like to sleep once with each thing, nestled in its warmth; to dream in the rhythm of its breathing, its dear, naked neighborliness against my limbs, and grow strong in the fragrance of its sleep. Then, early in the morning, before it awakens, before any good-byes, to move on, to move on...

Early Journals

June 19, 2011

A Wondrous Knowing of the World

Apples, Peaches, Pears, Grapes

Sexual pleasure is no different from the sensory experience of pure looking or the feel on the tongue of a luscious fruit; it is a wondrous knowing of the world, given to us so that we may learn its fullness and radiance. The problem is not our acceptance of it; the problem is that this experience is so often misused and squandered. It is taken to enliven the deadened places of our lives, to distract instead of heightening our awareness.

People have even made eating into something it is not meant to be. Experienced as automatic impulse on the one hand, or as excess on the other, the nature of this physical necessity is distorted, and similarly distorted are all the other simple requirements for the renewing of life.

Worpswede, July 16, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

June 18, 2011

The Animal That Never Was

unfinished sculpture 'La Pensee'

This is the animal that never was.
They didn't know, and loved him anyway:
his bearing, his neck, the way he moved,
the light in his quiet eyes.

True, he didn't exist. But because they loved him
he became a real animal. They made a space for him.
And in that clear, uncluttered space, he lifted his head
and hardly needed to exist.

They fed him: not with grain, but ever
with the chance that he could be.
And that so strengthened him

that, from within, he grew a horn.
All white, he drew near to a virgin and found himself
in a silver mirror and in her.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 4

June 17, 2011

You, Orpheus

Orpheus, by Auguste Rodin

But you, divine poet, to the end a singer:
falling prey to the pack of Maenads,
you wove their shrieking into wider harmonies,
and brought from that destruction a song to build with.

No one to call when they raged and wrestled,
but the jagged stones they hurled
turned gentle when reaching you,
as if able to hear you.

Hounded by hatred, you were torn to pieces
while your music still rang amidst rocks and lions,
trees and birds. There you are singing still.

O dear lost god, you endless path!
Only because you were broken and scattered
have we become the ears of nature, and her voice.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 26

June 16, 2011

See the Flowers

Flowers and Lovers

See the flowers, so faithful to Earth.
We know their fate because we share it.
Were they to grieve for their wilting,
that grief would be ours to feel.

There's a lightness in things. Only we move forever burdened,
pressing ourselves into everything, obsessed by weight.
How strange and devouring our ways must seem
to those for whom life is enough.

If you could enter their dreaming and dream with them deeply,
you would come back different to a different day,
moving so easily from that common depth.

Or maybe just stay there: they would bloom and welcome you,
all those brothers and sisters tossing in the meadows,
and you would be one of them.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 14

June 15, 2011

The Bowl of Roses (III)

Still Life: Pink Roses

And this above all: that through these petals
light must pass. From a thousand skies,
each drop of darkness is filtered out
and the glow at the core of each flower
grows stronger and rises into life.

And the movement of the roses
has a vibrancy none could discern,
were it not for what it ignites
in the universe entire...

One could say they were self-contained
if self-contained meant
to transform the world outside,
patience of springtime, guilt and restlessness,
the secrecy of fate and the darkness of Earth at evening—
on out to the streaming and fleeing of clouds
and, farther yet, the orders of the stars—
take it all and turn it into
a handful of inwardness.

See how it lies at ease in these open roses.

New Poems

June 14, 2011

The Bowl of Roses (II)

Bowl with Peonies and Roses

Soundless existence ever opening,
filling space while taking it from no one,
diminishing nothing, defined by nothing outside itself,
all coming from within, clothed in softness
and radiant in its own light, even to its outermost edge.
When have we known a thing like this,

like the tender and delicate way
that rose petal touches rose petal?
Or like this: that each petal is an eyelid,
and under it lie other eyelids
closed, as if letting all vision be cradled
in deepening sleep.

New Poems

June 13, 2011

The Bowl of Roses (I)

Bowl of Sunflowers, Roses and Other Flowers

You have seen explosions of anger, seen how two boys
wrestle themselves into a single knot of hatred,
writhing on the ground like an animal assailed
by a swarm of bees. You have seen actors portray
paroxysms of rage, and maddened horses
beyond control, eyes rolling out of their heads,
teeth bared as if their very skull were shaking loose.

But now you know how things are forgotten.
For here before you stands a bowl of roses:
unforgettable, complete in itself,
a fullness of being:
self offering without surrender, sheer presence
becoming what we truly are.

New Poems

June 12, 2011

The Watchman in the Vineyards

The White Orchard, by Vincent van Gogh

Just as the watchman in the vineyards
has a hut, keeps vigil there,
I am that hut, Lord.
And I am night, Lord, within your night.

Wine garden, meadow, apple orchard,
field that no springtime forgets,
fig tree that yields a thousand figs
though rooted in ground as hard as marble:

fragrance exudes from your rounding branches.
You never ask if I am keeping watch.
Fearless, dissolved in juices,
your depths rise quietly around me.

The Book of Hours I, 58

June 11, 2011

Earth, Isn't This What You Want

Angel, by Marc Chagall

Earth, isn't this what you want? To arise in us, invisible?
Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly
there's nothing left outside us to see?
What, if not transformation,
is your deepest purpose? Earth, my love,
I want it too. Believe me,
no more of your springtimes are needed
to win me over—even one flower
is more than enough. Before I was named
I belonged to you. I see no other law
but yours, and know I can trust
the death you will bring.

See, I live. On what?
Childhood and future are equally present.
Sheer abundance of being
floods my heart.

From the Ninth Duino Elegy

June 10, 2011

You Inherit the Green

(Kiev Monastery of the Caves)
photographer unknown, found here

And you inherit the green
of vanished gardens
and the motionless blue of fallen skies,
dew of a thousand dawns, countless summers
the suns sang, and springtime to break your heart
like a young woman's letters.

You inherit the autumns, folded like festive clothing
in the memories of poets; and all the winters,
like abandoned fields, bequeath you their quietness.
You inherit Venice, Kazan, and Rome;

Florence will be yours, and Pisa's cathedral,
Moscow with bells like memories,
and the Troiska convent, and the monastery
whose maze of tunnels lies swallowed under Kiev's gardens.

From The Book of Hours II, 10

June 9, 2011


A Field of Yellow Flowers, by Vincent van Gogh

You know that the flower bends when the wind wants it to, and you must become like that—that is, filled with deep trust.

Early Journals

June 8, 2011

The Apple Orchard (II)

Linden Tree on a Bastion, by Albrecht Dürer

The trees, like those of Dürer,
bear the weight of a hundred days of labor
in their heavy, ripening fruit.
They serve with endless patience to teach

how even that which exceeds all measure
must be taken up and given away,
as we, through long years,
quietly grow toward the one thing we can be.

New Poems

June 7, 2011

The Oldest Work of Art

Five Dancers, by Auguste Rodin

God is the oldest work of art. He is very poorly preserved, and many parts of Him are later additions. But that is the way things get built: by our being able to talk about Him, by our having seen everything else.

Early Journals

June 6, 2011

The Apple Orchard (I)

The Forest, by Paul Cézanne

Come now as the sun goes down.
See how evening greens the grass.
Is it not as though we had already gathered it
and saved it up inside us,

so that now, from feelings and memories,
from new hope and old pleasures,
all mixed with inner darkness,
we fling it before us under the trees.

New Poems

June 5, 2011


Sculpture by Käthe Kollwitz. Photo: Jon Bronberg
When it happens that I lose you,
will you find that you can sleep
without my whispering over you
like the rustling linden tree?

Without my lying awake beside you
and letting my words
fall upon your breast, your limbs,
your mouth, like petals of a rose?

Without my letting you be cradled
alone with what is yours,
like a garden abundant
with lavender and lemon balm.

New Poems
Full view of Kollwitz's Mother with her Dead Son. Photo: Andre K.
at the Neue Wache Memorial for Victims of War and Tyranny in Berlin

Photo: Wolfgang Brüßler
Click on the images to enlarge. To see a remarkable gallery of images of this immensely powerful memorial, click here for the first image and then cycle through the entire "fotocommunity.com" collection of photos by clicking on "Next" or on the photos themselves (there are 98 photos). For more on the Neue Wache Memorial go here.

June 4, 2011

Wild Rosebush

Roses and Beetle

How it stands there against the dark
of this late rainy hour, young and clean,
swaying its generous branches
yet absorbed in its essence as rose;
with wide-open flowers already appearing,
each unsought and each uncared-for.
So, endlessly exceeding itself
and ineffably from itself come forth,
it calls the wanderer, who in evening contemplation
passes on the road:
Oh see me standing here, see how unafraid I am
and unprotected. I have all I need.

Uncollected Poems

June 3, 2011

White Roses

Still Life: Vase with Roses

Every day, on contemplating  these exquisite white roses, I wonder if they are not the perfect image of the unity of being and non-being in our lives. That, I would say, constitutes the fundamental equation of our existence.

Letter to Madame M-R
January 4, 1923

June 2, 2011

Often When I Imagine You

Path in the Woods, by Vincent van Gogh

Often when I imagine you
your wholeness cascades into many shapes.
You run like a herd of luminous deer
and I am dark, I am forest.

From The Book of Hours I, 45

June 1, 2011

Springtime People

Amoureux de Vence, by Marc Chagall

We are no longer innocent; but we must make every effort to become primitive so that we can begin again each time, and from our hearts. We must become springtime people in order to find the summer, whose greatness we must herald.

Early Journals