I am not moved to love thee, my Lord God,
By the heaven thou hast promised me;
I am not moved by the sore dreaded hell
to forbear me from offending thee.
I am moved by thee, Lord; I am moved
at seeing thee nailed upon the cross and mocked;
I am moved by thy body all over wounds;
I am moved by thy dishonor and thy death.
I am moved, last, by thy love, in such a wise
that though there were no heaven I still should love thee,
and though there were no hell I still should fear thee.
I need no gift of thee to make me love thee;
for though my present hope were all despair,
as now I love thee I should love thee still
by Samuel Beckett
1 why not merely the despaired of occasion of wordshed
is it not better abort than be barren the hours after you are gone are so leaden they will always start dragging too soon the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want bringing up the bones the old loves sockets filled once with eyes like yours all always is it better too soon than never the black want splashing their faces saying again nine days never floated the loved nor nine months nor nine lives
2 saying again if you do not teach me I shall not learn saying again there is a last even of last times last times of begging last times of loving of knowing not knowing pretending a last even of last times of saying if you do not love me I shall not be loved if I do not love you I shall not love
the churn of stale words in the heart again love love love thud of the old plunger pestling the unalterable whey of words terrified again of not loving of loving and not you of being loved and not by you of knowing not knowing pretending pretending I and all the others that will love you if they love you
One cold Easter, the lilies glass-house grown, We met as friends to share the Eucharist. Not a one of us needing to atone For witnessing the other’s interests. And oh what witness it has been! Our care For the others, a fondness borne of less, The brazenness that shines of goodness shared, Then acceptance of each other’s humanness. These friendships minister to our need, Of want of connection across divides, Of age, of gender and of even creed. Each of us in turn, the other’s guide. For what mattered most as we broke the bread. Was the bond in stillness, not what was said.
My own writing serves sometimes as a painting or postcard for a memory, that allows me to viscerally reconnect with events in the past, whether good or bad. Yesterday was one of those perfectly normal Saturdays, that needed to be preserved. It began with a quiet morning of writing outside and throwing the ball for the dog, despite it being in the 40’s and crisp. Then fellowship and communion with longtime friends, spiritually tending to each other’s gardens at noon. And from there came a detour to my favorite book store in Minneapolis, Birch Bark Books, in honor of independent book sellers day. Birch Bark Books is owned by the incredibly gifted novelist Louise Erdrich, so of course we had to buy some books. We then went to a gallery next door where Prudence Johnson, whom I have had a crush on since around 1985, was singing covers of Buffy St. Marie tunes. Then after a quick dinner of salmon and corn on the cob, we were off to a night of viewing short films from the Banff film festival, rounding off the day with a night cap of wild dancing at a friends annual gumbo house party until nearly 1 am, the music DJ’d by my best friend from high school. It could not have been a more satisfying day, right down to my sister being re-united with her beloved lost dog in the morning, who had been separated from her for one terrible night the evening before.
It is so easy to take for granted the pleasure of normalcy in middle age. Those days when no one is ill, there is no crisis at work, no child, even grown children, are temporarily undone by the stresses of the world. A day in which the companionship of your partner is complete, from waking up together, to helping each other with chores, to making meals and dining together, to playing, really playing with each other in the simplest of ways, like dancing. I realize that unfortunately the pleasure of normalcy is that it isn’t always normal, so yesterday, I treasured every second. And then set one piece of it in a sonnet postcard, for me to look back on and remember the goodness of yesterday.
I hope if you are reading this, you have the most wonderful of normal Sundays.
by Edward Thomas
The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood
This Eastertide call into mind the men,
Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should
Have gathered them and will do never again.
To E. T.
by Robert Frost
I slumbered with your poems on my breast
Spread open as I dropped them half-read through
Like dove wings on a figure on a tomb
To see, if in a dream they brought of you,
I might not have the chance I missed in life
Through some delay, and call you to your face
First soldier, and then poet, and then both,
Who died a soldier-poet of your race.
I meant, you meant, that nothing should remain
Unsaid between us, brother, and this remained—
And one thing more that was not then to say:
The Victory for what it lost and gained.
You went to meet the shell’s embrace of fire
On Vimy Ridge; and when you fell that day
The war seemed over more for you than me,
But now for me than you—the other way.
How over, though, for even me who knew
The foe thrust back unsafe beyond the Rhine,
If I was not to speak of it to you
And see you pleased once more with words of mine?
Edward Thomas never saw any of his poetry in print, a small volume of six poems under an alias came out shortly after his death in the Battle of Arras in 1917, having enlilsted in the infantry two years prior in 1915. Thomas was a poorly paid hack for most of his life, putting out anything that would pay a modest wage to feed an ever growing family. He wrote mostly criticisms and reviews of other writers work for most of his career, until a year long friendship with Robert Frost unleashed his creative potential, when Frost encouraged him to start writing poetry in the final three years of his life.
I wonder reading Thomas’ poetry if he would be half as admired if he had not died in France in World War I? I don’t mean that as an insult but an honest question. I do not find Thomas’ poetry particularly compelling, in fact I find the poems written about him far more interesting. However I realize it is poor manners to admit you don’t particularly like the poetry of war heroes, being far easier to just accept that the many learned academics who have reviewed him kindly after he died as accurate in their warm regards for his contribution to 20th century literature.
Thomas was a gifted prose writer whose critiques and reviews were witty, biting and insightful. Thomas’ undeniable contribution to American Literature was the push his passionate review of Frost’s 1914 collection of poems titled North of Boston provided, it being the first volume of Frost’s poetry that was met with critical and financial success.
I realize I may need to read more of Thomas’ work to better understand his vibe as a poet. Do you have a favorite E. T. poem? Please share it and tell me why.
Easter Monday (In Memoriam E. T. )
by Eleanor Farjeon
In the last letter that I had from France
You thanked me for the silver Easter egg
Which I had hidden in the box of apples
You liked to munch beyond all other fruit.
You found the egg the Monday before Easter,
And said, ‘I will praise Easter Monday now –
It was such a lovely morning’. Then you spoke
Of the coming battle and said, ‘This is the eve.
Good-bye. And may I have a letter soon.’
That Easter Monday was a day for praise,
It was such a lovely morning. In our garden
We sowed our earliest seeds, and in the orchard
The apple-bud was ripe. It was the eve.
There are three letters that you will not get.
O too dull brain, O unperceiving nerves
That cannot sense what so torments my soul,
But like torn trees, when deep Novembers roll
Tragic with mighty winds and vaulting curves
Of sorrowful vast sound, and light that swerves
In blown and tossing eddies, branch and bole
Shudder and gesture with a grotesque dole,
A grief that misconceives the grief it serves,
O too dull brain, — with some more subtle sense
I know you here within the lightless room
Reaching your hand to me, and my faint eyes
See only darkness and the night’s expanse,
And horribly, within the listening gloom,
My voice comes back, still eager with surprise.
We had our first real taste of spring this weekend. Minneapolis hit a high of 80 degrees on Saturday and everyone and everything stuck their head outside and smelled the warm air. After a long cold winter, the gift of spring is an awareness of change; with the change in light one of the most compelling. Spring light has a different intensity than just a few weeks ago, it has a different slant, a different tint, a different warmth. It is a gift to northerners who appreciate the sun maybe just a little bit more on these final days of April than our southern counterparts who are already cursing the 100 degree afternoons in Florida. No such cursing in Minneapolis, only gratitude that in the following week the swelling buds on trees will turn green and the only grumbles will be from the person who has to clean up the muddy footprints of children and dogs, who trail their playfulness from the muddy front and back yards of their houses into the kitchen to see what is for dinner, all of them wagging their tails.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him,
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odor and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew.
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seemed it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day Didst make thy triumph over death and sin, And having harrowed hell, didst bring away Captivity thence captive, us to win: This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin, And grant that we, for whom thou diddest die, Being with thy dear blood clean washed from sin, May live forever in felicity: And that thy love we weighing worthily, May likewise love thee for the same again; And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy, May love with one another entertain. So let us love, dear love, like as we ought, Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.
Holy Sonnets: Death Be Not Proud
by John Donne
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so; For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me. From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be, Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow, And soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery. Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men, And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell, And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then? One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Poetry is always slightly mysterious, and you wonder what is your relationship to it.
Rite of Spring
by Seamus Heaney
So winter closed its fist
And got it stuck in the pump.
The plunger froze up a lump
In its throat, ice founding itself
Upon iron. The handle
Paralysed at an angle.
Then the twisting of wheat straw
into ropes, lapping them tight
Round stem and snout, then a light
That sent the pump up in a flame
It cooled, we lifted her latch,
Her entrance was wet, and she came.
A Drink Of Water
by Seamus Heaney
She came every morning to draw water
Like an old bat staggering up the field:
The pump’s whooping cough, the bucket’s clatter
And slow diminuendo as it filled,
Announced her. I recall
Her grey apron, the pocked white enamel
Of the brimming bucket, and the treble
Creak of her voice like the pump’s handle.
Nights when a full moon lifted past her gable
It fell back through her window and would lie
Into the water set out on the table.
Where I have dipped to drink again, to be
Faithful to the admonishment on her cup, Remember the Giver fading off the lip.
As one who, groping in a narrow stair,
Hath a strong sound of bells upon his ears,
Which, being at a distance off, appears
Quite close to him because of the pent air:
So with this France. She stumbles file and square
Darkling and without space for breath: each one
Who hears the thunder says: “It shall anon
Be in among her ranks to scatter her.”
This may be; and it may be that the storm
Is spent in rain upon the unscathed seas,
Or wasteth other countries ere it die:
Till she,—having climbed always through the swarm
Of darkness and of hurtling sound,—from these
Shall step forth on the light in a still sky.
Paris In Spring
by Sara Teasdale
The city’s all a-shining
Beneath a fickle sun,
A gay young wind’s a-blowing,
The little shower is done.
But the rain-drops still are clinging
And falling one by one —
Oh it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And spring-time has begun.
I know the Bois is twinkling
In a sort of hazy sheen,
And down the Champs the gray old arch
Stands cold and still between.
But the walk is flecked with sunlight
Where the great acacias lean,
Oh it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And the leaves are growing green.
The sun’s gone in, the sparkle’s dead,
There falls a dash of rain,
But who would care when such an air
Comes blowing up the Seine?
And still Ninette sits sewing
Beside her window-pane,
When it’s Paris, it’s Paris,
And spring-time’s come again.
Star, that looked so long among the stones
And picked from them, half iron and half dirt,
One; and bent and put it to her lips
And breathed upon it till at last it burned
Uncertainly, among the stars its sisters-
Breathe on me still, star, sister.
An evening’s star light show should not be a privileged treat, the scourge of light pollution in our modern existence making something that our forebears took for granted for millenia into something that can still make me awestruck. The Utah sky opened up the heavens last week and shone brightly in silent splendor. We basked in the darkness, having been blessed with several moonless nights, the moon dipping below the horizon shortly after sunset allowing us full access to the dark canvas of the milky way and the night sky.
I know enough about the night sky and stars to find Orion, his belt and sword, swashbuckling brilliance in the Utah darkness and the big dipper and the north star clearly demarcating where we were in relation to an artificial axis should we feel the need to set out on foot. I should learn a little more about astronomy, if for no other reason than to learn a new language in light on those special evenings. The stars are a visible connection to our human history. There are few things in our natural landscape that we can view that are virtually unchanged from ancestors centuries ago, if we can break free of lights narrowing our pupils to blind us to their ancestral twinkle.
One of the joys of travel to remote places is the ability to connect to earth, to water, to animals, to plants and to the sky; the clouds and sun and stars taking on personalities all their own as you enjoy their presence throughout the day and evening. The sky in Utah has a sense of humor, it changes throughout the day, never staying for long in a single mood.
Two of my favorite poets, Randall Jarrell and Robert Bly, both were captivated by the poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke and translated extensively his work from German to English. Jarrell’s well-rounded academic perspective bringing a generous specificity to Rilke, that makes the translations seem original and natural. I am grateful that more gifted intellects than mine, can open a door into the poetry of great minds in languages I could only superficially explore without their careful word craft. The poem below, The Evening Star, a metaphysical journey of whether the stars we see in the night sky shine from within or from without or both as we blaze energy across the emptiness of space in connection with each other.
The Evening Star
By Rainer Maria Rilke
Translated by Randall Jarrell
One star in the dark pass of the houses,
Shines as if it were a sign
Set there to point the way to –
But more beautiful, somehow, than what it points to,
So that no one has ever gone on beyond
Except those who could not see it, and went on
To what it pointed to, and could not see that either.
The star far off separates yet how could I see it
If there were not inside me the same star ?
We wish on the star because the star itself is a wish,
An unwilling halting place, so far and no farther.
Everything is its own sigh at being what it is
And no more, an unanswered yearning
Toward what will be, or was once perhaps,
Or might be, might have been, or – – –
And so soon after the sun goes, and night comes,
The star has set.
“This country will not be a permanent good place for any of us to live in unless we make it a reasonably good place for all of us to live in.”
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836 – 1907)
Sick of myself and all that keeps the light
Of the blue skies away from me and mine,
I climb this ledge, and by this wind-swept pine
Lingering, watch the coming of the night.
‘Tis ever a new wonder to my sight.
Men look to God for some mysterious sign,
For other stars than those that nightly shine,
or some unnatural symbol of His might:
—Would’st see a miracle as grand as those
The prophets wrought of old in Palestine?
Come watch with me the shaft of fire that glows
In yonder West; the fair, frail palaces,
The fading alps and archipelagoes,
And great cloud-continents of sunset-seas.
I have been off the grid for most of the past week. I took a trip west camping in Utah, visiting some of the most spectacular places in the western lands; Arches National Park, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. Like Thomas Bailey Aldrich I had gotten sick of myself and needed a big bowl of silence to rejuvenate. The trip was a great reminder of what an amazing country we live in and the wisdom of conservationists long ago to set aside the best of the most beautiful places as National Parks to remain accessible for everyone.
There is no direct evidence that the Outward Bound program took it’s title from Aldrich’s sonnet, but given the tenor of it’s imagery I imagine there is a connection. Aldrich wrote the poem Ungaurded Gates and rewrote it several times in different forms. Given the polarizing debate around immigration today it is interesting to see contradictions in Aldrich’s poetry on the subject over a hundred years ago. The subject of immigration has always aroused strong passions and racist tendencies but what makes America great is eventually we tend to get it righter if not actually right. Some issues like immigration are so complicated they require a nuanced solution or a solution that is in the end the least worst, rather than the best. The version of the poem I find most compelling is the following:
Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
Named of the four winds, North, South, East and West;
Portals that lead to an enchanted land…
Here, it is written, Toil shall have its wage
And Honor honor, and the humblest man
Stand level with the highest in the law.
Of such a land have men in dungeons dreamed
And with the vision brightening in their eyes
Gone smiling to the fagot and the sword.
O Liberty, white Goddess! is it well
To leave the gates unguarded? On thy breast
Fold Sorrow’s children, soothe the hurts of Fate,
Lift the down-trodden, but with hand of steel
Stay those who to thy sacred portals come
To waste the gifts of Freedom.
by Thomas Bailey Aldrich
I leave behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far—
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
‘Tis but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun:
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!