July 31, 2011

Summer Fruit

Still Life with apples, grapes, pears and peaches

Full round apple, peach, pear, blackberry.
Each speaks life and death
into the mouth. Look
at the face of a child eating them.

The tastes come from afar
and slowly grow nameless on the tongue.
Where there were words, discoveries flow,
released from within the fruit.

What we call apple—dare to say what it is,
this sweetness which first condensed itself
so that, in the tasting, it may burst forth

and be known in all its meanings
of sun and earth and here.
How immense, the act and the pleasure of it.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 13

July 30, 2011

The Shelter of Your Heart

The House with the Green Eye

Who knows: eyes may be watching us
from all sides. Ah, only stumbling toward you
am I no longer on display. Growing into you,
I am forever set invisibly
in the darkening shelter of your heart.

Uncollected Poems

July 29, 2011

The Gazelle (Gazella Dorcas)

Turn, my lover, and be like a gazelle
or like a young stag on the rugged hills
- painting of the Song of Songs

Enchanted one: how can the harmony of two
Latin words ever attain the rhythm
that ripples through you like a promise.
From your brow rise leaf and lyre.

And all that is you turns to metaphor
in love poems whose phrases light
as rose petals remain in the expression
of one who, after reading, closes her eyes

to see you: almost in flight,
borne away in leaps that cease their springing
only when you stand stock still to listen;

as when a woman bathing in a woodland stream
pauses suddenly, and the water
mirrors her quick-turned face.

New Poems

July 28, 2011

In My Glad Hours

Fountain in the Garden of Saint Paul Hospital

In my glad hours, I will make a city of your smile, a distant city that shines and lives. I will take one word of yours to be an island on which birches stand, or fir trees, quite still and ceremonial. I will receive your glance as a fountain in which things can disappear and above which the sky trembles, both eager and afraid to fall in.

I will know that all of this exists, that one can enter this city, that I have glimpsed this island and know exactly when there is no one else beside that fountain. But if I appear to hesitate, it is because I am not sure whether it is the forest through which we are walking or my own mood that is shaded and dark.

Who knows: maybe Venice, too, is just a feeling.

Early Journals

July 27, 2011

To What Can We Turn

The House and the Tree

Oh, to what, then, can we turn
in our need?
Not to an angel. Not to a person.
Animals, perceptive as they are,
notice that we are not really at home
in this world of ours. Perhaps there is
a particular tree we see every day on the hillside,
or a street we have walked,
or the warped loyalty of habit
that does not abandon us.

Oh, and night, the night, when wind
hurls the universe at our faces.
For whom is night not there?

From the First Duino Elegy

July 26, 2011

No Worthless Place

If your daily life seems of no account, don't blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its treasures. For the creative artist there is no impoverishment and no worthless place.

Paris, February 17, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

July 25, 2011

The Blessing of Earth

Vincent Van GoghSketch of man pulling a harrow.
October 28, 1883 letter to Theo
 God, every night is hard.
Always there are some awake,
who turn, turn, and do not find you.
Don't you hear them crying out
as they go farther and farther down?
Surely you hear them weep; for they are weeping.

I seek you, because they are passing
right by my door. Whom should I turn to,
if not the one whose darkness
is darker than night, the only one
who keeps vigil with no candle,
and is not afraid—
the deep one, whose being I trust,
for it breaks through the earth into trees,
and rises,
when I bow my head,
faint as a fragrance
from the soil.

From The Book of Hours II, 3

July 24, 2011

Fear and Fearlessness

The Orchard, by Marc Chagall

Those who sense eternity are beyond all fear. They see in every night the place where day begins, and are consoled.

Fearlessness is necessary for summer to come. Spring can be troubled; to its blossoming, uneasiness is like a home. But fruit needs the strength and calm of the sun. All must be ready to receive, with wide open gateways and substantial bridges.

A race that is born in fear comes as a stranger to the world and never finds its way home.

Early Journals

July 23, 2011

The Lies We Tell

Flowering Garden with Path

The lies we tell are like toys,
easy to break. Like gardens
where we play hide and seek,
and, in our excitement, make a sound
so people will know where to look.

You are the wind that catches our voice,
our own shadow grown longer.
You collection of lovely holes
in the sponge that we are.

Collected French Poems

July 22, 2011


Farmhouse Among Trees

Slowly evening takes on the garments
held for it by a line of ancient trees.
You look, and the world recedes from you.
Part of it moves heavenward, the rest falls away.

And you are left, belonging to neither fully,
not quite so dark as the silent house,
not quite so sure of eternity
as that shining now in the night sky, a point of light.

You are left, for reasons you can't explain,
with a life that is anxious and huge,
so that, at times confined, at times expanding,
it becomes in you now stone, now star.

Book of Images

July 21, 2011

I Have Hymns

Ulysses and Eumaeus

I have hymns you haven't heard.

There is an upward soaring
in which I bend close.
You can barely distinguish me
from the things that kneel before me.

They are like sheep, they are grazing.
I am the shepherd on the brow of the hill.
When evening draws them home
I follow after, the dark bridge thudding,

and the vapor rising from their backs
hides my own homecoming.

The Book of Hours I, 40

July 20, 2011

On the Edge of Night

Violinist Seen from the Front

My room and the vastness around it,
awake in the oncoming night,
are one. I am a string
stretched taut
across resonating distances.

All things are the body of the violin,
filled with murmuring darkness.
There, grieving women lie down to dream.
There the resentments of generations
surrender to sleep...
A silver thread,
I reverberate:
then all that's underneath me
comes to life.

And what has lost its way
will, by my vibrant sounds,
be at last brought home
and allowed to fall endlessly
into the depthless source...

Book of Images

July 19, 2011

With Real Love, There Are No Recipes

Birthday, by Marc Chagall

Whenever people in love act out of an imagined fusion of their beings, their every action is dictated by convention. Every relation colored by such confusion is conventional, however exotic (that is, immoral) it might appear. Even separating would be a conventional step, an automatic alternative lacking in skill and creativity.

Whoever takes it seriously, discovers that, as with death which is real, so with real love, there are no easy recipes. For both these undertakings, there are no universally agreed-upon rules. But in the same measure that we begin as individuals to explore life's meaning for us, these great things come toward us to be met and known. The claims made upon us by the hard work of love are bigger than life and essential to our unfolding, and we are seldom up to them at the outset. But if we hold steady and take this love upon us as a task and a teaching, instead of losing ourselves in an easy and frivolous game behind which to hide the most honest questions of our existence—this may be felt as a small illumination and step forward by those who come long after us. That in itself would be a lot.

Rome, May 14, 1904
Letters to a Young Poet

July 18, 2011

Sometimes a Man

Blue Vase, by Paul Cézanne

Sometimes a man rises from the supper table
and goes outside. And he keeps going
because somewhere to the east there's a church.
His children bless his name as if he were dead.

Another man stays at home until he dies,
stays with plates and glasses.
So then it is his children who go out
into the world, seeking the church that he forgot.

The Book of Hours II, 19

July 17, 2011

The Golden Hive

atelier of Paul Cézanne

Nature, and the things we live with and use, precede us and come after us. But they are, so long as we are here, our possession and our friendship. They know us with our needs and our pleasures, as they did those of our ancestors, whose trusted companions they were.

   So it follows that all that is here is not to be despised and put down, but, precisely because it did precede us, to be taken by us with the innermost understanding that these appearances and things must be seen and transformed.

   Transformed? Yes. For our task is to take this earth so deeply and wholly into ourselves that it will resurrect within our being. We are bees of the invisible. Passionately we plunder the honey of the visible in order to gather it in the great golden hive of the invisible.

Letter to Witold Hulewicz
November 13, 1925

July 16, 2011

Who Shows a Child

Songe d'un amoureux, by Marc Chagall

Who shows a child his true world?
Who sets him among the stars, and places
in his hand the true measure of space?
Death can do this, the hugeness of death,
even before life has begun—
to hold it gently and feel no resentment,
that is enough.

From the Fourth Duino Elegy

July 15, 2011

Bodily Delight

Green Apples, by Paul Cézanne

If only people could perceive the mystery in all life, down to the smallest thing, and open themselves to it instead of taking it for granted. If only they could revere its abundance which is undividedly both material and spiritual. For the mind's creation springs from the physical, is of one nature with it and only a lighter, more enraptured and enduring recapturing of bodily delight.

Worpswede, July 16, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

July 14, 2011

Some Generous Place

Wheat Fields near Auvers

If I had grown in some generous place—
if my hours had opened in ease—
I would make You a lavish banquet.
My hands wouldn't clutch at You like this,
so needy and tight.

From The Book of Hours I, 21

July 13, 2011

The Swan

The Perfect Storm Swan Nebula

This laboring of ours with all that remains undone,
as if still bound to it,
is like the lumbering gait of the swan.

And then our dying—releasing ourselves
from the very ground on which we stood—
is like the way he hesitantly lowers himself

into the water. It gently receives him,
and, gladly yielding, flows back beneath him,
as wave follows wave,
while he, now wholly serene and sure,
with regal composure,
allows himself to glide.

New Poems

July 12, 2011


David and Bathsheba, by Marc Chagall

Some of us have long felt continuities that have little in common with the course of history. We understand what is most distinctive in this fateful moment and what future it holds. But we, squeezed between yesterday and tomorrow, will we be mindful and receptive enough to participate in the unfolding of the larger movement?

Letter to Countess Marie von Thurn und Taxis-Hohenlohe
July 9, 1915

July 11, 2011

Transforming Dragons

L'Echelle, by Marc Chagall

We have no reason to distrust our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors. If it has an abyss, it is ours. If dangers are there, we must try to love them. And if we would live with faith in the value of what is challenging, then what now appears to us as most alien will become our truest, most trustworthy friend. Let us not forget the ancient myths at the outset of humanity's journey, the myths about dragons that at the last moment transform into princesses. Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act just once with beauty and courage. Perhaps every terror is, in its deepest essence, something that needs our recognition or help.

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

July 10, 2011


A small piece of earth, burned,
as if burned by the sun's fire.
The touch of a girl's hand
seems somehow still upon it.
Feel how it remained there,
not longing for anything other,
just resting into itself
like fingers on a chin.

We take up this figure, then that,
turning them in the light.
We can almost understand
how they managed to survive.
We need only smile
and accept more fully
what it offers to our eyes.

New Poems

July 9, 2011

The Island (III)

Bridge of Maincy, by Paul Cézanne

Only what is within you is near; all else is far.
And this within: so packed and pressured,
barely contained, unsayable.
The island could be a star so insignificant

that space in its terrible blindness takes no note
and mindlessly destroys it.
Thus, unillumined and unheard,
expecting nothing

but that all this may yet come to an end,
it continues doggedly its self-invented course,
alone, outside the patterns made
by planets and the suns they orbit.

New Poems

July 8, 2011

The Island (II)

Study of a landscape at Auvers

As if lying in some crater on the moon,
each farm is encircled by its earthen banks.
And like orphans the gardens inside
are dressed and combed the same

by the storm that raises them so roughly,
scaring them all the time with threats of death.
That's when you stay indoors, gazing into
the crooked mirror at the assorted things

reflected there. Toward evening one of you
steps outside the door and draws from the harmonica
a sound as soft as weeping

such as you heard once in a distant port.
Out there, silhouetted against the sky,
one of the sheep stands motionless on the far dike.

New Poems

July 7, 2011

The Island (I)

Bay Estaque, by Paul Cézanne

The tide erases the path through the mud flats
and makes things on all sides look the same.
But the little island out there has closed its eyes.
The dike around it walls its people in.

They are as if born into a sleep
that silently blurs all destinations.
They seldom speak,
and every utterance is like an epitaph

for something cast ashore, some foreign object
that comes unexplained, and just stays.
So is everything their gaze encounters from childhood on:

not intended for them, random, unwieldy,
sent from somewhere else
to underscore their loneliness.

New Poems

July 6, 2011

Between Hammers Pounding

observing work on the Monument to Victor Hugo
Lebossé's studio, 1896

Between hammers pounding,
the heart exists, like the tongue
between the teeth—which still,
however, does the praising.

From the Ninth Duino Elegy

July 5, 2011


Gold leads a pampered life, protected by banks,
on intimate terms with the best people.
The homeless beggar is no more than a lost coin
fallen behind the bookcase or in the dustpile under the bed.

In the finest shops, money is right at home,
loving to parade itself in flowers, silk and furs.
He, the silent one, stands outside this display.
Money, near him, stops breathing.

How does his outstretched hand ever close at night?
Fate, each morning, picks it up again,
holds it out there, naked and raw.

In order to grasp what his life is like,
to see it and cherish it, you would need a song,
a song only a god could bear to hear.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 19

July 4, 2011

Even the Best Rulers

Rainer Maria Rilke

The tragedy of nations is perhaps this: that even the best rulers use up a piece of their people's future.

Early Journals

July 3, 2011

The Gift of Exploration

Lion and Dove

Dove that stayed in the open, outside the dovecote,
brought back and housed again
where neither night nor day poses danger—
she knows what protection is. . . .

The other doves not exposed to peril
do not know this tenderness.
The heart that has been fetched back can feel most at home.
Vitality is freed through what it has renounced.

Over Nothingness the universe bends.
Ah, the bell we dared to throw
fills the bands differently on its return:
it brings back the reality of its journey.

Uncollected Poems

July 2, 2011

One Sufficient Word

A rose by itself is every rose.
And this one is irreplaceable,
perfect, one sufficient word
in the context of all things.

Without what we see in her,
how can we speak our hopes
or endure a tender moment
in the winds of departure.

Les Roses
From Rilke's collected French Poems

July 1, 2011

Sky Within Us

Aleka and Zemphira by Moonlight

Oh, not to be separated,
shut off from the starry dimensions
by so thin a wall.

What is within us
if not intensified sky
traversed with birds

and deep
with winds of homecoming?

Uncollected Poems