Reclaiming the sacred in our lives naturally brings us once more to the wellspring of poetry.
Women We Never See Again
by Robert Bly
There are women we love whom we never see again.
They are chestnuts shining in the rain.
Moths hatched in winter disappear behind books.
Sometimes when you put your hand into a hollow tree
you touch the dark places between the stars.
Human war has parted messengers from another planet,
who cross back to each other at night,
going through slippery valleys, farmyards where the rain
has washed out all the tracks,
and when we walk there, with no guide, saddened, in the dark
we see above us glowing the fortress made of ecstatic blue stone.
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Belovèd, thou hast brought me many flowers
Plucked in the garden, all the summer through
And winter, and it seemed as if they grew
In this close room, nor missed the sun and showers.
So, in the like name of that love of ours,
Take back these thoughts which here unfolded too,
And which on warm and cold days I withdrew
From my heart’s ground. Indeed, those beds and bowers
Be overgrown with bitter weeds and rue,
And wait thy weeding; yet here’s eglantine,
Here’s ivy!–take them, as I used to do
Thy flowers, and keep them where they shall not pine.
Instruct thine eyes to keep their colours true,
And tell thy soul, their roots are left in mine.
A man told me once that all the bad people Were needed. Maybe not all, but your fingernails You need; they are really claws, and we know Claws. The sharks—what about them? They make other fish swim faster. The hard-faced men In black coats who chase you for hours In dreams—that’s the only way to get you To the shore. Sometimes those hard women Who abandon you get you to say, “You.” A lazy part of us is like a tumbleweed. It doesn’t move on its own. Sometimes it takes A lot of Depression to get tumbleweeds moving. Then they blow across three or four States. This man told me that things work together. Bad handwriting sometimes leads to new ideas; And a careless god—who refuses to let people Eat from the Tree of Knowledge—can lead To books, and eventually to us. We write Poems with lies in them, but they help a little.
Given the divide that has developed politically and culturally in this country, I have started to think differently. I have considered that maybe I need to focus less on believing that the chasm can be closed and more on recognizing the counterbalance opposing views provide, the positive that comes from different viewpoints in hopefully preventing either side from tipping over backwards. People are not magnets, opposites do not attract. We tend to be attracted to those with similar experiences and ideas, yet if there is not mutual respect and acceptance for our inherent human diversity we can not succeed as a multi-cultural society.
I wonder, do each of us have a ready list of bad people in our minds? Can we equally construct a list of good people just as easily? What about all the people in the middle, the majority we lump into neither bad or good? And if I was on one of your lists, what would it take for me to go from one list to the other or fall out of sight into the pleasantly benign as neither?
I pose those questions because it feels like our political machines and attack ads are constantly putting candidates into one list or the other, depending on who is paying for the ad. The sheer volume of the ads is overwhelming. Is it time to stop seeing the other side of the political spectrum as bad and ours as good and start seeing them as our neighbors who prevent us from getting too carried away with ourselves and tipping over? Gerrymandering voting districts to artificially create majorities on either side do not provide the agile change that we need in these turbulent times. Democracy wasn’t supposed to go to the cleverest most manipulative side, the side that prevails in courts based on obtuse interpretations of legal points, it was supposed to be an opportunity for majority rule and for that majority to change quickly as needed to respond to issues most relevant to the electorate at the moment.
I fear we have gotten hoodwinked by expert marketing. scientific polling meant to influence outcomes, political strategists, political scientists and pundits with their own hidden agendas focused more on money and less on what is the best possible outcome for our communities and for our future. And in the end, as I turn off the TV unable to withstand another political ad, I welcome the opportunity to spend a little time in Carl Sandburg’s world of poetry, where beautiful unanswerable questions await.
Under the Harvest Moon
by Carl Sandburg
Under the harvest moon, When the soft silver Drips shimmering Over the garden nights, Death, the gray mocker, Comes and whispers to you As a beautiful friend Who remembers.
Under the summer roses When the flagrant crimson Lurks in the dusk Of the wild red leaves, Love, with little hands, Comes and touches you With a thousand memories, And asks you Beautiful, unanswerable questions.
Med ringbjerges øde graanen
ligger et land under lav —
en bleket brokke av maanen
slængt hen i et jordisk hav.
Paa øen steiler en kilde
over det døde land;
dens straaler er store og vilde,
en styrtende lilje av vand!
Men lyt, i de klare dage
naar solen gløder dens skum,
dæmrer en dæmpet klage
gjennem det rene rum.
«Jeg spruter fra hede skaaler,
«jeg dønner fra jordens bryst,
«jeg dømtes med store straaler
«at springe paa dødens kyst,
«hvor ikke paa hundrede mile
«en eneste blomst i knop
«trænger den hede ile,
«som vælder av svælget op!»
Det rinder i maanegløden,
det straalende, sære tegn
paa livets maalløse øde
i lavaens drømme-egn.
Bitter til sidste time
kilden ødsler sit blod,
— der vilde ha dræbt hver kime,
som ramtes av dets flod!
With the desolate grain of the ring mountains
is a low country under
a pale rupture of the moon
thrown into an earthly sea.
On the island, a spring steals
over the frozen land;
its rays are large and wild,
a rushing lily of water!
But listen, on a clear day,
when the sun glows its foam,
makes a muffled complaint
through the pure spirits.
“I sprout from hot bowls,
“I dance from the breast of the earth,
‘I am germinated with big rays
“To jump on the shore of death,
‘Where not in a hundred miles
«A single flower is in bud
“The hot rush needs,
“That swells the throat!”
It flows in the moonlight,
the radiant, strange sign
in the utter desolation of life
in the dream-lava area.
Bitter to the last hour
the source spills its blood,
– that would have killed every germ,
struck by its river!
Come With Me
by Robert Bly
Come with me into those things that have felt this despair for so long—
Those removed Chevrolet wheels that howl with a terrible loneliness
Lying on their backs in the cindery dirt, like men drunk, and naked,
Staggering off down a hill at night to drown at last in the pond.
Those shredded inner tubes abandoned on the shoulders of thru-ways,
Black and collapsed bodies, that tried and burst,
And were left behind;
And the curly steel shavings, scattered about on garage benches,
Sometimes still warm, gritty when we hold them,
Who have given up, and blame everything on the government,
And those roads in South Dakota that feel around in the darkness . . .
“Believe in happiness, Seiglinde, try!”
– Olaf Bull
Happiness is the wind rising
In a field of young plants.
It is a new-fallen apple
Found in the dark earth
Far from the orchard
In plowing time.
Do fish have emotions? Do fish have an inner life? Don’t say that instinct alone propels them up water falls to spawn and die, for their is too much joy in the leaping. Why can’t we as humans project our humanness the beings that inhabit this earth with us, for then the reverse would also be true? Do the non-human beings of the earth project onto us only wildness? Maybe that’s why disorder and chaos and predation of war seem to dominate the 24/7 news cycle as the norm? Maybe the beings of the earth that are not human are plotting our demise? Too late I think as we seem to have that trajectory well in hand on our own.
Let’s hope the salmon swimming upstream are propelled in part by joy. Let’s hope that they swim to one final act of procreation and then their death with the knowledge of completion and a feeling of fulfillment. It might inspire us to follow our journey with the same passion, athleticism and conviction in harmony with nature or more in harmony than we live today. Let’s hope we all can swim back to where we came, in time for one final romance or the completion of a life long one.
Et Overstreget Digt
by Olaf Bull
Bag et gitter af streger
stirrer et daarligt digt.
Et ærligt skind igrunden,
men ikke yppig runden
af sang og stemning og sligt.
Født af en mager moder,
af hjernens skrumpne skjød,
næret af tankefoder,
som hjernecellernes boder
i fattige timer bød — —.
dirrer i digtets krop –
afmægtig i sin feber
det ramser med tørre læber
sin grimme vise op.
Det rusker i sine streger,
vil løs af det grumme bur; –
det er min farligste fange
trods mange velskabte sange,
som strømmer i min natur.
A Struck-through Poem
by Olaf Bull
Caged-in, a shoddy poem
from bars of strokes peers out.
Honest enough a fellow,
though hardly round and mellow
with song and tuneful clout.
Spawned by a skinny mother
a wizened brain its womb,
mere scraps of thought the fodder
that brain cells had on offer,
in meagre hours consumed – –.
And reason’s fearful migraines
the poem’s body racked –
by fever now prostrated
cracked lips reel off unsated
their ugly tuneless song.
Its bars of notes, it rattles,
its cruel cage that it would force; –
it is my dire captive
though songs well-formed, attractive
course through my whole being.
It’s the dream we carry in secret
that something miraculous will happen,
that it must happen –
that time will open
that the heart will open
that doors will open
that the mountains will open
that springs will gush –
that the dream will open,
that one morning we will glide into
some little harbour we didn’t know was there.
June has arrived, a soggier version of itself this year, but none the less welcome. The school year is coming to an end, the teachers in my life every bit as glad for the upcoming break as the students. If I plan it right, there are several weekends of free meals at graduation parties, the promenade of new graduates ever younger appearing it seems than the previous year. It must be that our brains get stuck in a time warp, looking at ourselves each morning and evening in the mirror brushing our teeth, that we are fooled into thinking we are not aging, only to be shocked by how baby faced the new crop of college and high school seniors appear in their garish cap and gowns. How is that every year they appear younger?
I am so glad I am not graduating from anything as formal as school anymore. My personal commencements these days are simpler, more private; a car loan paid off, a house project completed, a big project at work finalized, a son or daughter moving into their first apartment. No new diplomas to be hung on the wall, but the satisfaction of accomplishment equally as genuine. The terrible part of having to settle on a degree is that it seems to limit your options from that point forward. I never really could decide what I wanted to be when I grew up but managed to stumble upon a career that I have truly enjoyed. But if I had it to do over again, my guess is I would have stumbled into something else, as it never felt like I really had a grand plan on how I was going to make a living. My goal today is to keep graduating each spring with fresh skills, regardless if they are employable.
What’s are you graduating from this spring? What shall you commence to do from this new demarcation? Where’s your own little harbor that you didn’t know even existed until you sailed into its’ smooth waters?
Gratitude For Old Teachers
by Robert Bly
When we stride or stroll across the frozen lake,
We place our feet where they have never been.
We walk upon the unwalked. But we are uneasy.
Who is down there but our old teachers?
Water that once could take no human weight-
We were students then- holds up our feet,
And goes on ahead of us for a mile.
Beneath us the teachers, and around us the stillness.
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