Saturday, May 29, 2010

the whole of life

You must understand the whole of life, not just one little part of it. 
That is why you must read, that is why you must look at the skies, 
that is why you must sing, and dance, and write poems, and suffer, 
and understand, for all that is life.
- Jiddu Krishnamurti

Friday, May 28, 2010

Standing Deer

As the house of a person
in age sometimes grows cluttered
with what is
too loved or too heavy to part with,
the heart may grow cluttered.
And still the house will be emptied,
and still the heart.

As the thoughts of a person
in age sometimes grow sparer,
like a great cleanness come into a room,
the soul may grow sparer;
one sparrow song carves it completely.
And still the room is full,
and still the heart.

Empty and filled,
like the curling half-light of morning,
in which everything is still possible and so why not.

Filled and empty,
like the curling half-light of evening,
in which everything now is finished and so why not.

Beloved, what can be, what was,
will be taken from us.
I have disappointed.
I am sorry. I knew no better.

A root seeks water.
Tenderness only breaks open the earth.
This morning, out the window,
the deer stood like a blessing, then vanished.

~ Jane Hirschfield
(The Lives of the Heart)

Lute Music


The Earth will be going on a long time
Before it finally freezes;
Men will be on it; they will take names,
Give their deeds reasons.
We will be here only
As chemical constituents—
A small franchise indeed.
Right now we have lives,
Corpuscles, Ambitions, Caresses,
Like everybody had once—

Here at the year's end, at the feast
Of birth, let us bring to each other
The gifts brought once west through deserts—
The precious metal of our mingled hair,
The frankincense of enraptured arms and legs,
The myrrh of desperate, invincible kisses—
Let us celebrate the daily
Recurrent nativity of love,
The endless epiphany of our fluent selves,
While the earth rolls away under us
Into unknown snows and summers,
Into untraveled spaces of the stars.

~ Kenneth Rexroth
(Sacramental Acts)

i am a little church

i am a little church(no great cathedral)
far from the splendor and squalor of hurrying cities
-i do not worry if briefer days grow briefest,
i am not sorry when sun and rain make april

my life is the life of the reaper and the sower;
my prayers are prayers of earth's own clumsily striving
(finding and losing and laughing and crying)children
whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness

around me surges a miracle of unceasing
birth and glory and death and resurrection:
over my sleeping self float flaming symbols
of hope,and i wake to a perfect patience of mountains

i am a little church(far from the frantic
world with its rapture and anguish)at peace with nature
-i do not worry if longer nights grow longest;
i am not sorry when silence becomes singing

winter by spring,i lift my diminutive spire to
merciful Him Whose only now is forever:
standing erect in the deathless truth of His presence
(welcoming humbly His light and proudly His darkness)

~ e.e.cummings
.from E. E. Commings:Selected Poems


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Jacob's Dream

(After the painting Jacob's Dream by William Blake and Genesis 28: 11-17)

A young man leaving home 
For long years to be gone
Might fall asleep and dream,
His head upon a stone.

A stair appears that bends
In spiral toward the light,
The bright Orb where it ends,
Though he sleeps through the night,

Darkened, below the stars.
Angel in constant motion 
Walk up and down the stairs.
Delight and clear devotion

Make graceful all they do.
The light and dark are bound,
Heaven to all below,
Bright stair and stony ground

In on light joined. In sleep
The dreamer wakes. He sees 
Above the stars the deep
Of Heaven opened. Is

He living, then, his part
Of Heaven's earthly life?
And what shall be the art
By which this sight can live?

Darkened upon the earth, 
He fills with light, is made
A witness to high Truth
And so a man afraid.

His land - this meager sod,
These stones, this low estate -
Is the household of God.
And it is Heaven's gate.

~ Wendell Berry
Sabbaths 2004, I

They come singly

They come singly, the little streams,
Out of their solitude. They bear
In their rough fall a spate of gleams
That glance and dance in the morning air.
They come singly, and coming go
Ever downward toward the river
Into whose dark abiding flow
They come, now quieted, together.
In dark they mingle and are made
At one with light in highest flood
Embodied and inhabited,
The budded branch as red as blood.
~ Wendell Berry
Sabbaths 2004, II



We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn. 
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road. 
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive, 
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going? 
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles. 
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

~ Czeslaw Milosz

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

poetry reading


I'm curled into a ball
like a dog
that is cold.

Who will tell me 
why I was born,
why this monstrosity
called life.

The telephone rings.  I have to give
a poetry reading.

I enter.
A hundred people, a hundred pairs of eyes.
They look, they wait.

I am supposed to tell them
why they were born,
why there is 
this monstrosity called life.

~  Anna Swirszczynska
translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

never surrender a good question

A man tortured by doubt travels a great distance 
hoping to ask a famous teacher his question. 
 At first, the teacher's disciples will not allow the stranger into the study house, 
but one day he finds a way to slip in, approaches the Rebbe, and speaks:
 'Venerable Rebbe, forgive me for disturbing you,
 but I have traveled many weeks and waited many days
 for the chance to ask you a question 
that has troubled me all my adult life.' 
 'What is your question?', the teacher responds.  
The man asks, 'What is the essence of truth?'  
The Rebbe looks at his visitor for a moment, 
rises from his chair, approaches, and slaps him hard.
  Then he withdraws again to his books.
Shocked, the questioner retreats to a tavern across the way,
 bitterly and loudly complaining of his mistreatment.  
On of the teacher's disciples, overhearing, takes pity and explains:
 'The Rebbe's slap was given you in great kindness,
 to teach you this:
 never surrender a good question for a mere answer.'
~ Traditional Hasidic story

Izumi Shikibu

Watching the moon 
at midnight,
solitary, mid-sky,
I knew myself completely,
no part left out.
I cannot say 
which is which:
the glowing 
plum blossom is
the spring night’s moon.
It is true,
the wind blows terribly here -
but moonlight
also leaks between the roof planks
of this ruined house.
~ Izumi Shikibu, (974-1034)
She is considered by some to be the greatest woman poet of Japanese literature.
from:  Women in Praise of the Sacred, edited by Jane Hirshfield

until everything is continuous and whole again

First, forget what time it is for an hour.
Do it regularly every day.
Then forget what day of the week it is,
and do this regularly in company for a week.
Then forget what country you are in,
and practice doing it in company for a week,
and then do them together for a week
with as few breaks as possible.
Follow these by forgetting how to add
or to subtract.
It makes no difference.
You can change them around after a week.
Both will later help you to forget how to count.
Forget how to count,
starting with your own age,
starting with how to count backwards,
starting with even numbers,
with roman numerals,
starting with fractions,
with the old calendar,
going on to the alphabet,
forgetting it all until everything
is continuous and whole again.
~  W. S. Merwin

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Can You Imagine

For example, what the trees do
not only in lightening storms
or the watery dark of a summer's night
or under the white nets of winter
but now, and now, and now - whenever
we're not looking. Surely you can't imagine
they don't dance, from the root up, wishing
to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting
a better view, or more sun, or just as avidly
more shade - surely you can't imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind,
and then only in its own mood, comes
to visit, surely you can't imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.
~ Mary Oliver 

"the mind" instead of "my mind"

Imagine if for the next twenty-four hours you had to wear a cap 
that amplified your thoughts so that everyone 
within a hundred yards of you could hear 
every thought that passed through your head. 
Imagine if the mind were broadcast so that 
all about you could overhear your thoughts and fantasies,
 your dreams and fears. 
How embarrassed or fearful would you be to go outside? 
How long would you let your fear of the mind continue to isolate you from the hearts of others?
 And though this experiment sounds like one which few might care to participate in, 
imagine how freeing it would be at last to have nothing to hide.
 And how miraculous it would be to see that all others' minds too 
were filled with the same confusion and fantasies,
 the same insecurity and doubt.
 How long would it take the judgmental mind to begin to release its grasp,
 to see through the illusion of separateness,
 to recognize with some humor the craziness of all beings' minds,
 the craziness of mind itself?
~ Stephen and Ondrea Levine
Who Dies?

reblogged from:

Monday, May 24, 2010


One morning beginning to notice
which thoughts pull the spirit out of the body, and which return it.
How quietly the abandoned body keens,
like a bonsai maple surrounded by her dropped leaves.
Rain or objects call the forgotten back.
The droplets' placid girth and weight. The table's lack of ambition.
How strange it is that longing, too, becomes a small green bud,
thickening the vacant branch-length in early March.

~ Jane Hirshfield

One Life Is Spent

One life is spent, the other spends us.

Rarely, they touch -
like a cat for the first time meeting itself in a mirror.

In the world, mirrors are few.
The slightest wind dissolves them.

In a life, the moments of recognition are few.

Consciousness does not hate or love, it neither grieves nor longs.
Walking and breathing are not its nature.
It is.

Yet something passes and ends, grows wet in rain and then dries.

and the small bowl of kibble empties into a delicate, spotted paw,
a tail slightly kinked, a preference for one windowsill
over another.

~ Jane Hirshfield

Sunday, May 23, 2010

you are the future


You are the future,
the red sky before sunrise
over the fields of time.

You are the cock's crow when night is done,
you are the dew and the bells of matins,
maiden, stranger, mother, death.

You create yourself in ever-changing shapes 
that rise from the stuff of our days---
unsung, unmourned, undescribed,
like a forest we never knew.

You are the deep innerness of all things,
the last word that can never be spoken.
To each of us you reveal yourself differently:
to the ship as coastline, to the shore as a ship.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
(Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God)


Saturday, May 22, 2010


Its vision sweep its one path
like a aged monk raking a garden,
his question long ago answered or moved on.
Far off, night-grazing horses,
breath scented with oat grass and fennel,
step through it, disappear, step through it, disappear.

~ Jane Hirshfield

From Taos to Gallup and Canyon de Chelly

You still come to me like a fresh lover
Woman of brown and pale pink
I should have left everything for you
should have gone so deep into your heart
I'd get lost in yellow aspen leaves
stand on the straw of your autumn
I should never have taken another lover
I should have walked your hills
till my soles burned
till the sky, that old dwarf,
opened its secrets
till someone stopped whispering your name 1,000 miles away
~ Natalie Goldberg
painting, Abstract at Ghost Ranch,  by the author

Into this world

Let us die gracefully into this world
like a leaf pressed in stone
let us go quietly breathing our last breath
let  the sun continue to revolve in its great golden dance
let us leave it be as it is
and not hold on 
not even to the moon
tipped as it will be tonight 
and beckoning wildly in the sea
~ Natalie Goldberg

Friday, May 21, 2010

somewhere i have never traveled


somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will enclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of you eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain,has such small hands
e. e. cummings

the simple truth

And this is the simple truth - 
that to live is to feel oneself lost. 
He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, 
to be on firm ground. 
Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, 
he will look around for something to which to cling, 
and that tragic, ruthless glance,
absolutely sincere, 
because it is a question of his salvation,
will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. 
These are the only genuine ideas; 
the ideas of the shipwrecked.
All the rest is rhetoric, 
posturing, farce.
- Søren Kierkegaard

Thursday, May 20, 2010

no more real than is a cinematograph film

The human being may be no more real than is a cinematograph film. 
When the projected light is switched off all that remains is a blank screen. 
That which has been projected by light was a series of 'stills'.
Such also is what is being projected by 'life'. 

The more you consider the analogy 
the more perfect it seems to be: it could help us to understand.

~ Wei Wu Wei

The flower invites the butterfly

The flower invites the butterfly with no-mind;
The butterfly visits the flower with no-mind.
The flower opens, the butterfly comes;
The butterfly comes, the flower opens.
I don’t know others,
Others don’t know me.
By not-knowing 
we follow nature’s course
~ Ryokan

Instant Glimpsable Only for an Instant


Moment. Moment. Moment.

- equal inside you, moment,
the velocitous mountains and cities rising and falling,
songs of children, iridescence even of beetles.

It is not you the locust can strip of all leaf.

Untouchable green at the center,
the wolf too lopes past you and through you as he eats.

Insult to mourn you, you who mourn no one, unable.

Without transformation,
yours the role of the chorus, to whom nothing happens.
The living step forward: choosing to enter, to lose.

I, who am made of you only,
speak these words against your unmasterable instruction -

A knife cannot cut itself open,
yet you ask me both to be you and to know you.

~ Jane Hirshfield

To my granddaughters

To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust
Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin

Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,

for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know
there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.

But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light. It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace. It will be
your light.

~ Wendell Berry
from: A Timbered Choir

I Am Completely Different

I am completely different.
Though I am wearing the same tie as yesterday,
am as poor as yesterday,
as good for nothing as yesterday,
I am completely different.
Though I am wearing the same clothes,
am as drunk as yesterday,
living as clumsily as yesterday, nevertheless
I am completely different.

Ah ...
I patiently close my eyes
on all the grins and smirks
on all the twisted smiles and horse laughs---
and glimpse then, inside me
one beautiful white butterfly
fluttering towards tomorrow.

~ Kuroda Saburo

so small

With strokes that ring clear and metallic, the hour
to touch me bends down on its way:
my senses are quivering. I feel I've the power-
and I seize on the pliable day.

Not a thing was complete till by me it was eyed,
every kind of becoming stood still.
Now my glances are ripe and there comes like a bride
to each of them just what it will.

There's nothing so small but I love it and choose
to paint it gold-groundly and great
and hold it most precious and know not whose
soul it may liberate...

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Weighing

The heart's reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.

As the drought-starved
eland forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her,
enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.

So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.

The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.

~ Jane Hirshfield