Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vermeer






It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall
where the alehouse is
with its laughter and quarrels, its rows of teeth, its tears, its chiming of clocks,
and the psychotic brother-in-law, the murderer, in whose presence
everyone feels fear.

The huge explosion and the emergency crew arriving late,
boats showing off on the canals, money slipping down into pockets
– the wrong man’s –
ultimatum piled on the ultimatum,
widemouthed red flowers whose sweat reminds us of approaching war.

And then straight through the wall — from there — straight into the airy studio
in the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries.
Paintings that choose the name: “The Music Lesson”
or ” A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.”
She is eight months pregnant, two hearts beating inside her.
The wall behind her holds a crinkly map of Terra Incognita.

Just breathe. An unidentifiable blue fabric has been tacked to the chairs.
Gold-headed tacks flew in with astronomical speed
and stopped smack there
as if there had always been stillness and nothing else.

The ears experience a buzz, perhaps it’s depth or perhaps height.
It’s the pressure from the other side of the wall,
the pressure that makes each fact float
and makes the brushstroke firm.

Passing through walls hurts human beings, they get sick from it,
but we have no choice.
It’s all one world. Now to the walls.
The walls are a part of you.
One either knows that, or one doesn't; but it’s the same for everyone
except for small children. There aren't any walls for them.

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”






~ Tomas Tranströmer
translation by Robert Bly
from The Winged Energy of Desire
art by Vermeer






Tuesday, November 29, 2011

the sound of the rain needs no translation









I had a discussion with a great master in Japan, and we were talking about the various people who are working to translate the Zen books into English, and he said, "That's a waste of time. If you really understand Zen, you can use any book. You could use the Bible. You could use Alice in Wonderland. You could use the dictionary, because the sound of the rain needs no translation.



~ Alan Watts










on another's sorrow








Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?

Can I see a falling tear,
And not feel my sorrow's share?
Can a father see his child
Weep, nor be with sorrow filled?

Can a mother sit and hear
An infant groan, an infant fear?
No, no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

And can He who smiles on all
Hear the wren with sorrows small,
Hear the small bird's grief and care,
Hear the woes that infants bear --

And not sit beside the next,
Pouring pity in their breast,
And not sit the cradle near,
Weeping tear on infant's tear?

And not sit both night and day,
Wiping all our tears away?
Oh no! never can it be!
Never, never can it be!

He doth give his joy to all:
He becomes an infant small,
He becomes a man of woe,
He doth feel the sorrow too.

Think not thou canst sigh a sigh,
And thy Maker is not by:
Think not thou canst weep a tear,
And thy Maker is not year.

Oh He gives to us his joy,
That our grief He may destroy:
Till our grief is fled an gone
He doth sit by us and moan.







 ~William Blake
from Songs of Innocence
with thanks to Cait O'Connor
art by guy denning





Saturday, November 26, 2011

the november angels





.
Late dazzle
of yellow
flooding
the simplified woods, 
spare chipping away
of the afternoon-stone
by a small brown finch—
there is little
for them to do,
and so their gossip is
idle, modest:
low-growing,
tiny-white-flowered.

Below,
the Earth-pelt 
dapples and flows 
with slow bees 
that spin
the thick, deep jute
of the gold time’s going,
the pollen’s
traceless retreat; 
kingfishers
enter their kingdom,
their blue crowns on fire,
and feast on
the still-wealthy world.

A single, cold blossom 
tumbles, fledged
from the sky’s white branch.
And the angels
look on,
observing what falls: 
all of it falls.

Their hands hold
no blessings,
no word
for those who walk
in the tall black pines,
who do not
feel themselves falling—
the ones who believe
the loved companion
will hold them forever,
the ones who cross through 
alone and ask for no sign.

The afternoon 
lengthens, steepens,
flares out—
no matter for them.
It is assenting
that makes them angels,
neither increased 
nor decreased
by the clamorous heart:
their only work 
to shine back,
however the passing brightness 
hurts their eyes.




~ Jane Hirshfield
 from Of Gravity and Angels





Monday, November 21, 2011

a morning offering





I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.

I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.




~ John O'Donohue




Tuesday, November 15, 2011

home





Treading along in this dreamlike, illusory realm,
Without looking for the traces I may have left;
A cuckoo's song beckons me to return home,
Hearing this, I tilt my head to see
Who has told me to turn back;
But do not ask me where I am going,
As I travel in this limitless world,
Where every step I take is my home.


~ Dogen
from the Zen Poetry of Dogen



impermanence








.
To what shall
I liken the world?
Moonlight, reflected
In dewdrops, 
Shaken from a crane's bill.


~ Dogen
from The Zen Poetry of Dogen





romanesque arches






Inside the huge Romanesque church the tourists jostled in the half darkness.
vault gaped behind vault, no complete view.
A few candle flames flickered.
An angel with no face embraced me
and whispered through my whole body:
"Don't be ashamed of being human, be proud!
Inside you vault opens behind vault endlessly.
You will never be complete, that's how it's meant to be."
Blind with tears
I was pushed out on the sun-seething piazza
together with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, Mr Tanaka, and Signora Sabatini,
and inside each of them vault opened behind vault endlessly.






Tomas Tranströmer
from The Half Finished Heaven
translated by Robert Bly


notice to quit


John had a disreputable old uncle who was the tenant of a poor little farm beside his father's.  One day when John came in from the garden, he found a great hubbub in the house.  His uncle was sitting there with his cheeks the colour of ashes.  His mother was crying.  His father was sitting very still with a solemn face.  And there, in the midst of them, was the Steward with his mask on,  John crept round to his mother and asked her what the matter was.


'Poor Uncle George has had notice to quit,' she said.
'Why?' said John.
'His lease is up.  The Landlord has sent him notice to quit.'
'But didn't you know how long the lease was for?'
'Oh, no, indeed we did not.  We thought it was for years and years more.  I am sure the Landlord never gave us any idea he was going to turn him out at a moment's notice like this.'
'Ah, but it doesn't need any notice,' broke in the Steward. 'You know he always retains the right to turn anyone out whenever he chooses.  It is very good of him to let any of us stay here at all.'
'To be sure, to be sure,' said the mother.
'That goes without saying,' said the father.
'I'm not complaining,' said Uncle George.  'But it seems cruelly hard.'
'Not at all, ' said the Steward.  'You've only got to go to the Castle and knock at the gate and see the Landlord himself.  You know that he's only turning you out of here to make you much more comfortable somewhere else.  Don't you?'
Uncle George nodded. He did not seem able to get his voice.


...


'Mother.'
'Well, dear?'
'Could any of us be turned out without notice like that any day?'
'Well, yes.  But it is very unlikely.'
But we might be?'
'You oughtn't to be thinking of that sort of thing at your age.'
'Why oughtn't I?'
'It's not healthy.  A boy like you.'
'Mother.'
'Yes?'
'Can we break off the lease without notice too?'
'How do you mean?'
Well, the Landlord can turn us out of the farm whenever he likes.  Can we leave the farm whenever we like?'
'No, certainly not.'
Why not?'
'That's in the lease.  We must go when he likes, and stay as long as he likes.'
'Why?'
'I suppose because he makes the leases.'
'What would happen if we did leave?'
'He would be very angry.'
'Would he put us in the black hole?'
'Perhaps.'
'Mother.'
'Well, dear?'
'Will the Landlord put Uncle George in the black hole?'
'How dare you say such a thing about your poor uncle? Of course he won't.'
'But hasn't Uncle George broken all the rules?'
'Broken all the rules? Your Uncle George was a very good man.'
'You never told me that before,' said John.




~ C. S. Lewis
from The Pilgrim's Regress





legs and super powers









~ Aimee Mullins
with thanks to Chemin faisant




To create one's own world, in any of the arts, takes courage.







The abstraction is often the most definite form 
for the intangible thing in myself that I can clarify in paint.

I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, 
you could not ignore its beauty. 





The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the desert even tho' it is vast and empty and untouchable... and knows no kindness with all its beauty.

There's something about black. You feel hidden away in it.


~ Georgia O'Keeffe


photo by Alfred Stieglitz


Monday, November 14, 2011

the voices







.

It's OK for the rich and the lucky to keep still,
no one wants to know about them anyway,
But those in need have to step forward,
have to say: I am blind,
or: I'm about to go blind,
or: nothing is going well with me,
or: I have a child who is sick,
or: right there I'm sort of glued together...

And probably that doesn't do anything either.

They have to sing; if they didn't sing, everyone
would walk past, as if they were fences or trees.

That's where you can hear good singing.

People really are strange: they prefer
to hear castratos in boychoirs.

But God himself comes and stays a long time
when the world of half-people start to bore him.





~ Rainer Maria Rilke
translation by Robert Bly
art by van gogh





for the senses








May the touch of your skin 
Register the beauty
Of the otherness
That surrounds you.

May your listening be attuned
To the deeper silence
Where sound is honed
To bring distance home.

May the fragrance
Of a breathing meadow
Refresh your heart
And remind you you are
A child of the earth.

And when you partake
Of food and drink,
May your taste quicken 
To the gift and sweetness
That flows from the earth.

May your inner eye
See through the surfaces
And glean the real presence
Of everything that meets you.

May your soul beautify
The desire of your eyes 
That you might glimpse
The infinity that hides
In the simple sights 
That seem worn
To your usual eyes.




~ John O'Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us



the fleeting quality of the light








I would like to paint the way a bird sings



~ Claude Monet
 born in Paris in 1840

He met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille; the four young artists became disillusioned with the meticulous detail that was fashionable in academic circles, and they began experimenting with a new style of landscape painting, producing rapid "sketches" using short, broken brushstrokes and trying to capture, above all, the fleeting quality of the light.




Sunday, November 13, 2011

fresh, young, clear







Do you know what it means to come into contact with death, to die without argument? Because death, when it comes, does not argue with you. To meet it, you have to die every day to everything: to your agony, to your loneliness, to the relationship you cling to; you have to die to your thought, to die to your habit, to die to your wife so that you can look at your wife anew; you have to die to your society so that you, as a human being, are new, fresh, young, and you can look at it. But you cannot meet death if you don't die every day. It is only when you die that there is love. A mind that is frightened has no love, it has habits, it has sympathy, it can force itself to be kind and superficially considerate. But fear breeds sorrow, and sorrow is time as thought.

So to end sorrow is to come into contact with death while living, by dying to your name, to your house, to your property, to your cause, so that you are fresh, young, clear, and you can see things as they are without any distortion. That is what is going to take place when you die. But we have a limited death to the physical. We know very well logically, sanely, that the organism is going to come to an end. So we invent a life which we have lived of daily agony, daily insensitivity, the increase of problems, and its stupidity; that life we want to carry over, which we call the "soul", which we say is the most sacred thing, a part of the divine, but it is still part of your thought and therefore it has nothing to do with divinity. It is your life!

So one has to live every day dying, dying because you are then in contact with life.




~ J. Krishnamurti
from The Book of Life
with thanks to j. krishnamurti online
photo by Kathleen Connally




while things are quiet






Things are easier to control while things are quiet.
Things are easier to plan far in advance.
Things break easier while they are still brittle.
Things are easier hid while they are still small.

Prevent problems before they arise.
Take action before things get out of hand.
The tallest tree
begins as a tiny sprout.
The tallest building
starts with one shovel of dirt.
A journey of a thousand miles
starts with a single footstep.

If you rush into action, you will fail.
If you hold on too tight, you will lose your grip.

Therefore the Master lets things take their course
and thus never fails.
She doesn't hold on to things
and never loses them.
By pursing your goals too relentlessly,
you let them slip away.
If you are as concerned about the outcome
as you are about the beginning,
then it is hard to do things wrong.
The master seeks no possessions.
She learns by unlearning,
thus she is able to understand all things.




~ Lao Tzu
from the Tao Te Ching
translation by j. h. mcdonald



Saturday, November 12, 2011

a quiet light








There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no
attention to itself, though it is always secretly there.
It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire 
to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life. Without this
subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and
no horizon would ever awaken our longing. Our passion for life
is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is welded to
the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what
enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here 
as blessing. We enter the world as strangers who all at once 
become heirs to a harvest of memory, spirit, and dream that has 
long preceded us and will now enfold, nourish, and sustain us.
The gift of the world is our first blessing.




~ John O'Donohue
from the introduction to To Bless the Space Between Us
art by Leonardo Da Vinci





starting a poem








You are alone. Then there's a knock 
On the door. It's a word. You
Bring it in. Things go
OK for a while. But this word 

Has relatives. Soon
They turn up. None of them work.
They sleep on the floor, and they steal
Your tennis shoes. 

You started it; you weren't
Content to leave things alone.
Now the den is a mess, and the
Remote is gone. 

That's what being married 
Is like. You never receive your
Wife only, but the
Madness of her family. 

Now see what's happened?
Where is your car? You won't 
Be able to find 
The keys for a week.



~ Robert Bly
art by Janet Sobel



on the death of the beloved









Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or might or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.

We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.



~ John O'Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us
art by Camille Pissarro

Pissarro





Friday, November 11, 2011

a story of war





.
When you are called home, when you are somehow struck by the absolutely mysterious and irrevocable desire to know the truth of who you are, then you must be willing to put aside every story of separation.  Every story of separation is a story of war.

Human beings have been making war in every culture for a very long time.  Culture is a reflection of the individual mind, and the individual mind is a reflection of the cultural mind.  Since you are reading this, I assume you are interested in peace in your own mind.  You are not waiting for them to make peace.  This is good news, because war is fought to get others to do it our way so that we can live in peace.  When you stop waiting for them, and instead shift you attention to your own mind, then you can recognize the tendency toward war in your own mind, the tendencies of totalitarianism, hate, revenge, and holding on.  And you can recognize the suffering that those tendencies continue to deliver.

Some how, in the face of it all, you find you want peace.  You are sick and tired of the war within your own mind.  You may even express it in a conscious prayer, a plea for help, for understanding, for deliverance, for grace.

Grace is here now.  It is knocking at your door.  You have a chance to be at peace in this moment.  You only need to accept the invitation of your own heart, fight now, regardless of outer or inner circumstances, and let yourself sink into the peace of your innermost being.

Unless all of us take the responsibility for our own inner peace, the wars will continue.  We cannot wait any longer for someone else to change, We cannot wait for someone else to forgive us so that we can then forgive them.  We cannot wait for someone else to say they are sorry.  Peace cannot be postponed.






~ Gangaji
from the Diamond in your Pocket