In All The Glory Of Thy Opal Sheen

Iceburg
Thomas B. Hayward, June 1905, Narrows of St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada

Our Lady of the Fjords

by Archbishop Michael Francis Howley

Hail Crystal Virgin, from the frozen fjords
Where far-off Greenland’s gelid glaciers gleen
O’er Oceans bosom soaring, cool, serene
Not famed Carrara’s purest vein affords
Such sparkling brilliance, as mid countless hordes
Of spotless glistning bergs thou reignest Queen
In all the glory of thy opal sheen
A Shimmering Shrine; Our bright Atlantic Lourdes.
We hail thee, dual patront, with acclaim,
Thou standest guardian o er our Island home.
To-day, four cycles since, our rock-bound strand.
First Cabot saw: and gave the Baptist’s name:
To-day we clothe with Pallium from Rome.
The first Archbishop of our Newfoundland!


High definition cameras on cell phones are incredible inventions. We are accustomed to dazzling imagery that it has had the unintended consequence of taking the mystery out of photography.  In the past strange phenomena, supernatural sightings, fantastic beasts, divine apparitions, ghosts and goblins were best when slightly obscured through a grainy or blurry image, letting our imaginations take part in what may or may not exist.  I found this reference to a mystical photograph when searching for a sonnet to pair with the poem by Olaf Bull.  A year ago I was in Norway being bewitched by its beauty.  Although there were no ice-burg sightings, I was enchanted by the lush green of the landscape and the many kinds of ferns and moss that covered every inch of available soil and rock.

Do you have a favorite picture you have taken where there is something unexplained in the image?  Is it just a trick of light and shadows, an optical illusion or something more mysterious?

 


Fantasi

by Olaf Bull

Som kjærlighed er trangen til at mødes
og gjøre jordens ørken til et Eden,
trængs der en drift, som ligner kjærligheden,
skal skilte tanker festligt sammenglødes.

Det er i fantasiens brudekammer
at blomst og kvinde saligt sammenfalder,
og smilehuller vorder til konvaller,
og munde roser, i vidunderflammer.

Men alle ting i deres spredte vrimmel
som staar og suser mørke mod hverandre
maalik som dø — og kun som sjæle vandre
og samles bag en ensom pandes himmel!

Dens bærer blir en gud, naar livet gløder
bag haanden, som er presset over øiet.
Det er, som om hans hode tungt er bøiet
af heftigheden ved de tusind møder!

As love is the urge to meet
and make the earth’s desert an Eden,
if there is an operation that is similar to love,
divorced thoughts must be celebrated together.

It is in the bridal chamber of the imagination
that flower and woman blissfully coincide,
and smile holes become convalescent,
and mouths of roses, in flames of wonder.

But all things in their scattered garbage
staring at each other in darkness
Angels dying – and only as souls wandering
and gather behind the lonely brow of heaven!

Its bearer becomes a god when life glows
behind the hand, which is pressed over the eye.
It is as if his head is heavily bowed
of the vehemence of the thousand meetings!

 

The Dark Accidents Of Strange Identity

delmore-schwartzs-quotes-1

The Rumor and The Whir of Unborn Wings

by Delmore Schwartz

Some girl serene, some girl whose being is
Affection, and in love with natural things,
In whom like summer like a choir sings,
Yet with a statue’s white celebrities
Although the city falls.  Golden and sleek,
Spontaneous and strong, quickend and one
To wake for joy, the mother of a son
Who climbs with conscious laughter every peak!

But I know well the party rush, the black
Rapids of feeling falling tot a bride,
Trapped in the present and the body’s lack,
Long reasons’s new hat quickly thrown aside,
And soon a child rising and toiling like me
With the dark accidents of strange identity.

 

At a Solemn Musick. (Recorded at the National Poetry Festival, 1962)


O City, City

by Delmore Schwartz

To live between terms, to live where death
has his loud picture in the subway ride,
Being amid six million souls, their breath
An empty song suppressed on every side,
Where the sliding auto’s catastrophe
Is a gust past the curb, where numb and high
The office building rises to its tyranny,
Is our anguished diminution until we die.

Whence, if ever, shall come the actuality
Of a voice speaking the mind’s knowing,
The sunlight bright on the green windowshade,
And the self articulate, affectionate, and flowing,
Ease, warmth, light, the utter showing,
When in the white bed all things are made.

 

 

There’s Copper In My Brain

Melissa Range
Melissa Range

Verdigris

by Melissa Range

Not green as new weeds or crushed juniper,
but a toxic and unearthly green, meet
for inking angel wings, made from copper sheets
treated with vapors of wine or vinegar,
left to oxidize for the calligrapher.
When it’s done, he’ll cover calfskin with a fleet
of knotted beasts in caustic green that eats
the page and grieves the paleographer.
There’s copper in my brain, my heart of hearts;
in my blood, an essential mineral.
Too much is poison. Too much air imparts
sickness to the script—once begun, eternal,
its words forever grass in drought. Nor departs
my grief, green and corrosive as a gospel.


Kermes Red

by Melissa Range

Called crimson, called vermilion—“little worm”
in both the Persian and the Latin, red
eggs for the carmine dye, the insect’s brood
crushed stillborn from her dried body, a-swarm
in a bath of oak ash lye and alum to form
the pigment the Germans called Saint John’s Blood—
the saint who picked brittle locusts for food,
whose blood became the germ of a crimson storm.
Christ of the pierced thorax and worm-red cloak,
I read your death was once for all, but it’s not true:
your kings and bishops command a book,
a beheading, blood for blood, the perfect hue;
thus I, the worm, the Baptist, and the scarlet oak
see all things on God’s earth must die for you.

O Let Me Burst

berrigan
Ted Berrigan (1934 – 1983)

The Sonnets:  III

by Ted Berrigan

Stronger than alcohol, more great than song,
deep in whose reeds great elephants decay,
I, an island, sail, and my shoes toss
on a fragrant evening, fraught with sadness
bristling hate.
It’s true, I weep too much. Dawns break
slow kisses on the eyelids of the sea,
what other men sometimes have thought they’ve seen.
And since then I’ve been bathing in the poem
lifting her shadowy flowers up for me,
and hurled by hurricanes to a birdless place
the waving flags, nor pass by prison ships

O let me burst, and I be lost at sea!
and fall on my knees then, womanly.


It feels like we are an entire country in mourning.   I don’t know if I am more attuned since the pandemic to the obituaries but it feels like the list of those passing weighs heavier, regardless of the cause of death.  Poetry has always been a way to express grief and loss, to remember those that are missed.  If you were to follow Berrigan’s example, what poem would you write in tribute to those friends and strangers whose deaths have marked you with sadness and gladness of perspective for the celebration of their life?


People Who Died

by Ted Berrigan

Pat Dugan……..my grandfather……..throat cancer……..1947.

Ed Berrigan……..my dad……..heart attack……..1958.
Dickie Budlong……..my best friend Brucie’s big brother, when we were
                                                        five to eight……..killed in Korea, 1953.
Red O’Sullivan……..hockey star & cross-country runner
                                                who sat at my lunch table
                                                            in High School……car crash……1954.
Jimmy “Wah” Tiernan……..my friend, in High School,
                                       Football & Hockey All-State……car crash….1959.
Cisco Houston……..died of cancer……..1961.
Freddy Herko, dancer….jumped out of a Greenwich Village window
     in 1963.
Anne Kepler….my girl….killed by smoke-poisoning while playing
                                    the flute at the Yonkers Children’s Hospital
                                    during a fire set by a 16 year old arsonist….1965.
Frank……Frank O’Hara……hit by a car on Fire Island, 1966.
Woody Guthrie……dead of Huntington’s Chorea in 1968.
Neal……Neal Cassady……died of exposure, sleeping all night
                                            in the rain by the RR tracks of Mexico….1969.
Franny Winston……just a girl….totalled her car on the Detroit-Ann Arbor
                                    Freeway, returning from the dentist….Sept. 1969.

Jack……Jack Kerouac……died of drink & angry sickness….in 1969.

My friends whose deaths have slowed my heart stay with me now.

Attach One Silken Strand To You

e-b-white

E. B. White (1899 – 1985)

Wedding Day in the Rockies

by E. B. White

The charm of riding eastward through Wyoming
Is not so much the grandeur and the view
As that it is an exercise in homing
And that my fellow passenger is you.
In fourteen years of this our strange excursion
The scenic points of love have not grown stale
For that my mind in yours has found the diversion
And in your heart my heart could never fail.

It’s fourteen years today today since we began it–
This sonnet crowds a year in every line–
Love were an idle drudge if time outran it
And time were stopped indeed were you not mine.
The rails go on together toward the sky
Even (the saying goes) as you and I.


Natural History

by E. B. White

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unwinds a thread of her devising:
A thin, premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all the journey down through space,
In cool descent, and loyal-hearted,
She builds a ladder to the place
From which she started.

Thus I, gone forth, as spiders do,
In spider’s web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken strand to you
For my returning


Youth and Age

by E. B. White

This is what youth must figure out:
Girls, love, and living.
The having, the not having,
The spending and giving,
And the melancholy time of not knowing.

This is what age must learn about:
The ABC of dying.
The going, yet not going,
The loving and leaving,
And the unbearable knowing and knowing.

Quiet At The Core

Roethke
Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

The Waking

by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground!   I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.


Reply To Censure

by Theodore Roethke

Repulse the staring eye,
The hostile gaze of hate,
And check the pedantry
Of the inveterate.

Defamers of the good.
They mock the deepest thoughts,
Condemn the fortitude
Whereby true work is wrought.

Though just men are reviled
When cravens cry them down,
The brave keep undefiled
A wisdom of their own.

The bold wear toughened skin
That keeps sufficient store
Of dignity within,
And quiet at the core.

 

 

My Bones Drank Water

Swimming at Cedar Lake, South Beach – Minneapolis

Morning Swim

by Maxine Kumin

Into my empty head there come
a cotton beach, a dock wherefrom

I set out, oily and nude
through mist, in chilly solitude.

There was no line, no roof or floor
to tell the water from the air.

Night fog thick as terry cloth
closed me in its fuzzy growth.

I hung my bathrobe on two pegs.
I took the lake between my legs.

Invaded and invader, I
went overhand on that flat sky.

Fish twitched beneath me, quick and tame.
In their green zone they sang my name

and in the rhythm of the swim
I hummed a two-four-time slow hymn.

I hummed “Abide With Me.” The beat
rose in the fine thrash of my feet,

rose in the bubbles I put out
slantwise, trailing through my mouth.

My bones drank water; water fell
through all my doors. I was the well

that fed the lake that met my sea
in which I sang “Abide With Me.”


One of the simple pleasures of summers in Minnesota is swimming in the neighborhood lake.   There is a quality to swimming in a clean lake that is unmatched, compared to the ocean or a pool.   The water is soft and inviting, the unexpected interactions with the little fish that nibble on your skin and the pleasant sounds of families and children playing in the sand and water.  When my children were small we went swimming during July and August as often as possible, probably 3 to 5 times a week.  There was a local pond that was stream fed, that had once been a gravel pit that sprang a leak and it had a sandy beach, clean water and no lifeguard, so we could do all the fun things we wanted to do, like leap off the rope swing tied in the tree and have the kids jump off my shoulders. It was exactly the kind of fun I had as a child and it was delightful to re-experience it again with my children.

Today I am swimming at a neighborhood lake and beach that my grandfather used to swim at regularly as an adult when he lived in the same neighborhood I live today 60 years ago.  I am blessed to have a partner who loves to swim and we love to head over after dinner and swim for about an hour as the sun goes down.  It is a short window for swimming in Minnesota but we are in its prime and we need to savor every opportunity we can to get in the water.

Do you have favorite memories of swimming as a child? Wast it at a pool, at a lake, in a river or the ocean?   Where do you swim today?  If its been awhile, throw modesty to the wind, find a swim suit that mostly fits and get out there in the water and enjoy.


Why I Am Happy

by William Stafford

Now has come, an easy time. I let it
roll. There is a lake somewhere
so blue and far nobody owns it.
A wind comes by and a willow listens
gracefully.

I hear all this, every summer. I laugh
and cry for every turn of the world,
its terribly cold, innocent spin.
The lake stays blue and free; it goes
on and on.

And I know where it is.

I Want You To Remember Me

IMG_8898
Elie Wiesel, The Gates Of The Forest

Normally I start with a poem or a quote and if I am adding commentary it comes after the first poem.  Today’s text deserves a little explanation.  I am in the process of getting ready to move this fall and have begun sorting even more aggressively through the last boxes of my Mother’s possessions that have been stored at my condo.  My mother was a letter writer and as it happens, if you are a talented correspondent, you receive lots of letters and cards in return. In going through her boxes and boxes and boxes of cards and letters, sorting and keeping only a few, I came across an unmarked purple envelope that wasn’t sealed Wednesday night. In opening it up, in my mother’s impeccable hand writing, was this quote with the dried rose staining the paper.  I suspect it was a card she was sending in condolence to someone but for whatever reason had not mailed but it could have other explanations. Obviously it was a quote that moved her.  Whether she had any idea that the card would become a time capsule waiting for me to open with its poignant message I can only imagine, but it seems like it was destined for me to find among a jumble of Christmas cards from over the years.


There are writers who write fiction or screen plays who give their characters the best lines of poetry as dialogue. Wiesel is definitely one of them. To hear directly from Elie Wiesel and learn more about his life and work, I highly recommend the interview by Krista Tippet on her show On Being, a link to it is below:

Evil, Forgiveness, and Prayer | Elie Wiesel


The Gates Of The Forest

By Elie Wiesel

Suddenly he fell silent; winner or loser, Gregor didn’t know. He could still see his grandfather’s lips moving as they said, “Don’t be afraid, my child. Madmen are just wandering messengers, and without them the world couldn’t endure. Without them there would be no surprise; they surprise even the Creator because they escape from Him and regard Him with pity. Their mission on earth? To persuade us that we don’t know how to count, that numbers deceive or trap us. Are you listening?” And heavy-heartedly Gregor answered, “Yes, Grandfather, I’m listening. I think I’ve lived only for this encounter and for this night.” He could hardly hear him whispering, “That, my child, is true of all encounters, of every night.”


The Gates Of The Forest

By Elie Wiesel

Gregor’s Grandfather Speaking:

“Later on, when I am no longer of this world, I want you to remember me and the flame that makes me live. I am a farmer and so I know the usefulness of a gentle rain that causes wheat and other fruits of the earth to grow. But the the human soul isn’t like the earth; the soul nees storm and fire and dizziness.  The body has time; it moves slowly and prudently, step by step in obedience to laws of gravity.  But the soul brushes time and laws aside; it wants to push forward, regardless of the cost in pain, or intoxication or even madness.” 

 

 

 

 

The Secret of Secrets

Ahkmatova

Anna Akmatova by Nathan Altman

On The Road

by Anna Akmatova (1889 – 1966)
Translated by Jane Kenyon

Though this land is not my own
I will never forget it,
or the waters of its ocean,
fresh and delicately icy.

Sand on the bottom is whiter
. .than chalk,
and the air is drunk, like wine.
Late sun lays bare
the rosy limbs of the pine trees.

And the sun goes down in waves
. .of ether
in such a way that I can’t tell
if the day is ending, or the world,
or if the secrets of secrets is within
me again.


Portrait of a Figure Near Water

by Jane Kenyon

Rebuked, she turned and ran
uphill to the barn. Anger, the inner
arsonist, held a match to her brain.
She observed her life: against her will
it survived the unwavering flame.

The barn was empty of animals.
Only a swallow tilted
near the beams, and bats
hung from the rafters
the roof sagged between.

Her breath became steady
where, years past, the farmer cooled
the big tin amphoræ of milk.
The stone trough was still
filled with water: she watched it
and received its calm.

So it is when we retreat in anger:
we think we burn alone
and there is no balm.
Then water enters, though it makes
no sound.

The Everlasting Universe of Things

Mount Blanc
Mount Blanc is the highest peak in the Alps.  it sits along the French-Italian Border.

Night On The Mountain

by George Sterling (1869 – 1926)

The fog has risen from the sea and crowned
The dark, untrodden summits of the coast,
Where roams a voice, in canyons uttermost,
From midnight waters vibrant and profound.
High on each granite altar dies the sound,
Deep as the trampling of an armored host,
Lone as the lamentation of a ghost,
Sad as the diapason of the drowned.

The mountain seems no more a soulless thing,
But rather as a shape of ancient fear,
In darkness and the winds of Chaos born
Amid the lordless heavens’ thundering-
A Presence crouched, enormous and austere,
Before whose feet the mighty waters mourn.


Mount Blanc is the tallest mountain in Europe, its at peak 15,700 feet.  It is also Europe and the world’s most deadly mountain.  Relatively accessible from Italy and France, the steep slopes and beauty of Mount Blanc are a siren song to adventurers both summer and winter. Danger is part of adventure and on average 30 people a year lose their lives to miscalculations of weather, terrain or bad luck on its slopes.

The number of poems written about Mount Blanc is staggering.  Poets as well as adventurers have been inspired by its beauty and the surrounding mountain villages for centuries. There are things in nature that are inherent to  our imaginations, even beyond our imaginations.   Mountains inspire awe.  If you have ever hiked to the summit of a mountain, you know that distances can be misleading, what looks like it should be relatively close, can be miles and miles in the distance anda  much farther to climb or hike than you imagined.  Its why standing at the top of a summit where you can see a 360 degree view of the mountains tops is worth the effort.

The past few decades have seen an explosion in action sports, with inventions as wild and dangerous as men’s imaginations can come up with.   Extreme sports is not exclusive to men, but men tend to push the boundaries in greater numbers in ever greater searches of adrenaline.  Here’s a couple of video’s that will give you a perspective of the scale of Mount Blanc and its beauty along with what must be an incredible rush of gliding down its steep slopes.

 

 

Mont Blanc

by George Stirling

I
The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
Now lending splendour, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters—with a sound but half its own,
Such as a feeble brook will oft assume,
In the wild woods, among the mountains lone,
Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.

 

V
Mont Blanc yet gleams on high:—the power is there,
The still and solemn power of many sights,
And many sounds, and much of life and death.
In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,
In the lone glare of day, the snows descend
Upon that Mountain; none beholds them there,
Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,
Or the star-beams dart through them. Winds contend
Silently there, and heap the snow with breath
Rapid and strong, but silently! Its home
The voiceless lightning in these solitudes
Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods
Over the snow. The secret Strength of things
Which governs thought, and to the infinite dome
Of Heaven is as a law, inhabits thee!
And what were thou, and earth, and stars, and sea,
If to the human mind’s imaginings
Silence and solitude were vacancy?