October 31, 2011

Endlessly Offered into Life

L'homme qui marche, by Auguste Rodin
photo by Adam Rzepka

Oh, the pleasure of it, always emerging new
from the loosened clay.  Those who dared to come first
had hardly any help. Nevertheless cities arose
on sun-favored coasts, and pitchers filled with water and oil.

Gods: we picture them first in wild brushstrokes
which petty Fate keeps wiping away.
But gods don't die. Let us listen to them:
they will be there to hear us at the end.

We are one generation through thousands of years,
mothers and fathers shaped by children to come,
who, in their turn, will overtake them.

We are endlessly offered into life: all time is ours.
And what any one of us might be worth,
death alone knows—and does not tell.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 24

October 30, 2011

Our Invisible Property

A Painter at Work, by Paul Cézanne

The experience and inclination and affection we put into familiar things cannot be replaced. We are perhaps the last who still will have known such things. On us is the responsibility not only to remember them, but to know their value.

The earth has no other recourse but to become invisible in us, who belong in part to what is invisible; and our own invisible property can increase during our span here.

Letter to Witold Hulewicz
November 13, 1925

October 29, 2011

To Meet and Be Met

study of an apple, by Paul Cézanne

I feel it now: there's a power in me
to grasp and give shape to the world.

I know nothing has ever been real
without my beholding it.
All becoming has needed me.
My looking ripens things
and they come toward me, to meet and be met.

From The Book of Hours I, 1

October 28, 2011


Riffel Lake and Monte Rosa, Valais
between ca 1890 and ca 1900

Now, the landscape of this region called Valais is indescribable. Why isn't it named when people count up the wonders of the world? At first I did not really see it, because I was comparing it in my mind with the most meaningful of my memories: with Spain, with Provence (to which, in reality, thanks to the Rhone, it is a blood relative). But now that I have learned to behold it fully on its own terms, it reveals its true dimensions to me, and I come more and more to recognize the sweetness of its character and sense the most urgent of its messages... Perhaps that is reflected in a strange, inexpressible fear that I might die somewhere else before I have grasped this and taken it into myself.

Early Journals

October 27, 2011

Too Vast to Be Contained

title page angel

We may yearn to come to rest
in some small piece of pure humanity,
a strip of orchard between river and rock.
But our heart is too vast to be contained there.
We can no longer seek it in a place
or even in the image of a god or an angel.

From the Second Duino Elegy

October 26, 2011


Forest, by Paul Cézanne

Sound, no longer defined
by our hearing. As though the tone
that encircles us
were space itself expanding.

Uncollected Poems

October 25, 2011

The Moon

Bouquet with Full Moon

The way that body, the moon, sublime, purposeful,
suddenly steps out over the peak,
bringing the night to serene completion.
Just so my voice rises purely
over the mountains of No More.
And the astonished places you inhabited and left
ache more clearly for you.

Uncollected Poems

October 24, 2011

Here Is the Time for Telling

A Modern Olympia

Here is the time for telling. Here is its home.
Speak and make known: More and more
the things we could experience
are lost to us, banished by our failure
to imagine them.
Old definitions, which once
set limits to our living,
break apart like dried crusts.

From the Ninth Duino Elegy

October 23, 2011


The Walk: Falling Leaves

Leaves are falling, falling as if from afar,
as if, far off in the heavens, gardens were wilting.
And as they fall, their gestures say "it's over."

In the night the heavy Earth is falling
from out of all the stars into loneliness.

We all are falling. This hand here is falling.
Just look: it is in all of us.

Yet there is one who holds this falling
with infinite tenderness in her hands.

Book of Images

October 22, 2011

To Give Ourselves Fully

Chestnut Trees in Blossom

We do not have to build a church. Let us be complete in ourselves. Let us drink ourselves empty, give ourselves fully, extend ourselves outward—until, at last, the waving treetops are our own gestures and our laughter is resurrected in the children who play beneath them...

Early Journals

October 21, 2011

The Depths of His Own Being

A blue cow

Only someone who is ready for everything, who excludes nothing, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another as something alive and will sound the depths of his own being.

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

October 20, 2011

The Machine

Sale of Building Scrap

The Machine endangers all we have made.
We allow it to rule instead of obey.
To build the house, cut the stone sharp and fast:
the carver's hand takes too long to feel its way.

The Machine never hesitates, or we might escape
and its factories subside into silence.
It thinks it's alive and does everything better.
With equal resolve it creates and destroys.

But life holds mystery for us yet. In a hundred places
we can still sense the source: a play of pure powers
that—when you feel it—brings you to your knees.

There are yet words that come near to the unsayable,
and, from crumbling stones, a new music
to make a sacred dwelling in a place we cannot own.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 10

October 19, 2011


Landscape with Trees

I don't care for the Christian concept of an afterlife. I distance myself from it ever more, without of course taking the trouble to attack it. It may have its value, alongside so many other metaphysical hypotheses. But for me the danger is that it not only renders what is mortal more vague and inaccessible, but also—because of our longing for the Beyond—it makes us less present and earthy. As long as we are here, and cousin to tree, flower, soil, may all that is near at hand be real to us and enter fully our awareness.

Letter to Countess Margot Sizzo-Noris-Cruoy

October 18, 2011

On Security

Sketch, by Auguste Rodin

Outside of poetry and art, security is only and ever achieved at the cost of the most inescapable limitation. This diminishment consists of choosing to be satisfied and pleasured by a world where everything is known and where preoccupation with self is both possible and useful. But how could we want that? Our security must become a relationship to the whole, omitting nothing.

Letter to Ilse Erdman
October 9, 1916

October 17, 2011

The Work Being Accomplished Within You

Portrait of Armand Roulin

So don't be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don't know what work they are accomplishing within you?

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

October 16, 2011

In a Foreign Park

Memories of the Garden at Etten
(or Ladies of Arles)

Two paths appear. They open to no one.
But sometimes, as you face them,
one allows you to proceed.
Then you think you've lost your way,
but suddenly there you are in that inner garden,
left alone again with the carved stone

and reading it again:
Baroness Britta Sophie—and once again
tracing with your finger
the time-worn number of the year.
Why does this discovery never grow faint?

What makes you stop here
just the way you did before,
as though you expected something
in this damp, untrodden place
shadowed by elms?

New Poems

October 15, 2011

Leaving Paradise

Winding Road in Provence

Be our refuge from the wrath
that drove us out of Paradise.

Be our shepherd, but never call us—
we can't bear to know what's ahead.

From The Book of Hours I, 44

October 14, 2011

The Open

Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from Gardanne

With their whole gaze
animals behold the Open.
Only our eyes
are as though reversed
and set like traps around us,
keeping us inside.
That there is something out there
we know only from the creatures' countenance.

We turn even the young child around,
making her look backward
at the forms we create,
not outward into the Open.

From the Eighth Duino Elegy

October 13, 2011

The Mercy We Long For

Seaside at Saint Maries, by Vincent van Gogh

Don't boast, you judges, that you no longer torture
or clamp an iron collar 'round the neck.
Though the mercy we long for
may rearrange your features

and the scaffold fall into disuse
like an outgrown toy,
no one is better off.
The god of true mercy would step differently

into the undefended heart.
He would enter with radiance
the way gods do, strong as the sea wind

for treasure-bearing ships, and claim us lightly
as the child of an infinite union
absorbed in play.

Sonnet to Orpheus II, 9

October 12, 2011

When I Go Toward You

Apothecary at Vitebsk, by Marc Chagall

I don't want to think a place for you.
Speak to me from everywhere.
Your Gospel can be comprehended
without looking for its sources.

When I go toward you
it is with my whole life.

From The Book of Hours I, 53

October 11, 2011

Portrait of My Father as a Young Man

In the eyes, dream. The brow bearing witness
to something far off. About the mouth,
abundant youth, an unsmiling seductiveness.
And across the ornamental braiding
of the slender, elite uniform,
the saber's hilt and both hands
waiting quietly, driven toward nothing.
Now they are barely visible, as if they,
reaching for the Distant, were the first to disappear.
All else is veiled in its own mystery,
dissolved in its own depths.

You swiftly fading daguerreotype
in my more slowly fading hands.

New Poems

October 10, 2011

Our Oldest Friends

Myth of Orpheus

Our oldest friends—the great gods
who never tried to woo us—
shall we reject them because our tools of steel
do not need them? Or shall we seek them on a map?

Those powerful friends, who receive our dead,
play no part in our wheels and gears.
We have moved our banquets far from them,
and pass their messengers with such speed

we can't hear what they say. Lonelier now,
having no one but each other, not knowing each other,
we no longer meander on curving paths, but race straight ahead.

Only in the mills do the once sacred fires still burn,
lifting ever heavier hammers, while we
diminish in strength, like swimmers at sea.

Sonnets to Orpheus I, 24

October 9, 2011

We Stand in Your Garden

Bend in the Forest Road

Lord, we are more wretched than the animals
who do their deaths once and for all,
for we are never finished with our not dying.

Dying is strange and hard
if it is not our death, but a death
that takes us by storm, when we've ripened none within us.

We stand in your garden year after year.
We are trees for yielding a sweet death.
But fearful, we wither before the harvest.

The Book of Hours III; 8

October 8, 2011

As If God Had Been Lost

The Creation of Man

Ask yourself, dear Mr. Kappus, if you really have lost God. Is it not rather the case that you have never yet possessed him? When would that have taken place? ...Do you imagine that someone who really had him could lose him like a little stone, or that one who possessed him could ever be lost by him? And if you are terrified that he does not exist, at this very moment we speak of him, what reason do you, if he never existed, for missing him and seeking him as if he had been lost?

Rome, December 23, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

October 7, 2011

Train Yourself to This

The Creation of Man, by Marc Chagall

You carry within you the capacity to imagine and give shape to your world. It is a pure and blessed way of living. Train yourself to this, but also trust whatever comes. If it comes from your desire, from some inner need, accept that and hate nothing.

Worpswede, July 16, 1903
Letters to a Young Poet

October 6, 2011

Every Turning

Every turning of the world
knows some who are disinherited, to whom
neither the past nor the future belongs.
Even what is about to happen is still remote to them.

We should not be confused by this, but strengthened in our resolve
to preserve the still-recognizable forms.
In the middle of history, amidst all that annihilates
and the not-knowing whither, they stood
as if they had a right to be there,
under the stars of the constant heavens.

From the Seventh Duino Elegy

October 5, 2011

Il Poverello

Where is he now, who leaving wealth behind
grew so bold in poverty
that he threw off his clothes before the bishop
and stood naked in the square?

The most inward and loving of all,
he came forth like a new beginning,
the brown-robed brother of your nightingales,
with his wonder and good will
and delight in Earth.

The Book of Hours III, 33

October 4, 2011

Saint Francis of Assisi

Still Life with Three Birds Nests
by Vincent van Gogh

Where is he, the clear one
whose song has died away?
Do the poor, who can only wait,
feel that young and joyous one among them?

Does he rise for them, perhaps at nightfall—
poverty's evening star?

The Book of Hours III, 34

October 3, 2011


A Wheatfield with Cypresses

Like a flag, I am surrounded by distances.
I sense the winds that are coming
and must live them
while the things below do not yet stir.
Doors still close gently
and windows don't shake.
Ashes lie heavy on the hearth.

But I know about gales
and I shudder like the sea.
I unfurl myself and fold in again
and flail back and forth,
all alone in the great storm.

Book of Images

October 2, 2011

A New Morning

Apples with napkin, by Paul Cézanne

And today, once again, a new morning: bright, with close, rounded clouds that frame expanses of the immeasurably deep sky. Agitation in the treetops. In everything else, restfulness. Windfall of apples. The grass softly invites you to walk out of the house. The dimness inside is alive with lights on antique silver, and their reflections in the looking glass confuse the eye as to what is enclosed within the mirror's frame.

There are so many days here, none like any other. And beneath all their differences is this great similarity: the gratitude in which they are received.

Early Journals

October 1, 2011

Autumn Day


Lord, the time has come. Summer was abundant.
Cast your shadows over the sundial,
across the fields unleash your winds.

Command the final fruits to ripen.
Grant them two more southern days,
bring them to fullness and press
their last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who now has no house will not build one.
Who now is alone will remain alone,
will read into the night, write long letters,
and, restless, wander streets
where leaves are blowing.

Book of Images