Thursday, July 28, 2011

the darkness that comes with every infinite fall


You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.

So many live on and want nothing
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.

But what you love to see are faces
that so work and feel thirst…

You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Wednesday, July 27, 2011



A level of mental maturity is reached 
when nothing external is of any value 
and the heart is ready to relinquish all. 

Then the real has a chance and it grasps it. 
Delays, if any, are caused by the mind unwilling to see or to discard.

~ Nisargadatta Maharaj

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

silence and solitude


Trusting this more penumbral dimension brings us to new places in the human adventure. 
 But we have to let go in order to be; 
we have to stop forcing ourselves, 
or we will never enter our own belonging. 

 There is something ancient at work in us creating novelty. 
 In fact, you need very little in order to develop a real sense of your own spiritual individuality. 
 One of the things that is absolutely essential is silence, the other is solitude.

~ John O'Donohue
from Anam Cara

Monday, July 25, 2011

it depends on you

If in your heart you make
a manger for his birth,
then God will once again
become a child on earth.

~ Angelus Silesius

abundant heart

Because the pelicans circle and dive, the fish
Because the cows are fat, the rains
Because the tree is heavy with pears, the earth
Because the woman grows thin, the heart

~ Jane Hirshfield
from The Lives of the Heart

Sunday, July 24, 2011

heaven is only present

Hell is timely, for Hell is the thought
that Hell will go on, on and on, without end.
Heaven is only present, instantaneous and eternal,
a mayfly, a blue dayflower, a life entirely given,
complete forever in its hour.

~ Wendell Berry
from Leavings

silent in the moonlight

Silent in the moonlight, no beginning or end.
Alone, and not alone.  A man and a woman lie
On open ground, under an antelope robe.
They sleep under animal skin, looking up
At the old, clear stars.  How many years?
The robe thrown over them, rough
Where they sleep.  Outside, the moon, the plains
Silent in the moonlight, no beginning or end.

~ Robert Bly
from Talking into the Ear of a Donkey

Saturday, July 23, 2011

a sybil

Long before our time they called her old,
But she'd walk down the same road every day.
Her age became too much to say
In years — and, like a forest's, would be told 

In centuries. She comes to stand at dusk — 
Her spot each time the same — and to foretell.
She is a hollow, wrinkled husk,
Dark as a fire-gutted citadel. 

She has to turn her flock of talking loose
Or it will grow too crowded to relieve.
Flapping and screaming, words are flying all 

Around her. Then, returning home to roost,
They find a perch beneath her eyebrows' eaves,
And in that shadow wait for night to fall.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
art by picasso

Friday, July 22, 2011



Non-violence is perhaps the most exacting of all forms of struggle, 
not only because it demands first of all that one be ready to suffer evil 
and even face the threat of death without retaliation, 
but because it excludes mere transient self-interest, 
even political, from its considerations.

 ~ Thomas Merton

shark's teeth

Everything contains some
silence.  Noise gets
its zest from the
small shark's-tooth-
shaped fragments
of rest angled
in it. An hour
of city holds maybe
a minute of these
remnants of a time
when silence reigned,
compact and dangerous
as a shark.  Sometimes
a bit of a tail
or fin can still
be sensed in parks.

~ Kay Ryan
from The Best of It

born at each moment into the everlasting newness

My gaze is clear as a sunflower.
My way is to walk the roads
Looking right and left
And sometimes looking behind me...
What I see at each moment
Is that which I never
Caught sight of before.

I have the knack of full awareness
The knack of essential astonishment
That an infant might experience
If at birth he were aware
That he was actually born!
I feel myself born at each moment
Into the everlasting newness
of the world.

I believe in the world
As I believe in a daisy
Because I see it.
But I do not think about it
Because to think is to not-understand.
The world was not made 
For us to think about it
(To think is to have sick vision)
But for us to look at it and assent.

I have no philosophy: I have senses ...
If I talk of nature, that is not because
I know what nature is
But because I love it, and love is for this only:
For he who loves never knows what he loves
Or why he loves, or what love is.

Loving is eternal innocence
And the only innocence is not-thinking.

~ Fernando Pessoa
from The Keeper of the Flocks
translated by Thomas Merton
art by van gogh

poetry of gratefulness



Wednesday, July 20, 2011

the book of Camp Branch

Camp Branch, my native stream,
forever unreturning flows
from the town down to Cane Run
which flows to the river.  It is 
my native descent, my native
walk, my native thought
that stays and goes, passing
ever downward toward the sea.

Its sound is a song that flings up
the light to the undersides of leaves.
Its song and light are a way
of walking, a way of thought
moved by sound and sight.

It flows as deep in its hollow
as it can go, far down as it has
worn its way. Passing down
over its plunder of rocks, it makes
an irregular music.  Here 
is what I want to know.  Here
is what I am trying to say.

O brave Ross Feld, here is
no "fortification against time."
Here the fort has fallen 
and the water passes its benediction
over the shards, singing!

How much delight I've known
in navigating down the flow
by stepping stones, by sounding
stones, by words too that are
stepping and sounding stones.

Going down stone by stone,
the song of the water changes,
changing the way I walk
which changes my thought
as I go.  Stone to stone
the stream flows.  Stone to stone
the walker goes.  The words
stand stone still until
the flow moves them, changing
the sound - a new word -
a new place to step or stand.

In the notch of Camp Branch
the footing changes, year
to year, sometimes
day to day, as the surges
of the stream move the rocks.
Every walk, as Archie Ammons
said, "is a new walk." And so

go slow.  Let the mind
step with the feet
as the stream steps
downward over the rocks,
nowhere anywhere
but where it is.

In the crease of its making
the steep stream gathers
the seeps that come silently
down from the wooded slants.
Only there at the rockbed
of the branch do the waters break
into light, into singing

of water flowing over rocks
which, in its motion, the water
moves.  And so, singing, the song
changes, moved by music
harsh and crude: splashes,
slubbers, chuckles, and warbles,
the hollow tones of a bell,
a sustained pour, the small
fall steady as a column.

Sometimes, gentled, if you
stand while it flows, it seems
to meditate upon itself
and the hill's long changing
under the sun and rain.

A changing song,
a changing walk,
a changing thought.

A sounding stone,
a stepping stone,
a word
that is a sounding and a stepping

A language that is a stream flowing
and is a man's thought as he 
walks and thinks beside the stream.

His thoughts will hold
if the words will hold, if each
is a stone that will bear weight,
placed by the flow
in the flow.  The language too

descends through time, subserving
false economy, heedless power,
blown with the gas of salesmanship,
rattled with the sale of needless war,

worn by the mere unhearing
babble of thoughtlessness,
and must return to its own 
downward flow by the flowing
water, the muttered syllables,
the measureless music, the stream
flowing and singing, the man
walking and thinking, balanced
on unsure footholds
in the flowing stream.

"Make sense," I told myself,
the song of the tumbling waters
in my ears.  The sense you make
may make its way along the stream,
but it will not be the stream's sense
you make, nor yet your own
quite, for the flux of language
will make its claim too
upon your walk, upon the stream.

The words fall at last
onto the page, the turning leaf
in the Book of Camp Branch
in time's stream.  As the eye,
as the mind, moves from
moving water to turning page,
what is lost?  What, worse,
is lost if the words falsify
the stream in your walk beside it?
To be carried or to resist
you must be a stone
in the way.  You must be
a stone rolled away.

The song changes by singing
into a different song.
It sings by falling.  The water
descending in its old groove
wears it new.  The words descending
to the page render the possible
into the actual, by wear,
for better or worse, renew
the wearied mind.  This is only
the lowly stream of Camp Branch,
but every stream is lowly.
Only low in the land does 
the water flow.  It goes
to seek the level that is lowest,
the silence that gathers
many songs, the darkness
made of many lights,
and then by the sun is raised
again into the air.

~ Wendell Berry
from Leavings
art by Norma Herring

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

to see, to hear, to hold, more carefully

O saints, if I am even eligible  for this prayer,
though less than worthy of this dear desire,
and if your prayers have influence in Heaven,
let my place there be lower than your own.
I know how you longed, here where you lived 
as exiles, for the presence of the essential
Being and Maker and Knower of all things.
But because of my unruliness, or some erring
virtue in me never rightly schooled,
some error clear and dear, my life
has not taught me your desire for flight:
dismattered, pure, and free.  I long
instead for the Heaven of creatures, of seasons,
of day and night.  Heaven enough for me 
would be this world as I know it, but redeemed 
of our abuse of it and one another.  It would be
the Heaven of knowing again.   There is no marrying
 in Heaven, and I submit; even so, I would like
 to know my wife again, both of us young again,
and I remembering always how I loved her
when she was old.  I would like to know
my children again, all my family, all my dear ones,
to see, to hear, to hold, more carefully
than before, to study them lingeringly as one
studies old verses, committing them to heart
forever.  I would like again to know my friends,
my old companions, men and women, horses
and dogs, in all the ages of our lives, here
in this place that I have watched over all my life
in all its moods and seasons, never enough.
I will be leaving how many beauties overlooked?
A painful Heaven this would be, for I would know
by it how far I have fallen short.  I have not
paid enough attention, I have not been grateful
enough.  And yet this pain would be the measure
of my love.  In eternity's once and now, pain would
place me surely in the Heaven of my earthly love.

~ Wendell Berry
from Leavings

Monday, July 18, 2011

your very flesh shall be a great poem



This is what you shall do; 
Love the earth and sun and the animals, 
despise riches, 
give alms to every one that asks, 
stand up for the stupid and crazy, 
devote your income and labor to others, 
hate tyrants, 
argue not concerning God, 
have patience and indulgence toward the people, 
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown
 or to any man or number of men, 
go freely with powerful uneducated persons 
and with the young and with the mothers of families, 
read these leaves in the open air every season
 of every year of your life, 
re-examine all you have been told at school
 or church or in any book, 
dismiss whatever insults your own soul, 
and your very flesh shall be a great poem 
and have the richest fluency not only in its words 
but in the silent lines of its lips and face
 and between the lashes of your eyes 
and in every motion and joint of your body.

~ Walt Whitman
 from the preface of Leaves of Grass

Sunday, July 17, 2011

surrendering, lose myself in your loosened hair

Someday, emerging at last from the violent insight,
let me sing out jubilation and praise to assenting angels.
Let not even one of the clearly-struck hammers of my heart
fail to sound because of a slack, a doubtful,
or a broken string.  Let my joyfully streaming face
make me more radiant; let my hidden weeping arise
and blossom.  How dear you will be to me then, you nights 
of anguish.  Why didn't I kneel more deeply to accept you,
inconsolable sisters, and, surrendering, lose myself
in your loosened hair.  How we squander our hours of pain.
How we gaze beyond them into the bitter duration
to see if they have an end.  Though they are really
our winter-enduring foliage, our dark evergreen,
one season in our inner year -, not only a season
in time -, but are place and settlement, 
foundation and soil and home.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from Duino Elegies, The Tenth Elegy
translation by stephen mitchell
art by van gogh

Saturday, July 16, 2011

my soul heard something


What was in that candle's light
that opened and consumed me so quickly?

Come back, my friend! The form of our love
is not a created form.

Nothing can help me but that beauty.
There was a dawn I remember

when my soul heard something
from your soul. I drank water

from your spring and felt
the current take me.

~ Rumi
from The Essential Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks

the vast man


But sweeter still than laughter and greater than longing came to me.
It was the boundless in you;
The vast man in whom you are all but cells and sinews;
He in whose chant all your singing is but a soundless throbbing.
It is in the vast man that you are vast,
And in beholding him that I beheld you and loved you.
For what distances can love reach that are not in that vast sphere?
What visions, what expectations and what presumptions can outsoar that flight?
Like a giant oak tree covered with apple blossoms is the vast man in you.
His might binds you to the earth, his fragrance lifts you into space, and in his durability you are deathless.

~ Kahlil Gibran
from The Prophet
photo by Jack Spenser

the beginning of terror


For beauty is nothing
but the beginning of terror, which we still are able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains
to annihilate us.

~  Rainer Maria Rilke
from Duino Elegies, The First Elegy

Friday, July 15, 2011

puppet play

My body lives in the city,
But my essence dwells in the mountains.
The affairs of a puppet play
Are not to be taken too seriously.
When the polar mountain fits into a mustard seed,
All the words in the universe may as well be erased.

My mind is like a jade jar of ice,
Never invaded by even half a mote of dust.
Though the jade jar be obscured without,
I pay no mind at all -
On the terrace of Immortals,
I climb straight to the highest level.

~ Wu Cailuan (9th century)
from Immortal Sisters: Secret Teachings of Taoist Women
photo by Ansel Adams

Thursday, July 14, 2011

quenched and still


I gave up my house
and set out into homelessness.
I gave up my child, my cattle,
and all that I loved.
I gave up desire and hate.
My ignorance was thrown out.
I pulled out craving
along with its root.
Now I am quenched and still.

~ Sangha (6th-5th centuries BCE)
translated by Susan Murcott

Her work is recorded in Pali in the Therigatha,
 the book of enlightenment poetry of Buddhist nuns.

the reed flute's song

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 the 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
version by Coleman Barks
from The Essential Rumi