Love is the conversation between possible, searing disappointment and a profoundly imagined sense of arrival and fulfillment; how we shape that conversation is the touchstone of our ability to love in the real inhabited world.
A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
by John Donne
As virtuous men pass mildly away, And whisper to their souls to go, Whilst some of their sad friends do say The breath goes now, and some say, No:
So let us melt, and make no noise, No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move; ‘Twere profanation of our joys To tell the laity our love.
Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears, Men reckon what it did, and meant; But trepidation of the spheres, Though greater far, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers’ love (Whose soul is sense) cannot admit Absence, because it doth remove Those things which elemented it.
The Well of Grief
by David Whyte
Those who will not slip beneath the still surface on the well of grief, turning down through its black water to the place we cannot breathe, will never know the source from which we drink, the secret water, cold and clear, nor find in the darkness glimmering, the small round coins, thrown by those who wished for something else.
It’s practically my subject, my theme: solitude and community; the weirdness and terrors of solitude: the stifling and consolations of community. Also, the consolations of solitude.
Everything Is Waiting For You
by David Whyte
After Derek Mahon
Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone. As if life were a progressive and cunning crime with no witness to the tiny hidden transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely, even you, at times, have felt the grand array; the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice. You must note the way the soap dish enables you, or the window latch grants you freedom. Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity. The stairs are your mentor of things to come, the doors have always been there to frighten you and invite you, and the tiny speaker in the phone is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the conversation. The kettle is singing even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots have left their arrogant aloofness and seen the good in you at last. All the birds and creatures of the world are unutterably themselves. Everything is waiting for you.
There has always been a link between diplomacy and poetry. The exultation of a greater community, done beautifully, artistically crosses the boundaries of understanding, the essence of effective politicians and poets. The list of poet diplomats goes back to Chaucer, Thomas Wyatt and extends to Gabriela Mistral, Saint-John Perse, Pablo Neruda, Czeslaw Milosz, Saint-John Perse and Octavio Paz. That no contemporary poets are on my list is more a function of my ignorance of modern conflicts and writers, as I am sure there are a host of poets waging diplomacy around the world, at least I hope there are. War, love and poetry are constants of the human condition. It’s a bit of rock, paper, scissors, how they are connected, cause and effect, effect and cause, I’ll let you decide which conquers which, but it the art of poetry and art of diplomacy share the same language.
Derek Mahon was born 2 years after W. B. Yeats death. Mahon left Belfast and studied and worked in England, France, the United States and Canada throughout his life, only returning to Ireland late in life. These two poems are bookends of the poetic mindset of the quote above. War has a way of reminding us of the wish to become a hermit at the same time we humbly appreciate the blessing that can be community.
Spring in Belfast
By Derek Mahon (1941 – 2020)
Walking among my own this windy morning
In a tide of sunlight between shower and shower,
I resume my old conspiracy with the wet
Stone and the unwieldy images of the squinting heart.
Once more, as before, I remember not to forget.
There is a perverse pride in being on the side
Of the fallen angels and refusing to get up.
We could all be saved by keeping an eye on the hill
The thing about great poetry is we have no defenses against it.
“Stone” (Thobar Phádraig)
by David Whyte
The face in the stone is a mirror looking into you. You have gazed into the moving waters, you have seen the slow light, in the sky above Lough Inagh, beneath you, streams have flowed, and rivers of earth have moved beneath your feet, but you have never looked into the immovability of stone like this, the way it holds you, gives you not a way forward but a doorway in, staunches your need to leave, becomes faithful by going nowhere, something that wants you to stay here and look back, be weathered by what comes to you, like the way you too have travelled from so far away to be here, once reluctant and now as solid and as here and as willing to be touched as everything you have found.
The Old Wild Place
by David Whyte
After the good earth where the body knows itself to be real and the mad flight where it gives itself to the world, we give ourselves to the rhythm of love leaving the breath to know its way home.
And after the first pure fall, the last letting go, and the calm breath where we go to rest, we’ll return again to find it and feel the body welcomed, the body held, the strong arms of the world, the water, the waking at dawn and the thankful, almost forgotten, curling to sleep with the dark.