Home To Your Heart


Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955)


“One thing I am convinced more and more is true and that is this: the only way to be truly happy is to make others happy. When you realize that and take advantage of the fact, everything is made perfect.”

William Carlos Williams in letter to his Mother, published in Selected Letters 1957.


Slow Movement

by William Carlos Williams

All those treasures that lie in the little bolted box whose tiny space is
Mightier than the room of the stars, being secret and filled with dreams:
All those treasures—I hold them in my hand—are straining continually
Against the sides and the lid and the two ends of the little box in which I guard them;
Crying that there is no sun come among them this great while and that they weary of shining;
Calling me to fold back the lid of the little box and to give them sleep finally.

But the night I am hiding from them, dear friend, is far more desperate than their night!
And so I take pity on them and pretend to have lost the key to the little house of my treasures;
For they would die of weariness were I to open it, and not be merely faint and sleepy
As they are now.

I am a little envious of artists whose skill and daring make it possible for them to earn a living as an artist.  I have never had such pluck.  I am in good company when it comes to poets in that regard.  Many of the poets I admire and who helped shape the poetic language of the 20th Century did not make their living as a poet.  William Carlos Williams was a doctor, a general practitioner in Patterson, NY and Wallace Stevens was an executive for a insurance company in New York City.  Either could be the patron saint of the responsible adult toiling daily in a job they may or may not love, but which gives structure and financial stability to their life so that in their free time they can pursue their art.

Both Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams pushed the boundaries of free verse and helped redefine American poetry. William’s wrote in Modern American Poetry (1950); “The job of the poet is to use language effectively, his own language, the only language which is to him authentic.”  Neither WCW or Stevens is known for classical poetry, quite the opposite, they are known for their free verse, and yet, like most poets, the sonnet form is like a siren calling them to the shore, and they are inspired to take their turn in wrestling with tradition.

Explain My Spirit

by Wallace Stevens

Explain my spirit—adding word to word,
As if the exposition gave delight.
Reveal me, lover, to myself more bright.
“You are a twilight, and a twilight bird.”
Again! For all the untroubled senses stirred,
Conceived anew, like callow wings in flight,
Bearing desire toward an upper light.
“You are a twilight, and a twilight bird.”

Burn in my shadows, Hesperus, my own,
And look upon me with a triumphant fire.
Behold, how glorious the dark has grown!
My wings shall beat all night against your breast,
Heavy with music—feel them there aspire
Home to your heart, as to a hidden nest.


Breaking Into Blossom

Robert Bly
Robert Bly  (1926 to present)

Seeing The Eclipse in Maine

by Robert Bly

It started about noon.  On top of Mount Batte,
We were all exclaiming.  Someone had a cardboard
And a pin, and we all cried out when the sun
Appeared in tiny form on the notebook cover.

It was hard to believe.  The high school teacher
We’d met called it a pinhole camera,
People in the Renaissance loved to do that.
And when the moon had passed partly through

We saw on a rock underneath a fir tree,
Dozens of crescents—made the same way—
Thousands!  Even our straw hats produced
A few as we moved them over the bare granite.

We shared chocolate, and one man from Maine
Told a joke.  Suns were everywhere—at our feet.


Is poetry a monologue or a dialogue?   An old question, easily answered from my perspective;  it is a dialogue, poetry is a conversation, its up to you to figure out the response.

Robert Bly was born in Madison, Minnesota and continues to live and work in Western Minnesota to the present day.   Robert Bly and James Arlington Wright were friends, and helped put Midwestern poetry on the map in the 1950’s.  Bly’s life work as a poet is vast, expanding the wealth of English literature by translating a diverse range of poets across many languages with a focus on the spiritual in addition to his many collections of his own poetry.

I worked in Lac Qui Parle County, the landscape of much of Bly’s poetry, for 7 years in the 1990’s.   Bly may travel the world within his writing, but it is all grounded in the rich clay silt loam of the prairie.  I find it reassuring to see a glimpse of the land I have traveled as an Agronomist for 30 plus years within the poetry of both Bly and Wright.

Bly and Wright traveled very different personal paths in using poetry to wrestle with their demons. Bly being older by one year and yet outliving Wright by 38 years and counting.   Wright’s depression is palpable within his poetry, but rather than lessen the experience it heightens it.  Both Bly and Wright poetry invite a discussion on the wonderment of this planet and the human condition.

A Blessing Poem

by James Arlington Wright (1927 – 1980)

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more, they begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.



While We Glide By

William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)

Uses of Poetry

by William Carlos Williams

I’ve fond anticipation of a day
O’erfilled with pure diversion presently,
For I must read a lady poesy
The while we glide by many a leafy bay,

Hid deep in rushes, where at random play
The glossy black winged May-flies, or whence flee
Hush-throated nestlings in alarm,
Whom we have idly frighted with our boat’s long sway.

For, lest o’ersaddened by such woes as spring
To rural peace from our meek onward trend,
What else more fit? We’ll draw the latch-string

And close the door of sense; then satiate wend,
On poesy’s transforming giant wing,
To worlds afar whose fruits all anguish mend.

A Letter To William Carlos Willaims

by Kenneth Rexroth

Dear Bill,

When I search the past for you,
Sometimes I think you are like
St. Francis, whose flesh went out
Like a happy cloud from him,
And merged with every lover—
Donkeys, flowers, lepers, suns—
But I think you are more like
Brother Juniper, who suffered
All indignities and glories
Laughing like a gentle fool.
You’re in the Fioretti
Somewhere, for you’re a fool, Bill,
Like the Fool in Yeats, the term
Of all wisdom and beauty.
It’s you, stands over against
Helen in all her wisdom,
Solomon in all his glory.

Remember years ago, when
I told you you were the first
Great Franciscan poet since
The Middle Ages? I disturbed
The even tenor of dinner.
Your wife thought I was crazy.
It’s true, though. And you’re “pure,” too,
A real classic, though not loud
About it—a whole lot like
The girls of the Anthology.
Not like strident Sappho, who
For all her grandeur, must have
Had endometriosis,
But like Anyte, who says
Just enough, softly, for all
The thousands of years to remember.

It’s a wonderful quiet
You have, a way of keeping
Still about the world, and its
Dirty rivers, and garbage cans,
Red wheelbarrows glazed with rain,
Cold plums stolen from the icebox,
And Queen Anne’s lace, and day’s eyes,
And leaf buds bursting over
Muddy roads, and splotched bellies
With babies in them, and Cortes
And Malinche on the bloody
Causeway, the death of the flower world.

Nowadays, when the press reels
With chatterboxes, you keep still,
Each year a sheaf of stillness,
Poems that have nothing to say,
Like the stillness of George Fox,
Sitting still under the cloud
Of all the world’s temptation,
By the fire, in the kitchen,
In the Vale of Beavor. And
The archetype, the silence
Of Christ, when he paused a long
Time and then said, “Thou sayest it.”

Now in a recent poem you say,
“I who am about to die.”
Maybe this is just a tag
From the classics, but it sends
A shudder over me. Where
Do you get that stuff, Williams?
Look at here. The day will come
When a young woman will walk
By the lucid Williams River,
Where it flows through an idyllic
News from Nowhere sort of landscape,
And she will say to her children,
“Isn’t it beautiful? It
Is named after a man who
Walked here once when it was called
The Passaic, and was filthy
With the poisonous excrements
Of sick men and factories.
He was a great man. He knew
It was beautiful then, although
Nobody else did, back there
In the Dark Ages. And the
Beautiful river he saw
Still flows in his veins, as it
Does in ours, and flows in our eyes,
And flows in time, and makes us
Part of it, and part of him.
That, children, is what is called
A sacramental relationship.
And that is what a poet
Is, children, one who creates
Sacramental relationships
That last always.”

.        .With love and admiration,

 .         .Kenneth Rexroth.


The Beat of Life is Wearing Me

Hazel Hall (1886 – 1924)


by Hazel Hall

I am less of myself and more of the sun;
The beat of life is wearing me
To an incomplete oblivion,
Yet not to the certain dignity
Of death.They cannot even die
Who have not lived.

,,,,,,,,,,,,,,…………….,,,The hungry jaws
Of space snap at my unlearned eye,
And time tears in my flesh like claws.

If I am not life’s, if I am not death’s,
Out of chaos I must re-reap
The burden of untasted breaths.
Who has not waked may not yet sleep.


Hazel Hall was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1886, but moved at a young age to Portland, Oregon where she would live the rest of her life.  She published three volumes of poetry during her relatively short career.   Hall survived scarlet fever at age 12 and used a wheel chair for the rest of her life.

I have just recently discovered Hall’s poetry, and I am surprised at how fresh her voice sounds and relevant.   Her words have aged well. Though the poem Flash is not a traditional sonnet, it has the backbone of a sonnet that Hall has made original by reduction, not addition and in a flash, made it her own.

In Hall’s poem Two Sewing, I enjoy her power of description, rhythm, and metaphor, the rain stitching the earth together, through the eyes of one who has seen the cracks from a drought.  Living in Portland, rain is a frequent companion, a metronome, by which days and seasons can be measured.  Spring will soon arrive and it will arrive at the end of a needle of rain.

Two Sewing

by Hazel Hall

The Wind is sewing with needles of rain.
With shining needles of rain
It stitches into the thin Cloth of earth.
In, In, in, in. Oh, the wind has often sewed with me.
One, two, three. Spring must have fine things
To wear like other springs. Of silken green the grass must be
Embroidered. One and two and three.
Then every crocus must be made
So subtly as to seem afraid
Of lifting colour from the ground;
And after crocuses the round
Heads of tulips, and all the fair
Intricate garb that Spring will wear.
The wind must sew with needles of rain,
With shining needles of rain,
Stitching into the thin

Cloth of earth, in,
In, in, in,
For all the springs of futurity.
One, two, three


Silent Answers Crept Across The Stars

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Eight Bells Folly: Memorial to Hart Crane by Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)

My life closed twice before its close—
It yet remains to see
If Immortality unveil
A third event to me

So huge, so hopeless to conceive
As these that twice befell.
Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.

Emily Dickinson

At Melville’s Tomb

by Hart Crane

Often beneath the wave, wide from this ledge
The dice of drowned men’s bones he saw bequeath
An embassy. Their numbers as he watched,
Beat on the dusty shore and were obscured.
And wrecks passed without sound of bells,
The calyx of death’s bounty giving back
A scattered chapter, livid hieroglyph,
The portent wound in corridors of shells.
Then in the circuit calm of one vast coil,
Its lashings charmed and malice reconciled,
Frosted eyes there were that lifted altars;
And silent answers crept across the stars.
Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
No farther tides … High in the azure steeps
Monody shall not wake the mariner.
This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.



Hart Crane committed suicide by jumping off a boat sailing from Mexico City to New York City, his depression finally overwhelming during a prolonged period of writer’s block. Marsden had been with him in Mexico City and grieved his loss by painting an image filled with symbolism of Crane’s life and poetry.

Hart Crane was not related to Stephen Crane.  Stephen died even younger at age 28 from tuberculosis and by way of hard and happier living. I am not a big fan of Stephen Crane’s parable poems. However, I think if Hart had been able to take more of Stephen’s perspective in dealing with his demons, he might have found a way through his darkest of days and not become a “shadow that one the sea keeps.”

Do you think Hart Crane’s sonnet foreshadow’s his death or was thoughts of suicide part of his subconscious mind, shaping his words as he wrote?

A Man Went Before A Strange God

by Stephen Crane (1871 – 1900)

A man went before a strange God —
The God of many men, sadly wise.
And the deity thundered loudly,
Fat with rage, and puffing.
“Kneel, mortal, and cringe
And grovel and do homage
To My Particularly Sublime Majesty.”

The man fled.

Then the man went to another God —
The God of his inner thoughts.
And this one looked at him
With soft eyes
Lit with infinite comprehension,
And said, “My poor child!”

Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant

Hart Crane
Hart Crane (1899 – 1932)

Tell All The Truth But Tell It Slant

By Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886)

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —


One of the pleasures of rhyming poems for the writer and reader alike is that they lend themselves to riddles. I can speak from experience that sometimes the riddles come from deep within the subconscious and aren’t always planned, rather the words feel right and only later release their hidden meanings. Emily Dickinson is a master riddler and given that she never published any of her poetry, she saved her best laughs for herself.

Hart Crane wrote his sonnet that isn’t a sonnet in 1924 when Emily Dickinson was not omnipresent in bookstores and not yet in the pantheon of poets. Some of her poems and correspondence had been published but she had yet to have the kind of impact on modernists and the general public that she has today. To read a much weightier interpretation of Hart Crane’s sonnet below, try Alan Tate’s essay on the subject, he was both a talented poet and a good friend, who took up the cause of heightening the reputation of Hart Crane after his untimely death.

At first glance To Emily Dickinson is a sonnet, but it does not fit a traditional rhyming scheme.  It was written while Hart was having a torrid homosexual love affair with a sailor named Emil Oppfer.  To those of us that like to see riddles, it could be argued there are several hidden clues that this poem is written both to Emily and Emil the first being the similarity of their names. Crane’s romance didn’t last as it seems that his lover lacked the intellectual curiosity and capacity to stimulate Crane’s pursuit of a poetic ideal and their affair dwindled quickly.

Some critics have interpreted the cities of Ormuz and Ophir as another clue that Crane wrote this poem as much to Emil as Emily, as Ophir and Oppfer are perfect homonyms. The city of Ormuz, also known as Hormuz, was part of one of the most important diplomatic missions of the Portuguese empire. Afonso de Alburqurque sent a trove of ruby adorned treasures to Shah Ismail in 1510 to win favor and begin a mutually beneficial partnership. Ophir is a city mentioned in the old Testament multiple times, known for its wealth, gold and wisdom, the implication that it is through wise choices that wealth is attained.

What is Crane saying in the final six lines, traditionally the volta?   It makes more sense in my mind if he is writing it to Emil. Is the flower in Crane’s hand, for his lover, their affair not yet over? The inevitability of its ending plain before him, as he cannot connect to his lover’s remotest mind, and it leaves their relationship cold and penniless without his need for an intellectual bond, leaving nothing left but the crying.  However, the lines also have meaning for Emily, whose work is just coming to light at that time, her flower not yet wilted, and whose solitary mission as a writer was for her benefit, no one else’s. Another poet would ask the question, if her poetry had never come to light, would we be left colder and a treasure lost?

Regardless of who Crane wrote this poem, it’s beautiful, the opening eight lines packed with meaning of what it is to be passionate about another person, about love, about art, about life!  The lines are also insight into Crane’s tortured soul,  his ideas about the role of poetry as a silencer of anxiety, the process of writing meant foremost to enhance the life of the writer, not for financial gain but for the writer’s spiritual or intellectual gain and through their words, leave a trace of their humanity for obscurity of eternity, all depending on the whim of a publisher and fate.

To Emily Dickinson

by Hart Crane

You who desired so much–in vain to ask–
Yet fed you hunger like an endless task,
Dared dignify the labor, bless the quest–
Achieved that stillness ultimately best,

Being, of all, least sought for: Emily, hear!
O sweet, dead Silencer, most suddenly clear
When singing that Eternity possessed
And plundered momently in every breast;

–Truly no flower yet withers in your hand.
The harvest you descried and understand
Needs more than wit to gather, love to bind.
Some reconcilement of remotest mind–

Leaves Ormus rubyless, and Ophir chill.
Else tears heap all within one clay-cold hill

The Parable of Snow


The Parable of Snow

by Doug Ramspeck

The mean boys believe in an augury of falling snow,
how it drifts from the shadows of the sky,
burying the land. And what they feel for the ones
they brutalize is a kind of plaintive sorrow,
the way a stream accepts the ice of its own body.
Once I saw one sucking a bloodied knuckle like a succulent
morsel of fruit, saw him leaning against the chain-link
fence and closing his eyes into what appeared, in that instant,
like the suturing of two incisions. The mean boys
are as lonely as a breath struggling to form a cloud
that will not hold, as lonely as the hoof prints of the horses
past my father’s barn, where he walks this morning
like the mean boy he surely was when he was young. 


Copyright 2018 University of Tampa Press.  Project Muse.



Am I alone in finding that poems often take up residence in my mind, whether for a short time or a long time, because of one word?  In the case of Doug Ramspeck’s poem The Parable of Snow, the word for me was – augury.   A word that we have let lapse from our common vocabulary as society has become more secular and we have allowed technology to replace nature as the primary source of wonder in our eyes.

The Parable of Snow is not a sonnet. I am realizing this blog is going to wear me out if I don’t loosen up the reigns a bit and follow the trail of curiosity that brought me to this trail head in the first place. The writing of this blog has taken a toll on my own writing.  I will eventually need to take a break from it if I am to find the energy to write my own poetry with any frequency again.  For now, there is something almost spiritual about pursuing sonnets deeply, beyond the first layer, beyond the second layer, getting to down to the bones and tendons of an idea and letting it ruminate for longer than is possibly even healthy.  It is like I am pursing a master’s degree in literature on-line of my own volition and without the rules and structure of graduate school. This freedom is both more liberal and more restrictive as the bonds of responsibility to the task are all of my own creation.  Isn’t that what all obsessions have in common in the end, a fascination that borders on malignancy?

The process of uncovering sonnets that are candidates for the blog, can at times feel like an excursion into ancient history, an endless campaign of reaching back in time.  It can be a pleasant distraction, but it has also begun to feel after only 6 months like I am intentionally disconnecting from the present.  It’s why I am feeling the need to start to broaden the inclusion of poems that may not meet the rhyming requirements of a strict definition of a sonnet or maybe not even the structure of a sonnet, but are poems that feel relevant in some way to my current thoughts and daily sojourns and forays.

I do not want to taint the artistry of Ramspeck’s poem by attaching to it any specific headline.  Any one can pick up any newspaper and find the ravaging’s of mean boys in print.  I don’t believe that brutality is genetic. I don’t believe it is a natural manifestation of mental illness, poverty, drug use or depression.  There are plenty of people whose response to adversity or even cruelty is to become gentler and more introspective.   How do “mean boys” become mean?   Why do we elect or promote “mean boys” into positions of power in business and government?  What does our current governments say about the electorate at large, not only here in the United States but around the world? Are despots the manifestation of their own identity or a reflection of the society that allowed them the power to become a despot in the first place?  Are democratic despots, our current despot in chief a prime example, more corrupt than some local strongman turned marauder, as they are the very epitome of corruptness of the entire political machinery that allowed them to ascend to the very height of government? Our current President is the biggest bully on the block, twitter his megaphone, hammer and anvil.  His critics and defenders are both quick to rise to the challenge of bullying right back to prove the correctness of their position, all sides forgetting that the softness voice in the room often carries the argument upon reflection.

If meanness is a learned behavior, can it be unlearned? These are the questions I ask myself in the aftermath of another mass shooting another lurid headline of unreasonableness.  If the answer is that violence and war are part of our nature and guns an unassailable reality of American culture, then their is no solution to this problem, other than to hope that those of us that choose to live our lives without weapons evade the randomness of what the mean boys have in store to keep themselves entertained or to write their final epitaph in blood.