Thursday, September 30, 2010

to exist clearly

Last evening a city man
Was talking in the hotel door
To everyone, including me.
He talked of justice, of the struggle to obtain
Justice, of the workers
Suffering: of unending work
Of hungry men, of rich men turning
Their backs to it all.
Then, looking at me, he saw me with tears
In my eyes.  He smiled, happy,
Thinking I felt the same hatred he felt
And the compassion
He claimed to feel.
(But I was hardly listening to him.
What do I care about people
And what they suffer, or suppose they suffer?
Let them be like me - they will not suffer.
All the ill in the world comes from people interfering
With one another:
Wanting to do good, wanting to do evil.
Our soul, heaven and earth, these are enough:
To want more is to lose these and be wretched.)
What I was thinking when this friend of man
Spoke (and this moved me to weep)
Was that the far murmur of cowbells
In the evening air
Was nothing like small chapel bells
Where flowers and brooks might have heard Mass
Along with simple souls
Simple as mine.
(Praise be to God I am not good and have
The natural selfishness of flowers
And rivers, going on their way
Concerned only, and not knowing it,
To flower and go.
This is the only mission in the world:
This - to exist clearly
And to know how
Without thinking about it.)
The man fell silent,
He viewed the setting sun.
But what have sunsets to do
With haters and lovers?
~ Thomas Merton
from the Portuguese of Fernando Pessoa
#8, of twelve poems from The Keeper of Flocks

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

life partakes of the freshness

Our zest for the river did not wane...
We went on in much the same way, in surroundings which had become familiar, 
with not even a flood to make the year memorable.
Ruts, however, are worn only in traveled ways on land: 
a river life partakes of the freshness of the river itself.  
Each rise and fall affords a new outlook 
and gives to a well-known shore the feel of one 
at which you have just landed for the first time...
~ Harlan Hubbard
from Shantyboat Journal
edited by Don Wallis

the current

For a long time some of us
lie in the marshes like dark coats
forgetting that we are water
dust gathers all day on our closed lids
weeds grow up through us
but the eels keep trying to tell us 
writing over and over in our mud
our heavenly names
and through us a thin cold current
never sleeps
its glassy feet move on until they find stones
then cloud fish call to it again
your heart is safe with us
bright fish flock to it again touch it
with their mouths say yes
have vanished
yes and black flukes wave to it
from the Lethe of whales
~ W.S. Merwin
from Migration, The Carrier of Ladders 1970


Monday, September 27, 2010

Hesitation: An Assay

Sometimes only a slowing
so momentary it can scarcely be seen -
as if a dog
chasing something large and swift and important,
were distracted by the white tremor of an overhead moth.
Other times a full lifetime tentative, lost.
The line of the roof in a child's crayoned drawing
can show a hesitation almost fatal.
The rain
comes to it hard or less hard,
knowing nothing of hesitations's rake-toothed debate
And the two lovers
now concealed around the corner?
They fool no one, not even themselves,
pausing in their own shadows outside a locked door.
If pleasure requires prolonging, then these lovers.
Yet slowness alone is not to be confused
with the scent of the plum tree just before it opens.
~ Jane Hirshfield
from After


our own limits transgressed

We need the tonic of wildness, 
to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and the meadow hen lurk, 
and hear the booming of the snipe; 
to smell the whispering sedge where only some wilder 
and more solitary fowl builds her nest, 
and the mink crawls with its belly close to the ground.  

At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, 
we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, 
that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed 
by us because it is unfathomable. 

We can never have enough of nature.  
We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, 
vast and titanic features, the seacoast with its wrecks, 
the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, 
the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets.

We need to witness our own limits transgressed, 
and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.

~ Thoreau
from Walden, "Spring," 1854
photo above by Kathleen Connally

Sunday, September 26, 2010

True freedom

True freedom and the end of suffering is living in such
a way as if you had completely chosen whatever
you feel or experience at this moment.
This inner alignment with Now is the end of suffering.
Is suffering really necessary? Yes and no.
If you had not suffered as you have, 
there would be no depth to you as a human being, 
no humility, no compassion.
You would not be reading this now. 
Suffering cracks open the shell of ego, 
and then comes a point when it has served its purpose.
Suffering is necessary until you realize it is unnecessary.
~ Eckhart Tolle

Friday, September 24, 2010

I am fishing with the one who made the river

When I go out on the water at night, and as I bait hooks, watch Cassiopeia, rising in the eastern sky, draw up her fishingline, Perseus with the misty Pleiads as bait and bright Venus caught, and then all grow dim in the faint beginning light of dawn, then I feel that I am fishing with the one who made the river and set her flowing.  I feel its length and sinuous flowing, fed by swift streams in the wooded eastern mountains; and somewhere, through a country unknown to me except by hearsay, past the mouths of new rivers and towns known only by name, it will at last enter an ocean and lose its identity, as I will too, at the end of my devious flowing.
~ Harlan Hubbard
from Shantyboat Journal
edited by Don Wallis

dog still barking at midnight

It has come to this:
three ants, seemingly separate, seemingly aimless,
wandering on a shelf.
They've appeared and disappeared for days between jars and bottles.
Luckless, they move without pausing.
A single breath-puff could send any one to the floor.
How distant they must be from the nest -
yet none consults with another,
none turns to the others for reassurance or warmth.
In their cold bodies: calcium, carbons, a trace of nickel.
Inexhaustible solitude, how did you come so far
to waver on the slim antennae of these my sisters?
~ Jane Hirshfield

the promise

Mysteriously they entered, those few minutes.
Mysteriously, they left.
As if the great dog of confusion guarding my heart,
who is always sleepless, suddenly slept.
It was not any awakening of the large, not so much as that,
only a stepping back from the petty.
I gazed at the range of blue mountains,
I drank from the stream.  Tossed in a small stone from the bank.
Whatever direction the fates of my life might travel, I trusted.
Even the greedy direction, even the grieving, trusted.
There was nothing left to be saved from, bliss nor danger.
The dogs tail wagged a little in his dream.
~ Jane Hirshfield
from After
photo by shreve stockton

Thursday, September 23, 2010

That Time of Year thou mayst in me Behold

That time of year thou mayst in me behold 
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang 
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. 
In me thou see'st the twilight of such day 
As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by and by black night doth take away, 
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest. 
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire 
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, 
As the death-bed whereon it must expire, 
Consum'd with that which it was nourish'd by. 
This thou perceiv'st, which makes thy love more strong, 
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
~ William Shakespeare
sonnet LXXIII

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

woman in red coat

Some questions cannot be answered.
They become familiar weights in the hand,
round stones pulled from the pocket,
unyielding and cool.
Your fingers travel their surfaces,
lose themselves finally
in the braille of the durable world.
Look out of any window, it's the same --
the yellow leaves, the wintering light.
A truck passes, piled deep in cut wood.
A woman, in a red wool coat,
sees you watching and quickly looks away.
~ Jane Hirshfield 
from Of Gravity and Angels

Let life happen

For one human being to love another; 
that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, 
the ultimate, the last test and proof, 
the work for which all other work is but preparation. 
I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people: 
that each protects the solitude of the other. 
This is the miracle that happens every time to those who really love: 
the more they give, the more they possess.
There are no classes in life for beginners; 
right away you are always asked to deal with what is most difficult.
Believe that with your feelings and your work you are taking part in the greatest; 
the more strongly you cultivate this belief, 
the more will reality and the world go forth from it. 
If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; 
blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; 
for the Creator, there is no poverty.
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting 
to see us once beautiful and brave. 
Perhaps everything terrible 
is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. 
The deepest experience of the creator is feminine, 
for it is experience of receiving and bearing.
The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens. 
Let life happen to you. 
Believe me: life is in the right, always.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

just now

In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for
not patient not even waiting no more hidden
than the air itself that became part of me for a while
with every breath and remained with me unnoticed
something that was here unnamed unknown in the days
and the nights not separate from them
not separate from them as they came and were gone
it must have been here neither early nor late then
by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks
~ W.S. Merwin
from The Pupil

being separated

Listen to the story told by the reed, 
of being separated. 
"Since I was cut from the reedbed, 
I have made this crying sound. 
Anyone apart from someone he loves 
understands what I say. 
Anyone pulled from a source 
longs to go back. 
At any gathering I am there, 
mingling in the laughing and grieving, 
a friend to each, but few 
will hear the secrets hidden 
within the notes. No ears for that. 
Body flowing out of spirit, 
spirit up from body: no concealing 
that mixing. But it's not given us 
to see the soul. The reed flute 
is fire, not wind. Be that empty." 
Hear the love fire tangled 
in the reed notes, as bewilderment 
melts into wine. The reed is a friend 
to all who want the fabric torn 
and drawn away. The reed is hurt 
and salve combining. Intimacy 
and longing for intimacy, one 
song. A disastrous surrender 
and a fine love, together. The one 
who secretly hears this is senseless. 
A tongue has one customer, the ear. 
A sugarcane flute has such effect 
because it was able to make sugar 
in the reedbed. The sound it makes 
is for everyone. Days full of wanting, 
let them go by without worrying 
that they do. Stay where you are 
inside such a pure, hollow note. 
Every thirst gets satisfied except 
that of these fish, the mystics, 
who swim a vast ocean of grace 
still somehow longing for it! 
No one lives in that without 
being nourished every day. 
But if someone doesn't want to hear 
the song of the reed flute
it's best to cut conversation 
short, say good-bye, and leave.
~ Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks
from The essential Rumi


a strange thing is loneliness

What a strange thing is loneliness, and how frightening it is! We never allow ourselves to get too close to it; and if by chance we do, we quickly run away from it. We will do anything to escape from loneliness, to cover it up. Our conscious and unconscious preoccupation seems to be to avoid it or to overcome it. Avoiding and overcoming loneliness are equally futile; though suppressed or neglected, the pain, the problem, is still there. You may lose yourself in a crowd, and yet be utterly lonely; you may be intensely active, but loneliness silently creeps upon you; put the book down, and it is there. Amusements and drinks cannot drown loneliness; you may temporarily evade it, but when the laughter and the effects of alcohol are over, the fear of loneliness returns. You may be ambitious and successful, you may have vast power over others, you may be rich in knowledge, you may worship and forget yourself in the rigmarole of rituals; but do what you will, the ache of loneliness continues. You may exist only for your son, for the Master, for the expression of your talent; but like the darkness, loneliness covers you. You may love or hate, escape from it according to your temperament and psychological demands; but loneliness is there, waiting and watching, withdrawing only to approach again.
J. Krishnamurti
from his Commentaries on Living Series I

to waiting

You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone 
who will be different 
someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be 
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you
meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not see yet
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself
with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long
W.S. Merwin
from Present Company
art by Picasso

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

to the happy few

Do you know who you are
O you forever listed
under some other heading
when you are listed at all
You whose addresses
when you have them 
are never sold except
for another reason
something else that is
supposed to identify you
who carry no card
stating that you are -
what would it say you were
to someone turning it over
looking perhaps for
a date or for
anything to go by
you with no secret handshake
no proof of membership
no way to prove such a thing
even to yourselves
you without a word
of explanation
and only yourselves
as evidence
~ W.S. Merwin
from Present Company
photo by edmund teske

Where is he now

Where is he now, who leaving wealth behind
grew so bold in poverty
that he threw off his clothes before the bishop
and stood naked in the square?

The most inward and loving of all,
he came forth like a new beginning,
the brown-robed brother of your nightingales,
with his wonder and goodwill
and delight in Earth...

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
III,33, The book of Poverty and Death
translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows


Monday, September 20, 2010

each our own death

God, give us each our own death,
the dying that proceeds
from each of our lives:

the way we loved,
the meanings we made,
our need.


For we are only the rind and the leaf,

The great death, that each of us carries inside,
is the fruit.

Everything enfolds it.


~ Rainer Maria Rilke
  The Book of Poverty and Death
translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

Sunday, September 19, 2010

can't see the path or any distance

It feels as though I make my way 
through massive rock
like a vain of ore
alone, encased.

I am so deep inside it
I can't see the path or any distance:
everything us close
and everything closing in on me
has turned to stone.

Since I still don't know enough about pain,
this terrible darkness makes me small.
If it's you, though -

press down hard on me, break in
that I may know the weight of your hand,
and you, the fullness of my cry.

Rainer Maria Rilke
The Book of Poverty and Death III,1
translated by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows
(See interview with Joanna Macy)

he keeps on going

Sometimes a man rises from the supper table
and goes outside.  And he keeps on going
because somewhere to the east there's a church.
His children bless his name as if he were dead.
Another man stays at home until he dies,
stays with plates and glasses.
So then it is his children who go out
into the world, seeking the church that he forgot.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from The Book of Pilgrimage, II,19

Friday, September 17, 2010

The ocean moves

The ocean moves, not because it wishes to move 
or because it knows that it is wise or good: 
it moves involuntarily, unconscious of movement.  
It is thus that you also will return to Tao, 
and when you have returned, you will not know it, 
because you yourself would have become Tao.
~ Wu Wei

The past, the future... sands blown by the wind

Neither time nor space exists for the man who knows the eternal.

Space and time are real for the man who is yet imperfect and space is divided for him into dimensions, time into past, present and future. He looks behind him and sees his birth, his acquisitions, all that he has rejected. That past is being continually modified by the future which is ever being added to it. From the past man turns his eyes to the future where death, the unknown, the darkness, the mystery, await him.
Fascinated by these he can no longer detach himself from them. The mystery of the future holds for him the fulfillment of all his desires, which the past has denied to him, and in his dreams he flies to that brilliant horizon where happiness must exist, where he must seek it.
No one will ever pierce the infinite mystery of the future - impenetrable in its evanescent illusion - neither magician, prophet nor God! But on the contrary it will be the mystery which will engulf man, which will not let him escape, which will break the mainspring of his life.
Life is not to be approached through the past, nor through the mirage of the future. Life cannot be approached through intermediaries, nor conquered for another.
That discovery can only be made in the immediate present - by the individual for himself and not for others - by the individual who has become the eternal "I". That eternal "I" is created by the perfection of the self - perfection in which all things are contained, even human imperfections. Man, not yet having achieved that condition of life in the present, lives in the past which he regrets, lives in the future where he
hopes, but never in the present which he ignores. This is the case with all men.
Balanced between the past and the future, the "I" is poised as a tiger ready to spring, as an eagle ready to fly, as the bow at the moment of releasing the arrow.
This moment of equilibrium, of high tension, is "creation." It is the fullness of all life, it is immortality.
The wind of the desert sweeps away all trace of the traveller.
The sole imprint is the footstep of the present. The past, the future... sands blown by the wind.
~ J. Krishnamurti
taken from: From Darkness to Light

Thursday, September 16, 2010

They dwell in lowly spots

The best, like water, 
Benefit all and do not compete. 
They dwell in lowly spots that everyone else scorns. 
Putting others before themselves, 
They find themselves in the foremost place 
And come very near to the Tao. 
~ Lao Tzu

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A day comes

A day comes
when the mouth grows tired
of saying "I."
Yet it is occupied
still by a self which must speak.
Which still desires,
is curious.
Which believes it has also a right.
What to do?
The tongue consults with the teeth
it knows will survive
both mouth and self,
which grin - it is their natural pose -
and say nothing.
~ Jane Hirshfield
from "After"

Time became as smooth and even as the current

I worked too hard and furiously about the boat last week, trying to get the interior more or less complete, so as to get at the construction of a johnboat.  But I suddenly came to myself, realizing that none of it mattered a great deal, and I was losing much by my absorption in it.  We are really comfortable here, with the chores inside and out easy enough to do.  All that we plan to do will make for added comfort, convenience and neatness, but will come in time, and leisure must be had for other activities and for just living, or we will miss our way.
Time became as smooth and even as the current outside our windows, and we began to realize our true aims in coming to the river... 
I had no theories to prove.
~ Harlan Hubbard 
bookcover art by the author

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tear: An Assay

A great philosopher is born, walks his lifetime's allotment of footsteps, and dies, but while he is living he has the demeanor and body and voice of a great clown.   Each of his propositions is heard, but met with snorts, guffaws, and the wiping of tears of laughter from the eyes.  Or perhaps it is the reverse: A great comic is born, walks the earth, and dies.  But her demeanor and body and voice are such that people listen gravely, they nod in silence at her words, are moved to weeping by the feelings her thoughts cause to rise.  The composition to tears of laughter and tears of grief is not, it seems, the same, though the tongue cannot tell this.  Different still the tears of outrage, or the tears that come from a misplace dust mote, errant eyelash, of flake of soot.  Each brought to the earth a great if different pleasure.  Each died unsatisfied and angry, though this too is not perceived.   And where does the mistake lie, if a mistake is granted at all?  In the person who refuses an inescapable fate, or in those who shed at his works their tears of subtly erroneous composition?

~ Jane Hirshfield
art by aiden-ivanov

some wholly communal thing


Happy who know that behind all speeches
still the unspeakable lies;
that it's from there that greatness reaches
us in the form we prize!

Trusting not to the diversely fashioned
bridges of difference we outfling:
so that we gaze out of every impassioned
joy at some wholly communal thing.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Youth of Grass

Yesterday in the hushed white sunlight 
down along the meadows by the river
through all the bright hours they cut the first hay
of this year to leave it tossed in long rows
leading into the twilight and long evening
while thunderheads grumbled from the horizon
and now the whole valley and the slopes around it 
that look down to the sky in the river
are fragrant with hay as this night comes in
and the owl cries across the new spaces
to the mice suddenly missing their sky
and so the youth of this spring all at once is over 
it has come upon us again taking us
once more by surprise just as we began
to believe that those fields would always be green
~ W.S. Merwin