Friday, February 22, 2013

the birds' doubt





The hoopoe intones: 'So you must desire with your heart and more
Beyond the enticement of words and knowledge of the stars.
You must want with all your being, you must be sure
Of your substance, which first you have to find far
Within you, to mine your soul's gold to start on the Way.
If you cannot stomach a grain nor sip a simple glass
How do you think that you can sit at the Simurgh's table, pray?
If you drown in a drop, blotted out by a hand's pass,
You will never learn to plumb the depths nor rise 
To the heaven you say you seek, that waits for you.
You must learn to be bewildered, restore surprise
In your heart and eyes, and learn to know what's true.'
The birds consider his challenge with hooded eyes, let it burn
Their serried minds, then they reply: 'We are weak
And aimless atoms, we have no wit to seek and discern
Him who stands above and beyond yet within, we cannot seek
What we do not understand.  He is Solomon, the Ark
That contains us all, we are peripheral, mere ants
At the bottom of the pit scrabbling about in the dark.
We cannot see nor speak of the great Simurgh, we pant
With trepidation when we even begin to consider His being;
He is beyond all moral exchange, or the burden of seeing.'
The hoopoe hears these words with rising ire:
'You are without true aspiration, your hearts are 
Devoid of discrimination, you chatter as you enter the fire
Unwittingly, you fail to see that you can be within that far
And near mystery if only you would charter love and set out
With opened eyes, do not falter, discount your petty life here.
He is the light that ferries shadows which crave to live without
But always fail, His gaze turns them into fleeing birds where
All is form and substance erased; you are shadows of His word.
You must pierce this empty space with your shadowed mind
And if you speak with the discipline of love, you will sense
The Simurgh's shadow which is you, and in your desert find
The Way, that ocean in which you can immerse yourself, in His being
That resides in your heart and in the planted stars without you seeing.'




~ Farid ud-Din Attar
from The Conference of Birds
interpreted by Raficq Abdulla
photo of the Folger Shakespear Theatre's production
by Scott Suchman


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

as intimately as if it were your own body





When I start to write, I’m not a guide or teacher; I’m not even a poet. I’m a person far out at sea, and the poem is a raft made of whatever floats past in the water. Those almost accidental rescuing pieces are words, rhythms, musics, ideas, the memory that is mine and the memory that is all of ours and the memory that is held in language itself. The experience of writing, for me at least, isn’t confidence or wisdom; it’s closer to desperation. You are naked as Odysseus when he’s lost his ship and all his men, before he’s met by the courageous young girl Nausicaa—a version perhaps of the rescuing muse, who helps us find our way back into the world shared with others but only if we bring our own resourcefulness to the situation as well. There is some faint memory that this raft business has worked before, some memory of knot-tying, of the intention to live. There is that in us that recognizes: “this is water; this is land.” A poem is land found, as if for the first time. If I already knew what it would hold, I wouldn’t need the poem, and if what it holds were knowable by any other words or way, I wouldn’t need the poem. 

 You have to welcome both your own strangeness and your own fierceness. And you have to have an ear, an eye, that will recognize when a poem has stumbled in its music, seeing, courage, or path, so you can know that you need to work with it further, to ask of it more.

[Poems offer] A door. One that stands outside our usual addresses and maps—or more truly, perhaps, many doors at once, that lead simultaneously outward and inward, into both the life we share with others and the privacy in which self can take stock with original eyes. I hope my poems might offer: “Here is one experience of life, of its possibilities, exhilarations, bewilderments, griefs. Enter. Now, here is another.” When we bring that spirit of openness, permeability, exploration, and courage into our lives and our hands, everything else follows: a deeper saturation and compassion, a recalibrating sense of proportion, an increase of the possible. Good poems make clarity without making simple. They do not erase darkness; if anything, they open into it.

It's odd perhaps that many of the moments in my life I'm most grateful for are those in which nothing seems to have happened. Yet everything that followed was changed by those moments outside of eventfulness, because I was changed. Thought takes time, feeling takes time. The deepest thought and feeling stop time entirely. You disappear into the poem, the painting, the mountain, the music, the idea, the emotion, the loved person. You disappear into action, even, as every athlete or dancer knows. And by that disappearance, you become your own fullest self, unlimited by ego or skin. Something in us recognizes the sanity of not being so worried about periphery and center. You emerge from those time-stopping moments more able to take care of both your own life and the lives of everyone and everything, which are also yours. If a slope in Patagonia is ruined by toxins or erosion, that's felt as intimately as if it were your own body.




~ Jane Hirshfield 
from an interview with Kim Rosen


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

opening








~ Coleman Barks and Robert Bly
with Bill Moyers
on Rumi


throw it all away





take each step
then throw it all away again,
suddenly,  beauty
overflows 



~ Hermann Hesse
from Rosshalde

all paths






And he who defines his conduct by ethics
imprisons his song-bird in a cage.
The freest song comes not through bars
and wires.
And he to whom worshiping is a window,
to open but also to shut,
has not yet visited the house of his soul
whose windows are from dawn to dawn.
...
And if you would know God be not
therefore a solver of riddles.
Rather look about you and you shall see
Him playing with your children.
And look into space; you shall see Him 
walking in the cloud, outstretching His arms
in the lightning and descending in rain.
You shall see Him smiling in flowers,
then rising and waving His hands in trees.





~ Kahlil Gibran
from The Prophet


Sunday, February 17, 2013

hands and shadows







While the hand moves
the shadow must follow.
Since the shadow gains its substance
from the hand
it has none of itself.
That which derives existence
from something else
how can we say
it truly exists?
It has a name, yes,
but is not that existence
which subsists through God.




~ Fakhruddin 'Iraqi
from Divine Flashes

to see things as he sees them





To love another as a person we must begin by granting
 him his own autonomy and identity as a person. 
We have to love him for what he is in himself, 
and not for what he is to us. 

We have to love him for his own good, 
not for the good we get out of him. 

And this is impossible unless we are capable of a love 
which ‘transforms’ us, so to speak, into the other person, 
making us able to see things as he sees them, love what he loves, 
experience the deeper realities of his own life as if they were our own. 

Without sacrifice, such a transformation is utterly impossible. 
But unless we are capable of this kind of transformation 
‘into the other’ 
while remaining ourselves, 
we are not yet capable of a fully human existence.




~ Thomas Merton
from Disputed Questions


Saturday, February 16, 2013

nothing except what he is




The Poetry Society of America has bestowed its highest honor, 
the Robert Frost Medal, to Robert Bly
The award is for "distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry."


people like us

There are more like us. All over the world
There are confused people, who can't remember
The name of their dog when they wake up, and people
Who love God but can't remember where

He was when they went to sleep. It's
All right. The world cleanses itself this way.
A wrong number occurs to you in the middle
Of the night, you dial it, it rings just in time

To save the house. And the second-story man
Gets the wrong address, where the insomniac lives,
And he's lonely, and they talk, and the thief
Goes back to college. Even in graduate school,

You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken 
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul,
And greatness has a defender, and even in death you're safe.


~ Robert Bly
from Morning Poems



***

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.





~ Hermann Hesse
from Trees, Reflections and Poems


find your real being





There will be marriage, there will be children, 
there will be earning money to maintain a family; 
all this will happen in the natural course of events, 
for destiny must fulfill itself; you will go through it without resistance, 
facing tasks as they come, attentive and thorough, 
both in small things and big. 

But the general attitude will be of affectionate detachment, 
enormous goodwill, without expectation of return, 
constant giving without asking. 

In marriage you are neither the husband nor the wife; 
you are the love between the two. 

You are the clarity and kindness that makes everything orderly and happy. 
It may seem vague to you, but if you think a little, 
you will find that the mystical is most practical, 
for it makes your life creatively happy. 

Your consciousness is raised to a higher dimension, 
from which you see everything much clearer and with greater intensity. 

You realize that the person you became at birth 
and will cease to be at death is temporary and false. 

You are not the sensual, emotional and intellectual person, 
gripped by desires and fears. Find out your real being. 

What am I? 
is the fundamental question of all philosophy and psychology. 
Go into it deeply.





~ Nisargadatta
with thanks to ragavairagya




Thursday, February 14, 2013

the promise






Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
They bowed
their heads lower.

Stay, I said to the spider,
who fled.

Stay, leaf.
It reddened,
embarrassed for me and itself.

Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does,
obedient for a moment,
soon starting to tremble.

Stay, to the earth
of riverine valley meadows,
of fossiled escarpments,
of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back
with a changing expression, in silence.

Stay, I said to my loves.
Each answered,
Always.






~ Jane Hirshfield





Saturday, February 9, 2013

near field




This is not something new or kept secret
the tilled ground unsown in late spring
the dead are not separate from the living
each has one foot in the unknown
and cannot speak for the other
the field tells none of its turned story
it lies under its low cloud like a waiting river
the dead made this out of their hunger
out of what they had been told
out of the pains and shadows
and bowels of animals
out of turning and 
coming back singing
about another time



~ W. S. Merwin
from The Shadow of Sirius
photo by Kathleen Connally



prayer of the heart




In meditation we do not seek to know about God as though he were an object like other objects which submit to our scrutiny and can be expressed in clear scientific ideas. We seek to know God himself, beyond the level of all the objects which he has made and which confront us as “things” isolated from one another, “defined,” “delimited,” with clear boundaries. The infinite God has no boundaries and our minds cannot set limits to him or to his love. His presence is then “grasped” in the general awareness of loving faith; it is “realized” without being scientifically and precisely known, as we know a specimen under a microscope. His presence cannot be verified as we would verify a laboratory experiment. Yet it can be spiritually realized as long as we do not insist on verifying it. As soon as we try to verify the spiritual presence as an object of exact knowledge, God eludes us.

In a word, God is invisibly present to the ground of our being: our belief and love attain to him, but he remains hidden from the arrogant gaze of our investigating mind which seeks to capture him and secure permanent possession of him in an act of knowledge that gives power over him. It is in fact absurd and impossible to try to grasp God as an object which can be seized and comprehended by our minds.

The knowledge of which we are capable is simply knowledge about him. It points to him in analogies which we must transcend in order to reach him. But we must transcend ourselves as well as our analogies, and in seeking to know him we must forget the familiar subject-object relationship which characterizes our ordinary acts of knowing. Instead, we know him insofar as we become aware of ourselves as known through and through by him. We “possess” him in proportion as we realize ourselves to be possessed by him in the inmost depths of our being. Meditation or “prayer of the heart” is the active effort we make to keep our hearts open so that we may be enlightened by him and filled with this realization of our true relationship to him. Therefore the classic form of “meditation” is repetitive invocation of the name of Jesus in the heart emptied of images and cares.

Hence the aim of meditation in the context of Christian faith, is not to arrive at an objective and apparently “scientific” knowledge about God, but to come to know him through the realization that our very being is penetrated with his knowledge and love for us.




~ Thomas Merton
from On Meditation
with thanks to the value of sparrows
sketch by the author



Friday, February 8, 2013

there is no poverty





There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, "I must," then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge.
Then draw near to nature. Pretend you are the very first man and then write what you see and experience, what you love and lose. Do not write love poems, at least at first; they present the greatest challenge. It requires great, fully ripened power to produce something personal, something unique, when there are so many good and sometimes even brilliant renditions in great numbers. Beware of general themes. Cling to those that your every- day life offers you. Write about your sorrows, your wishes, your passing thoughts, your belief in anything beautiful. Describe all that with fervent, quiet, and humble sincerity. In order to express yourself, use things in your surroundings, the scenes of your dreams, and the subjects of your memory.
If your everyday life appears to be unworthy subject matter, do not complain to life. Complain to yourself. Lament that you are not poet enough to call up its wealth. For the creative artist there is no poverty—nothing is insignificant or unimportant. Even if you were in a prison whose walls would shut out from your senses the sounds of the outer world, would you not then still have your childhood, this precious wealth, this treasure house of memories? Direct your attention to that. Attempt to resurrect these sunken sensations of a distant past. You will gain assuredness. Your aloneness will expand and will become your home, greeting you like the quiet dawn. Outer tumult will pass it by from afar.




~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from Letters to a Young Poet  (the first letter)
translated by Joan M. Burnham


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

opening





Opening the letter of the body's life
inside the words.  This body, your life, is a letter
to the king of the universe.

Go to a private place and open it and read to see if
the words are right.  If they

aren't, start another!  And don't think it's easy to open
the body and read the secret

message.  This is the most courageous work, not something
for children playing with knucklebones in the dirt.

Open to the title page.  Is what it says there the same as what you
have said it says?  If

you're carrying a heavy sack, empty out the stones!  Bring
only what should be given.




~ Rumi
from The Soul of Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks



Monday, February 4, 2013

5 Japanese songs







~ Kathleen Battle



clarity and confusion





VII. 
There are, in fact, moments when a person stands out from his grandeur in clarity and silence before you. These are rare festive pleasures that you never forget. You love this person from then on. In other words, you work to retrace with your own tender hands the outlines of the personality that you came to know in this hour.


VII. 
Art does the same thing. For art is a farther reaching, more immodest love. It is God’s love. It cannot stop with an individual, who is only the portal of life itself: it must move through that individual. It cannot tire. To fulfill its destiny, it has to appear where everyone is — a someone. Then it bestows its gifts on this someone, and boundless riches come over everyone.


XI. 
Art has accomplished nothing, except to show us the confusion in which we already find ourselves most of the time. It has frightened us, rather than making us quiet and peaceful. It has shown us that we all live on different islands, only the islands are not far enough apart for us to stay solitary and untroubled. Someone on one island can pester someone on another, or terrorize him, or hunt him with spears — the only thing no one can do to anyone else is help him.





~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from Notes on the Melody of Things 
found in The Inner Sky 
translated by Damion Searls
photo by ansel adams




Sunday, February 3, 2013

watering the horse







How strange to think of giving up all ambition!
Suddenly I see with such clear eyes
The white flake of snow
That has just fallen in the horse's mane!



~ Robert Bly


Friday, February 1, 2013

and so I smile





The story about a man who was looking for his stray camel and asking after it.

You've lost a camel - now you seek it out;
On finding it, that it's yours you won't doubt.
You've lost the camel you are used to riding;
It has escaped your hold and now is hiding.
The caravan is ready to move on;
They have all packed up, but your camel's gone -
With parched lips you are searching left and right;
The caravan set off, and soon it's night.
Your things have just been left there on the ground,
While in your search you have been wandering round,
Asking: 'Who's seen a camel come this way?
It fled its stable earlier today.
About my camel pass me information
And I'll give you a generous compensation.'
You seek a clue like this from everyone,
So all the scoundrels see you and poke fun,
Jesting: 'We saw a camel head that way,
A reddish camel, searching for some hay.'
One asks, 'Was it crop-eared and quite perplexed?
'Its saddle was embroidered,' claims the next.
Another asks, 'Did it have just one eye?'
The next, 'Was it sick and about to die?'
Each wretch in hope of a reward from you
Presents to you his fabricated clue.



Explanation of the moral of the story about that person searching for his camel.

You've lost a camel that belongs to you
And everyone is offering you a clue;
You don't know where that camel chose to go,
But that their clues are false you clearly know.
A man who hasn't lost a camel now
Competes with you in searching anyhow;
He'll claim, 'I've lost a camel, everyone!
I'll give a big reward for her return.'
To share your camel is this mimic's aim;
Because he covets yours, he plays this game.
From false clues he can't tell a truthful clue,
But, for this mimic, your words serve as cue:
If you declare, 'That clues's false!' you will see 
Him do the same, but it's mimicry.
And if a man gives clues you think are true,
Sureness which leaves no doubt then comes to you:
Such clues heal your sick soul of all its pain;
You health, strength, and complexion you regain,
Your eyes light up, your feet feel quick anew,
Body like soul, and soul like spirit too!
'You were right, truthful friend!' you then will say,
In which are signs of truthful information.
You have truth's license and you've earned salvation!'
When someone's given such a clue, you'll say:
'It's time for action, so please lead the way!
Truth-teller, I will follow from behind;
With this clue my lost camel you will find.'
To that man who did not before possess
That camel, but who seeks it none the less,
More certainty will not come from this clue
Unless it's through a man whose search is true:
He'll see from your zeal that the clue is serious,
And that your screams of joy are not delirious.

That liar has no claim, but still I say
He's also lost a camel in a way;
Desire for someone else's veils his mind,
So he's forgotten what he's left behind.
The owner runs to search; he follows there;
Through greed, the owner's pain he starts to share:
A liar in the truthful's company
Will find his lies become truths suddenly.
Where your stray camel is when you've been brought,
This mimic finds his stray, which he'd not sought;
He first recalls her when he sees her, then
He covets no more those of other men.
That mimic's search first starts thus when his eyes
Notice his own lost camel by surprise:
He only seeks to find his camel when
By chance he sees her; he'd not searched till then.

From that point he learns to move on alone,
Now having opened his eyes to his own.
The truthful man asks, 'Have you left at last?
Is your concern about me in the past?'
He says, 'Till now I simply would pretend;
Desire made me your sycophantic friend,
But now I sympathize deep in my heart,
Though, through this search, we have been led apart.
I stole descriptions of her straight from you;
My soul was stunned, though, when mine came to view.
I wasn't seeking her, if truth be told -
Copper has now been overwhelmed by gold:
My evil deeds were righteous deeds somehow -
Folly has left and seriousness rules now!
My sins became the means to reach the Lord -
Don't criticize them any more, applaud!
Sincerity made you a seeker, while
My search led me to it, and so I smile:
Your search was due to your sincerity;
Sincerity, through seeking, came to me!
I sowed my fortune's seed in fertile soil,
Although I'd thought it would be fruitless toil.
It wasn't unpaid work to my surprise:
I sowed one seed and saw a hundred rise.
A thief had sneaked into a house at night -
He saw it was his own house in the light.'

Be warm, cold one, so more heat reaches you;
Accept the rough, so smoothness finds you too!
There was one camel in reality;
Words can't reach meaning's depth...




~ Rumi
from The Masnavi, Book Two
translation by Jawid Mojaddedi



transformed into love








~ Franz Peter Schubert
performed by Andrea Bocelli


Schubert at the piano - by Gustav Klimt


When I wished to sing of love,
 it turned to sorrow. 
And when I wished to sing of sorrow, 
it was transformed for me into love.

~ Schubert