The Golden Apples Of The Sun

yosemite-firefall-glacier-point

Ulysses

by James Joyce (1882 – 1941)

Excerpt from Molly Bloom’s final soliloquy

…..O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down Jo me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.


When my Mother and Father were in their early 20’s, over 60 years ago, they would go on long car camping trips each summer.  The kind of trips most people only dream about today taking 2 or 3 weeks and traveling all over the west.  To define how different those days were is nearly impossible. There was no working remotely back then, vacations were a vacation, you couldn’t be reached. My mother had several favorite memories of Yosemite;  My Mother and Father met her sister and husband.  They had corresponded by mail, lining up the date and time and approximate camping spot they would rendezvous.  That might seem archaic in this age of hyper connectivity.  For two adults to simply agree to meet months in advance at a spot on a map, and then without any further communication both arrive within hours of each other at that spot. How glorious it would be to return to those days!  For all the convenience of a cell phone it is also a curse.  We are never out of reach of our everyday life.   We are constantly at the mercy of the next teleconference.  We have relinquished the peace and rejuvenation that a vacation afforded the generations before under the banner of productivity.

My Mother also fondly remembered an earlier visit, when she went alone by train 10 years prior and  visited Yosemite with her sister and then boyfriend.  Yosemite still had the nightly performance of what was called Firefall.   Firefall consisted of a large bonfire set ablaze before sunset on top of the canyon wall with a sheer face that overlooked the central valley. And then shortly after sunset the park rangers would push the fire, embers and aover the ledge, to create a stream of fire falling all the way to the canyon below.  It is impossible to contemplate something like that today.  First the fire danger would be out of this world and second, having park rangers set fires for the enjoyment of campers entertainment is not the education message the national park service espouses today around conservation.  But it was incredibly beautiful and strangely safe in its day.  It was nightly ritual during certain times of the year for decades, enjoyed by millions who visited.   It was a celebration of our connection to something visceral about fire and nature and lighting up the night.  It is something that will never return again except in the memories of those who tell the story from long ago.

My girlfriend is off on an old fashioned wander; car camping and hiking in the west.  She has that need of connection with nature, with the mountains, with the west.  It is an ancient calling that rings in many of our hearts, the primal need to connect with the beauty of nature and the connection that we have with the wilderness.

Safe travels for all who are headed out on a car camping trip this summer.  What are the stories your parents or grand parents tell about their experiences in National Parks over the years?


The Song of Wandering Aengus

by W. B. Yeats (1865 – 1939)

I went out to the hazel wood,  
Because a fire was in my head,  
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,  
And hooked a berry to a thread;  
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,  
I dropped the berry in a stream  
And caught a little silver trout.  

When I had laid it on the floor  
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,  
And someone called me by my name:  
It had become a glimmering girl  
With apple blossom in her hair  
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.  

Though I am old with wandering  
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,  
I will find out where she has gone,  
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,  
And pluck till time and times are done,  
The silver apples of the moon,  
The golden apples of the sun.

The Mother Of God


Virgin Mary

The Mother of God

By William Butler Yeats

The threefold terror of love; a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart’s blood stop
Or strikes a Sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?

 


 

I had never given much thought to the Virgin Mary, at least Catholicism’s take on the Virgin Mary, until my recent Jesuit retreat. Participants were told to bring a Rosary if they had one and I honestly wasn’t sure what a Rosary was or what “saying” the Rosary involved.  Taking it seriously, my pre-retreat instructions, I decided to find out.  A Rosary is a chain or cord with 59 beads and generally a small crucifix attached, one bead for each prayer in the Rosary.  Several weeks before, I got down from a shelf a box of crafting supplies and beads that had accumulated over the years from various jewelry projects and proceeded to make my own Rosary. As you would guess, being a Protestant, a protester, I didn’t follow the traditional design. Mine is symmetrical on each side and does not follow the typical pattern, each bead a remnant of something gifted. I found a rock in Norway that contains a natural crucifix that goes all the way through the granite as white quartz. I haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I intend to attach it to the Rosary as a fitting place to remind me where it is and make it complete.

IMG_7962

Once having constructed my Rosary, now I needed to investigate about saying the Rosary.  Fortunately, there is lots of good information on line, the Jesuits quite helpful in providing detailed information in this regard. The website I found most interesting was from Xavier University.

https://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/online-resources/prayer-index/catholic-prayers

The Rosary is a Scripture-based prayer. It begins with the Apostles’ Creed, which summarizes the great mysteries of the Catholic faith. Then an Our Father (Protestants call it the Lord’s Prayer),  introduces each mystery, followed by many, many recitations of Hail Mary in each section. There are four sets of Mysteries: Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and––added by Saint John Paul II in 2002––the Luminous.  Which version of the Rosary is recited is based on the day of the week and also on the calendar, and on the different Catholic traditions, the Jesuits versions a bit different than the other’s I have read on-line. All of them have the same goal; by using repetition within the Rosary, and by reciting the Rosary daily, the words are meant to lead the individual into restful and contemplative prayer related to each Mystery and a deeper faith. The idea is the repetition of the words helps us to enter into the silence of our hearts. The Rosary can be said privately or with a group or it can be done as a read and respond as a group chant, as was done at this retreat. It took close to 30 minutes at the retreat to recite each day, despite saying each part fairly rapidly, some in the group almost turning into a competition on how fast and loud they could respond, the result exhilarating but not the hypnotic chant to lure us into silent contemplation as it is intended.

I did not strangely, feel like a hypocrite, joining in on this daily ritual, despite my serious objections to many Catholic traditions and political positions. If you are going to be a protester, I figured I best understand more fully what is that I am protesting. The objective of why I was there was experience and inner reconciliation, not agreement or faith. We said the Rosary each day as a group walk, with one man leading it and respondents joining in each prayer after it was introduced, in a slow procession outside in two long single file lines.  The walks ended in front of a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary, which I am sure in the summer time is ringed with flowers and on these cold February days was surrounded by snow.  It all felt somewhat familiar, most of the words and prayers used by Presbyterians in some modified form, right up until the end.  And that’s when things took a different and unexpected tangent in terms of my response.

Catholicism embraces the ideas of mystery and love and suffering and spectacle. I included Joyelle McSweeney’s poetry in one of the blogs proceeding this one because she is by her own words a Catholic poet, a Catholic artist, and it is from those roots of mystery and divine that her art arises.  Look back at the poem Cool Whip and see that in a different light given that perspective.

The Rosary we said each day ended with The Litany of Mary, a slightly different version than the one printed below, but essentially the same, the version we said even a bit more self flagellating and extreme in the wording.  It was the only time during the entire retreat my senses felt assaulted, I couldn’t say some of the words.  I was stunned.

The Litany of Mary

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

God our Father ln Heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Most honored of virgins, pray for us.
Mother of Christ, pray for us.
Mother of the Church, pray for us.
Mother of divine grace, pray for us.
Mother most pure, pray for us.
Mother of chaste love, pray for us.
Mother and virgin, pray for us.
Sinless Mother, pray for us.
Dearest of Mothers, pray for us.
Model of motherhood, pray for us.
Mother of good counsel, pray for us.
Mother of our Creator, pray for us.
Mother of our Savior, pray for us.

Virgin most wise, pray for us.
Virgin rightly praised, pray for us.
Virgin rightly renowned, pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, pray for us.
Virgin gentle in mercy, pray for us.
Faithful Virgin, pray for us.

Mirror of justice, pray for us.
Throne of wisdom, pray for us.
Cause of our joy, pray for us.

Shrine of the Spirit, pray for us.
Glory of Israel, pray for us.
Vessel of selfless devotion, pray for us.
Mystical Rose, pray for us.
Tower of David, pray for us.
Tower of ivory, pray for us.
House of gold, pray for us.
Ark of the covenant, pray for us.
Gate of heaven, pray for us.
Morning star, pray for us.
Health of the sick, pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
Comfort of the troubled, pray for us.
Help of Christians, pray for us.

Queen of angels, pray for us.
Queen of patriarchs and prophets, pray for us.
Queen of apostles and martyrs, pray for us.
Queen of confessors and virgins, pray for us.
Queen of all saints, pray for us.
Queen conceived without sin, pray for us.
Queen assumed in to heaven, pray for us.
Queen of the rosary, pray for us.
Queen of families, pray for us.
Queen of peace, pray for us.

Blessed be the name of the Virgin Mary now and forever.

Whew. That is a lot take in, particularly if you have not grown up in the Catholic tradition. Its a bit of a shock to the system to hear it for the first time. There is much of it that is extremely beautiful. And it was moving, the entire experience of saying the Rosary, saying it aloud with 70 other men, and enjoyable except for that last bit.  It was also a bit frightening. Is this really what all these men believe?  Or is The Litany of Mary just words, that no one gives much thought in saying, a ritual that Catholics consider as being part of being a good Catholic because its tradition? Over half of the men had every word memorized. I know the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) and I memorized Hail Mary prior to the retreat, so I had memorized probably 75% of the content of the Rosary prior to attending. I have been to quite a number of Catholic services and Catholic funerals in my lifetime and I had never, ever heard The Litany of Mary.

If you visit the link above you will find some of the best crafted, most carefully thought out poetry in the form of prayers, that have ever been written. The same can be said of the Psalms. The idea of poetry and religion are inextricably bound together. You can’t divide one from the other. And yet the Catholic obsession with the idea that Mary, as Jesus’s mother, has to be pure, a virgin, who gave birth only because of immaculate conception, unspoiled by the act of love of a human man, the physical love that is procreation, is not a healthy concept in my mind in unifying our own spiritual selves with our equally divine and sexual natures.  It strikes me that this false idea is at the core of the misogyny that runs through all of Christianity and in particular Catholicism. The repetition over and over, requesting that the Virgin Mary, pray for us, pray for us sinners, because only she is pure, rings completely false in my heart. In my Canticle, we should ask the Virgin Mary to pray for us, not because she is pure, but because she is one of us and knows by her own experience, we are in need of prayer.  But then, in my Canticle, I don’t believe in Heaven, so from my perspective all of it is poetry.

There is a long, long story on how the poem that I wrote below, called Mother of God came to be.  Looking back, I am no longer sure if my version of events is true, or the version of a friend who also was present is true.  I know what I thought I heard, but hearing and memory and understanding are not a very accurate thing in my experience. Two people can hear the same words and understand them completely differently.  I am not going to relate the events that shaped me writing the poem.  When I wrote it over the course of a week last July, I never once gave a thought to Yeats and his classic poem that I have included above.  Of course, I was aware of Yeats poem when I wrote it, having read it many times prior, so it could be my subconscious at work which often happens when I write. It wasn’t until I finished mine that I put the two side by side and read each of them.

I find it fascinating that fear is the thread that runs through both like water flowing in the same and opposite directions at the same time, like eddy’s in a river.  Yeats takes the reader into the mind of the Virgin Mary and what she must have felt, as a young woman, raising such a son, raising the son of God, given the portent billions of people now place on his life and death. Yeats projecting onto Mary emotions I have experienced as a parent, as most parents do, that our children are larger than ourselves, beyond ourselves, have more godliness than ourselves. My poem is an attempt at stepping into the wisdom of an extraordinary human woman. A flesh and blood woman saying goodbye to me, shortly before her death and wishing me well on my journey, knowing that fear will be omnipresent as part of the human condition, while in the act of saying goodbye, she was also saying goodbye to her fears.


The Mother of God

by T. A. Fry

The Mother of God said; “I want for you
Fearfulness – fear of unheralded brilliance.
How else will you know a life’s full value? 
This planet’s? Or a Mother’s resilience?
Thine’s Kingdom is not built on righteousness,
Nor borne of sanctity. It arises from
The wonder in another’s selflessness.
It is through such gifts Thy will is done.”

I asked, “Why must I be fearful?” “Balance,”
She replied. “Themis weighs more than justice.
What portion peacefulness and its absence,
Tips the scales toward a life of substance.
Even in shameless life death is nursed,
So thankfulness might be our undying curse.”

I asked again, “Mother, why must I fear?”
“I want for you fearfulness so you’ll grow.
Have courage to find new seeds to sow.
Push beyond your comfort level. Never,
Ever, ever settle. And if your bravery
Becomes austere, know my Love shall never disappear.”

And Now My Heart Is Sore

trumpeter_swans
Trumpeter Swans

Wild Swans Near Gladstone

by James P. Lenfestey

A pair of swans lingers in the bay
opposite the freeway in upper Michigan in summer.
“Mated for life,” I point out to my wife,
“Mute swans,” she says, not looking,
“no need to talk.” I note the graceful mute life,
she driving her quiet Prius, me a quiet guest.
When her eyes, weary, reluctantly offer me
the wheel, it is like relinquishing a broken
sword into tall grass after a day of battle.
Now my turn to drive, and my mind wanders
over the pair of elegant swans seen every time
we pass the curve of the bay together, or alone.


I don’t think the titles of these two poems are a coincidence.  So how does that connection add greater complexity to Lefenstey’s poem? And does it equally impart a different layer of meaning to Yeats’ poem?  In my opinion, time is not linear in literature, time is only relevant to the reader.  Does Homer change with time, with every new novel and poem written does Odysseus become a new man?  Or are we the only ones who become renewed and the love of wild swans remains eternal?


Wild Swans at Coole

by W. B. Yeats

The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

The Wide Blossom On Which The Wind Assails

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When You Are Old

by W. B. Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.


These two poems may appear at first to sit at two ends of love’s spectrum, but look more closely, as it takes more than a minor tempest of the heart to create “wreckage gathered in the gales.”  I have been reading a book about a man’s journey in China to the site of ancient poet’s reputed refuge from the world.  Part poetry, part myth, part travel log, the book is a reminder that even mystic hermits had dear friends that visited them in their caves.  People are not people without other people. The same may be true of elephants, but it doesn’t make it any less true about homo sapiens. And, poetry isn’t poetry unless someone else is there to read the scratching’s on the trees and write it down so that their friends can enjoy their wonderful discovery.

Do you ever find a poem, you can’t wait to share with someone else?   Who is that someone?  What is the poem?  Here’s a gentle reminder to send it off right away….


Pity Me Not Because The Light of Day

by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 -1950)

Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the year goes by;
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor the ebbing tide goes out to sea,
Nor that a man desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.
This have I known always; Love is no more
Than the wide blossom on which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales:
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn.

A Rapture Of Distress

auden new york
W. H. Auden

 

In Memory of W. B. Yeats

by W. H. Auden

III

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.


 

Poetry, even love poetry is a rapture of distress. Auden never rejected anxiety as something to be cured or admonished. He embraced it, letting it become the thing that made his writing accessable and understandable. Some writers words are so perfect that it’s hard for us to see our own lives contained within the lines. Auden was a perfectionist in the selection of his words and the construction of his poems, but he didn’t talk over our heads in some academic lexicon, foreign to our English ears. No, Auden paints in a pallete of plain language that enriches our experience of reading him.

Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming, is one of the most appropriated poems of the last 100 years. There have been countless artists who incorporated into their work or title some element of Yeats’ brilliance, hoping by creating that connection, their work will have greater significance and depth of meaning.  In some cases, like Joan Didion, it worked.  In most, it seems trite and a failed attempt at being cerebral. Best to let the grand master stand on his own.

I keep coming back to Yeats and in particular to this poem. The opening creates movement that carries me to the end, the swirl of insanity just as relevent today. Yeats wrote this amidst the spectre of WWI and the forces of war carrying evil to every corner of the earth. Yeats shines a spot light on the rough beast that continues to slouch in the deserts of our worst existence, where passionate intensity has replaced compassionate calm. The grotesque theater played out on our Nation’s monuments last week and the blood thirsty rush to judgement to condemn “the other” side without any wisdom of stepping back from the madness that is social media and realizing that wihout the invention of a cell phone, none of it would be news.

Yeats’ nor Auden would be surprised that we haven’t overcome the human tendency towards destruction.  For only nature makes entropy look beautiful, material creations of man, other than art, tend to become uglier in its inevitable wasting away and depreciation. Literature doesn’t depreciate, if anything it becomes more heroic and timeless in our ability to reach across centuries and discover how much in common we have with the greatest minds that have ever lived.


 

The Second Coming

by W. B. Yeats

Tuning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

 

Lean Over, Greedy

lean over greedy

A Drinking Song
by W. B. Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

After Sex

by Chana Bloch

A man after sex
has that squishy thing in the nest of his lap.
A bashful appendage
like a Claes Oldenburg vinyl drainpipe,
a soft saxophone that won’t toot a note.

A man’s got to wear his susceptibility
out in plain sight.
No wonder he’s keeping his soul
zippered up.

A woman’s got that rock of a belly,
that baby cave,
breasts swaggering erect
when they swell with milk.
Oh she knows what it’s like to sing
the stand-up song of a man.

Now you and I soften in the wash,
the body-elastic goes slack.
We see ourselves in each other,
we grow alike.
We want to curl up in a sunny corner
and doze like the cat.

Come, flick a whisker,
make me remember.


It’s nearly Thanksgiving here in the United States,  time for some serious training to help us through a day of feasting.  Fourteenlines has been doing its part in helping you prepare, with poems about eating.  First we had Eating Poetry by Mary Strand and now Eating Babies by Chana Bloch.

Every once in a while as I prepare a blog entry my searching around on the web results in me stumbling across a poet I have never heard of before and that poet proceeds to completely blow me away. Chana Bloch is one such poet. I need to order on Alibris several of her books, including her translation of The Song of Songs.

I had a hard time picking out which two poems to share of hers, there are so many good ones. Eating Babies brilliance floated it to the top. This poem brought back such wonderful memories and even smells of my children as babies from long ago. So eat up, give yourself a second helping of poetry and take home some leftovers. I promise it will be most satisfying and low calorie at the same time.

Click on the link below to hear Chana Bloch read her poem Eating Babies:

 


Eating Babies

by Chana Bloch

1

FAT
is the soul of this flesh.
Eat with your hands, slow, you will understand
breasts, why everyone
adores them—Rubens’ great custard nudes—why
we can’t help sleeping with
pillows.

The old woman in the park pointed,
Is it yours?
Her gold eye-teeth gleamed.

I bend down, taste the fluted
nipples, the elbows, the pads
of the feet. Nibble earlobes, dip
my tongue in the salt fold
of shoulder and throat.

Even now he is changing,
as if I were
licking him thin.

2

HE SQUEEZES his eyes tight
to hide
and blink! he’s still here.
It’s always a surprise.

Safety-fat,
angel-fat,

steal it in mouthfuls,
store it away
where you save

the face that you touched
for the last time
over and over,
your eyes closed

so it wouldn’t go away.

3

WATCH HIM sleeping. Touch
the pulse where
the bones haven’t locked
in his damp hair:
the navel of dreams.
His eyes open for a moment, underwater.

His arms drift in the dark
as your breath
washes over him.

Bite one cheek. Again.
It’s your own
life you lean over, greedy,
going back for more.