August 31, 2011

The Innerness of All Things

Beach with Figures and Sea with Ship

You create yourself in ever-changing shapes
that rise from the stuff of our days—
unsung, unmourned, undescribed,
like a forest we never knew.

You are the deep innerness of all things,
the last word that can never be spoken.
To each of us you reveal yourself differently:
to the ship as a coastline, to the shore as a ship.

From the Book of Hours II, 22

August 30, 2011

Not Poor

La Branche, by Marc Chagall

We are not poor. We are just without riches,
we who have no will, no world:
marked with the marks of the latest anxiety,
disfigured, stripped of leaves.

Around us swirls the dust of the cities,
the garbage clings to us.
We are shunned as if contaminated,
thrown away like broken pots, like bones,
like last year's calendar.

And yet if our Earth needed to
she could weave us together like roses
and make of us a garland.

For each being is cleaner than washed stones
and endlessly yours, and like an animal
who knows already in its first blind moments
its need for one thing only—

to let ourselves be poor like that—as we truly are.

The Book of Hours III, 16

August 29, 2011

This Vast Landscape

Landscape study after nature

Here in this vast landscape, swept by winds from the sea, I wonder if there is any person anywhere who can answer the questions that stir in the depths of your being. For even the best miss the mark when they use words for what is elusive and nearly unsayable. But nonetheless, I believe you are not left without a solution, if you turn to things like those that are refreshing my eyes. If you ally yourself with nature, with her sheer existence, with the small things that others overlook and that so suddenly can become huge and immeasurable; if you have this love for what is plain and try very simply, as one who serves to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, perhaps not in your conscious mind, but in your innermost awareness.

Worpswede, July 16, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

August 28, 2011

Like a Metal That Hasn't Been Mined

Mont Sainte-Victoire, by Paul Cézanne

You, mountain, here since mountains began,
slopes where nothing is built,
peaks that no one has named,
eternal snows littered with stars,
valleys in flower
offering fragrances of earth. . . .

Do I move inside you now?
Am I within the rock
like a metal that hasn't been mined?
Your hardness encloses me everywhere. . . .

Or is it fear
I am caught in? The tightening fear
of the swollen cities
in which I suffocate. . . .

The Book of Hours III, 2

August 27, 2011

Fig Tree

the studio of Paul Cézanne
surrounded by olive and fig trees

Fig tree, for how long now have I found meaning
in the way you almost forget to bloom
and drive without drama your pure mystery
into the young determined fruit.
Like a fountain's channel your curving branches
force the sap downward and up again; look, it springs
straight from sleep into its sweetest achievement—
like the god entering a swan. . . .

From the Sixth Duino Elegy

August 26, 2011

Like a Holy Face

The Sower, by Vincent van Gogh

Only as a child am I awake
and able to trust
that in every fear and every night
I will behold you again.

However often I get lost,
however far my thinking strays,
I know you will be here, right here,
untouched by time.

To me it is as if I were at once
infant, boy, man and more.
I feel that only as it circles
is abundance found.

I thank you, deep power
that works me ever more lightly
in ways I can't make out.
The day's labor grows simple now,
and like a holy face
held in my dark hands.

August 25, 2011

The Press of Time

Blossoming Almond Branch
in a Glass with a Book

We set the pace,
But this press of time—
take it as a little thing
next to what endures.

All this hurrying
soon will be over.
Only when we tarry
do we touch the holy.

Young ones, don't waste your courage
racing so fast,
flying so high.

See how all things are at rest—
darkness and morning light,
blossom and book.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 22

August 24, 2011

The Knight

Winter Garden, by Vincent van Gogh

The knight rides forth in coal-black steel
into the teeming world.

Outside his armor everything is there: sunlight and valley,
friend and foe and feast,
May, maiden, forest and grail,
and God himself in a thousand forms
to be found along every road.

But inside the armor darkly enclosing him
crouches death. And the thought comes
and comes again:
When will the blade
pierce this iron sheath,
the undeserved and liberating blade
that will fetch me from my hiding place
where I've been so long compressed—

so that, at last, I may stretch my limbs
and hear my full voice.

Book of Images

August 23, 2011

The Blooming of One Flower

daylily photo by Ruth

Never, not for a single day, do we let
the space before us be so unbounded
that the blooming of one flower is forever.

From the Eighth Duino Elegy

August 22, 2011

The Abundance of Being

Karnak, Egypt

In spite of Fate, the marvelous abundance
of being, like the brimming land
or like stone figures
built into gateways, bearing up balconies.

Or a bronze bell, lifting its voice
over and over against the dullness of our days.
Or that single column in Karnak, standing
long after the temple fell.

Today this extravagance flashes by
in the blur of our haste,
out of the wide yellow day into the vaulted night.

In that rush it dissolves, leaving nothing behind,
just as a plane overhead makes no mark on the sky.
Only our minds see the curve of its flight.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 22

August 21, 2011

The Carousel (II)

Le Carrousel au Jardin du Luxembourg
by Jean Latour

It goes on and hurries to some end,
just circling and turning without a goal.
Flashes of red, of green, of grey whirl past,
solid shapes barely glimpsed.

Sometimes a smile comes toward us,
and, like a blessing, shines and is gone
in this dizzying parade with no destination.

New Poems

August 20, 2011

The Carousel (I)

Jardin du Luxembourg Carousel
found here

Under its canopy, in the shade it casts,
turns a world with painted horses,
all from a land that lingers a while
before it disappears.
Some, it's true, are harnessed to a wagon,
but all have valor in their eyes.
A fierce red lion leaps among them,
and here comes 'round a snow-white elephant.

Even a stag appears, straight from the forest,
except for the saddle he wears, and,
buckled on it, a small boy in blue.

And a boy in white rides the lion,
gripping it with small clenched hands,
while the lion flashes teeth and tongue.

And here comes 'round a snow-white elephant.

And riding past on charging horses come girls,
bright-eyed, almost too old now for this children's play.
With the horses rising under them,
they are looking up and off to what awaits.

And here comes 'round a snow-white elephant.

New Poems

August 19, 2011

Erect No Gravestone

Roses and mimosa

Erect no gravestone. Just let the rose
bloom every year for him.
For this is Orpheus: metamorphosis
into one thing, then another.

We need not search for other names.
It is Orpheus in the singing, once and for all time.
He comes and goes. Is it not enough
that sometimes he outlasts a bowl of roses?

Oh, if you could understand—he has no choice but to disappear,
even should he long to stay. As his song
exceeds the present moment,

so is he already gone where we cannot follow.
The lyre's strings do not hold back his hands.
It is in moving farther on that he obeys.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, V

August 18, 2011

Dread and Mystery

Lovers in Gray, by Marc Chagall

More than once I have mentioned to you how my life and work have been guided by the effort to overcome the old pressures that rob us of mystery, the mystery essential to our capacity to love from fullness. Humanity has been terrified and beset by dread; but is there anything noble and gracious that has not, from time to time, worn the mask of dread?

Letter to Countess Margot Sizzo-Noris-Crouy
April 12, 1923

August 17, 2011


Landscape at Moonrise, by Vincent van Gogh

I always wish to tell someone (I don't know who) "Don't be sad." And it seems to me that this is so trusting a confession that I must express it softly and delicately and in the dimness of twilight.

Early Journals

August 16, 2011

The Man Watching (I)

Wheat Fields in a Storm, by Vincent van Gogh

How small is what we wrestle with,
and what wrestles with us, how immense.

If we could overcome, as things are,
in a great storm,
we would grow vast and need no names.

The Book of Images

August 15, 2011

The Ancient Night of Your Name

The End of the Day, by Vincent van Gogh

A thousand theologians were immersed
in the ancient night
of your name.
Virgins awoke to you
and lads in silver shimmered
in you, you battleground.

In your cloistered walkways
poets would meet.
Gentle, deep, and masterful,
they were kings and queens of sound.

You are the tender evening hour
that all poets equally love.
You are the darkness pressing within them
and the treasure each discovers,
in surrounding you with endless praise.

A hundred thousand harps lift
and swing you out of silence.
And your primordial winds are bringing
to all things and needs
the breath of your majesty.

The Book of Hours I, 54

August 14, 2011

I Am Sometimes Like a Tree

Churchyard at Tara, Ireland
photo by Ruth

So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots

a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.

From The Book of Hours I, 5

August 13, 2011

If Something of the Ancestors Lives On

Rilke in Meudon
Rodin's studio and residence
Photographer: anonymous

Even the next era has no right to judge anything if it lacks the ability to contemplate the past without hatred or envy. But even that judgment would be one-sided, for every subsequent era is the fruit of previous periods and carries much of the past within it. It is fortunate if something of the ancestors lives on in it and continues to be loved and protected; only then does the past become fruitful and effective.

Early Journals

August 12, 2011

You Said "Live"

Bridge over the Marne at Creteil

You said live out loud, and die you said lightly,
and over and over again you said be.

But before the first death came murder.
A fracture broke across the rings you'd ripened.
A screaming shattered the voices

that had just come together to speak you,
to make of you a bridge
over the chasm of everything.

And what they have stammered ever since
are fragments
of your ancient name.

The Book of Hours I, 9

August 11, 2011

For the Sake of the Whole

Closeup of the Burghers of Calais

Are there relations of the heart that embrace what is most cruel for the sake of wholeness? For the world is only world when everything is included.

Letter to Marianne von Goldschmidt-Rothschild
December 5, 1914

Image found here.

August 10, 2011

Gentlest of Ways

Edge of a Wood, by Vincent van Gogh

I love you, gentlest of Ways,
who ripened us as we wrestled with you.

You, the great homesickness we could never shake off,
you, the forest that always surrounded us,

you, the song we sang in every silence,
you dark net threading through us.

you began yourself so greatly
on that day when you began us.

From The Book of Hours I, 25

August 9, 2011

Mount Fuji

Red Fuji southern wind clear sky
by Katsushika Hokusai

Thirty-six times and a hundred times
the artist portrayed the mountain.
Now pulled away, now compelled
(thirty-six times and a hundred times)

to return with glad impatience
to that ungraspable one.
To see it rise there, bold in outline,
withholding nothing of its majesty.

Out of each day emerging over and over,
letting the unrepeatable nights
fall away as though too small.
Each glimpse exhausted in an instant,

form ascending into form,
far off, impassive, wordless—
then suddenly the revelation
of an awareness lifting in the sky.

New Poems

August 8, 2011

The Reader

Boy in a Red Waistcoat, by Paul Cézanne

Who has not known a child like this,
who sinks into a deeper level of his being,
undisturbed by the swift turning
of each brimming page?

Even his own mother might wonder
if it is really he who sits there
saturated with his shadow.

And we, can we know
how much of him
disappears, as he reluctantly looks up
with eyes that yield
to the ready-made world without complaint?

New Poems

August 7, 2011

Fearful of the New

Young Man with a Skull

The tendency of people to be fearful of those experiences they call apparitions or assign to the "spirit world", including death, has done infinite harm to life. All these things so naturally related to us have been driven away through our daily resistance to them, to the point where our capacity to sense them has atrophied. To say nothing of God. Fear of the unexplainable has not only impoverished our inner lives, but also diminished relations between people; these have been dragged, so to speak, from the river of infinite possibilities and stuck on the dry bank where nothing happens. For it is not only sluggishness that makes human relations so unspeakably monotonous, it is the aversion to any new, unforeseen experience we are not sure we can handle.

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

August 6, 2011

Try to Be Close to Things

Child with a Straw Hat, by Paul Cézanne

When you feel no commonality between yourself and other people, try to be close to Things, which will not abandon you. Nights are still there and winds that blow through the trees and over many lands. Amidst  the things and beings of this world so much is happening that you can take part in. And children are still the way you were as a child, that happy and that sad, and when you think of your childhood you live it again with them, the lonely childhood, and grown-ups count for nothing.

Rome, December 23, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

August 5, 2011

May What I Do Flow from Me

Nude Woman Standing in the Sea

May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing it and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

From The Book of Hours I, 12

August 4, 2011

Once Here

Why, then, do we have to be human
and keep running from the fate
we long for?

Oh, not because of such a thing as happiness—
that fleeting gift before loss begins.
Not from curiosity, or to exercise the heart...
But because simply to be here is so much
and because what is here seems to need us,
this vanishing world that concerns us strangely—
us, the most vanishing of all. Once
for each, only once. Once and no more.
And we too: just once. Never again. But
to have lived even once,
to have been of Earth—that cannot be taken from us.

From the Ninth Duino Elegy

August 3, 2011

What the Things Can Teach Us

Bluebird, by Marc Chagall

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

From The Book of Hours II, 16

August 2, 2011

Unafraid of What Is Difficult

Vase with Daisies, by Vincent van Gogh

Don't be confused by the nature of solitude, when something inside you wants to break free of your loneliness. This very wish, when you use it as a tool for understanding, can illumine your solitude and expand it to include all that is. Bound by conventions, people tend to reach for what is easy. It is clear, however, that here we must be unafraid of what is difficult. For all living things in nature must unfold in their particular way and become themselves at any cost and despite all opposition.

Rome, May 14, 1904
Letters to a Young Poet

August 1, 2011

I Come Home

Le Montagne St.Victoire, by Paul Cézanne

I come home from the soaring
in which I lost myself.
I was song, and the refrain which is God
is still roaring in my ears.

Now I am still
and plain:
no more words.

From The Book of Hours I, 50