What three things can never be done; forget, keep silent, stand alone.
Now It Is Time That Gods Came Walking
by Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926)
Translated by Stephen Mitchell
Now it is time that gods came walking out of lived-in Things … Time that they came and knocked down every wall inside my house. New page. Only the wind from such a turning could be strong enough to toss the air as a shovel tosses dirt: A fresh-turned field of breath. O gods, gods! who used to come so often and are still asleep in the Things around us, who serenely rise and at wells that we can only guess at splash icy water on your necks and faces, and lightly add your restedness to what seems already filled to bursting: our full lives. Once again let it be your morning, gods. We keep repeating. You alone are source. With you the world arises, and your dawn gleams on each crack and crevice of our failure …”
Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars)
By Muriel Rukeyser (1913 – 1980)
I lived in the first century of world wars.
Most mornings I would be more or less insane,
The newspapers would arrive with their careless stories,
The news would pour out of various devices
Interrupted by attempts to sell products to the unseen.
I would call my friends on other devices;
They would be more or less mad for similar reasons.
Slowly I would get to pen and paper,
Make my poems for others unseen and unborn.
In the day I would be reminded of those men and women,
Brave, setting up signals across vast distances,
Considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined values.
As the lights darkened, as the lights of night brightened,
We would try to imagine them, try to find each other,
To construct peace, to make love, to reconcile
Waking with sleeping, ourselves with each other,
Ourselves with ourselves. We would try by any means
To reach the limits of ourselves, to reach beyond ourselves,
It waits. While I am walking through the pine trees
along the river, it is waiting. It has waited a long time.
In southern France, in Belgium, and even Alabama.
Now it waits in New England while I say grace over
almost everything: for a possum dead on someone’s lawn,
the single light on a levee while Northampton sleeps,
and because the lanes between houses in Greek hamlets
are exactly the width of a donkey loaded on each side
with barley. Loneliness is the mother’s milk of America.
The heart is a foreign country whose language none
of us is good at. Winter lingers on in the woods,
but already it looks discarded as the birds return
and sing carelessly; as though there never was the power
or size of December. For nine years in me it has waited.
My life is pleasant, as usual. My body is a blessing
and my spirit clear. But the waiting does not let up.
A Brief For The Defense
by Jack Gilbert
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies are not starving someplace, they are starving somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils. But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants. Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women at the fountain are laughing together between the suffering they have known and the awfulness in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody in the village is very sick. There is laughter every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta, and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay. If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction, we lessen the importance of their deprivation. We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure, but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, we should give thanks that the end had magnitude. We must admit there will be music despite everything. We stand at the prow again of a small ship anchored late at night in the tiny port looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning. To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth all the years of sorrow that are to come.
I am a parcel of vain strivings tied By a chance bond together, Dangling this way and that, their links Were made so loose and wide, Methinks, For milder weather.
A bunch of violets without their roots, And sorrel intermixed, Encircled by a wisp of straw Once coiled about their shoots, The law By which I’m fixed.
A nosegay which Time clutched from out Those fair Elysian fields, With weeds and broken stems, in haste, Doth make the rabble rout That waste The day he yields.
And here I bloom for a short hour unseen, Drinking my juices up, With no root in the land To keep my branches green, But stand In a bare cup.
Some tender buds were left upon my stem In mimicry of life, But ah! the children will not know, Till time has withered them, The woe With which they’re rife.
But now I see I was not plucked for naught, And after in life’s vase Of glass set while I might survive, But by a kind hand brought Alive To a strange place.
That stock thus thinned will soon redeem its hours, And by another year, Such as God knows, with freer air, More fruits and fairer flowers Will bear, While I droop here.
It has been my experience that a plumber requires every bit the ingenuity and dedication of an artist to complete whatever masterpiece is required of them that day. After a week of living with scanty access to fresh water because of a plumbing emergency I can attest to the artistry that is water that comes out of a tap on demand.
You are probably wondering what Sic Vita (thus is life) has to do with plumbing? In my case it was the experience of having to replace an 8 foot stand pipe hydrant that had sprung a leak at its very bottome, which required me to dig a trench 7 feet deep large enough for me to get all the way in on my hands and knees at the bottom of it and do the dirty work of getting the pipe fittings undone and a new one installed. Like many things in life, if I had known how much work it was going to be I may not have had the courage to begin. Instead I took up shovel and ax and fought my way through layer upon layer of roots and rock and clay, saturated clay, one shovel full, one trowel full at a time, thus is life….
As a soil scientist and agronomist I have dug many root pits, but always in the past with the aid of a back hoe. Mature trees and fence posts prevented heavy machinery from accessing the site, (not to mention the cost), so I had plenty of time to reflect as I went deeper and deeper into my little trench with a shovel. The great thing about a shovel is nothing has changed for thousands of years in how to operate it. A shovel allows you to commune with your ancestors. I felt very much like I was digging a hole for an out house, hence my ruminations on ancestral plumbers. But the most vital connection was the requirement of persistence and resilience. In my experience in working on worn out plumbing there is an element of knowledge, skill and the proper tools that are required, but the biggest pre-requisite for success is a stubborn tenaciousness to keep going in a dark, usually damp, foul, unpleasant confined space, long after most people would have given up.
What’s your personal test of fortitude these days? Optimism in the face of constant negativity in the media on global warming, the supreme court going off the rails, the war in Ukraine, an unfolding global economic melt down? Does poetry offer an antidote to any of these torments? Only if you let it….
Rumors from an Aeolian Harp
by Henry David Thoreau
There is a vale which non hath seen, Where foot of man has never been, Such as here lives with toil and strife, An anxious and a sinful life.
There every virtue has its birth, Ere it descends upon the earth, And thither every deed returns, Which in the generous bosom burns.
There love is warm, and youth is young, And poetry is yet unsung, For Virtue still adventures there, And freely breathes her native air.
And ever, if you hearken well, You still may hear its vesper bell, And tread of high-souled men go by, Their thoughts conversing with the sky.
“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”
O Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair
by Robert Burns
O were my love yon Lilac fair, Wi’ purple blossoms to the Spring, And I, a bird to shelter there, When wearied on my little wing! How I wad mourn when it was torn By Autumn wild, and Winter rude! But I wad sing on wanton wing, When youthfu’ May its bloom renew’d.
O gin my love were yonred rose, That grows upon the castle wa’; And I myself a drapo’ dew, Into her bonie breast to fa’! O there, beyond expression blest, I’d feast on beauty a’ the night; Seal’d on her silk-saft faulds to rest, Till fley’d awaby Phoebus’ light
From time to time our love is like a sail and when the sail begins to alternate from tack to tack, it’s like a swallowtail and when the swallow flies it’s like a coat; and if the coat is yours, it has a tear like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins to draw the wind, it’s like a trumpeter and when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions … and this, my love, when millions come and go beyond the need of us, is like a trick; and when the trick begins, it’s like a toe tip-toeing on a rope, which is like luck; and when the luck begins, it’s like a wedding, which is like love, which is like everything.
A Great Need
Out Of a great need We are all holding hands And climbing. Not loving is a letting go. Listen, The terrain around here Is Far too Dangerous For That.