Friday, October 28, 2011

not mine

All my life to pretend this world of theirs is mine
And to know such pretending is disgraceful.
But what can I do? Suppose I suddenly screamed
And started to prophesy. No one would hear me. 
Their screens and microphones are not for that. 
Others like me wander the streets
And talk to themselves. Sleep on benches in parks,
Or on pavements in alleys. For there aren't enough prisons
To lock up all the poor. I smile and keep quiet. 
They won't get me now. 
To feast with the chosen—that I do well.

~ Czeslaw Milosz 
translated by Robert Hass 
photo by Christine de Grancy



When I die, I will see the lining of the world. 
The other side, beyond bird, mountain, sunset. 
The true meaning, ready to be decoded. 
What never added up will add Up, 
What was incomprehensible will be comprehended. 
- And if there is no lining to the world? 
If a thrush on a branch is not a sign, 
But just a thrush on the branch? If night and day 
Make no sense following each other? 
And on this earth there is nothing except this earth? 
- Even if that is so, there will remain 
A word wakened by lips that perish, 
A tireless messenger who runs and runs 
Through interstellar fields, through the revolving galaxies, 
And calls out, protests, screams.

~ Czeslaw Milosz



All my life perplexed by truth and falsity, right and wrong;
Now amusing myself in the moonlight,
Laughing at the wind,
Listening to the songs of birds --
So many years spent idly contemplating
The immense white layer on the mountains;
This winter, all of a sudden,
I see it for the first time as a snow-mountain.

~ Dogen
english version by Steven Heine
from The Zen Poetry of Dogen
with thanks to poetry chaikhana
art by Chen Jun


A man tips back his chair, all evening.

Years later, the ladder of small indentations
still marks the floor. Walking across it, then stopping.

Rarely are what is spoken and what is meant the same.

Mostly the mouth says one thing, the thighs and knees
say another, the floor hears a third.

Yet within us,
objects and longings are not different.
They twist on the stem of the heart, like ripening grapes.

~ Jane Hirshfield 
from Given Sugar, Given Salt
with thanks to nexus

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

children of a full life


with special thanks to it's all dhamma

why do I write

I write because to write a new sentence, let alone a new poem, is to cross the threshold into both a larger existence and a profound mystery. A thought was not there, then it is. An image, a story, an idea about what it is to be human, did not exist, then it does. With every new poem, an emotion new to the heart, to the world, speaks itself into being. Any new metaphor is a telescope, a canoe in rapids, an MRI machine. And like that MRI machine, sometimes its looking is accompanied by an awful banging. To write can be frightening as well as magnetic. You don't know what will happen when you throw open your windows and doors.

Why write? You might as well ask a fish, why swim, ask an apple tree, why make apples? The eye wants to look, the ear wants to hear, the heart wants to feel more than it thought it could bear...

The writer, when she or he cannot write, is a person outside the gates of her own being. Not long ago, I stood like that for months, disbarred from myself. Then, one sentence arrived; another. And I? I was a woman in love. For that also is what writing is. Every sentence that comes for a writer when actually writing—however imperfect, however inadequate—every sentence is a love poem to this world and to our good luck at being here, alive, in it.

~ Jane Hirshfield

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Che Fece... Il Gran Refiuto


For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say no. Yet that no—the right no—
drags him down all his life.

~ Constantine P. Cavafy
from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems
translated by Edmund Keeley and Phillip Sherrard

the falling


You turn towards meteor showers in August,
wishing yourself like that:
bright and burning wholly out.
When feeling finally comes it is
that falling, matter breaking away
from air, the sound
of crickets moving through the grass like fire—
and the strangely twisted metal
in the field that a child finds:
residue, crown.
Then there’s the story of the Chinese sage,
in anger and despair, who cut his body away in pieces,
flung them into the lake.
Each one, becoming finned and whole, swims off.

~ Jane Hirshfield

a lie

self-portrait - 1901

Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth

Everyone wants to understand painting. 
Why don’t they try to understand the song of the birds?
 Why do they love a night, a flower, 
everything which surrounds man, 
without attempting to understand them? 
Whereas where painting is concerned, they want to understand. 
Let them understand above all that the artist works from necessity; 
that he, too, is a minute element of the world
 to whom one should ascribe no more importance 
than so many things in nature which charm us 
but which we do not explain to ourselves.
 Those who attempt to explain a picture 
are on the wrong track most of the time.

~ Pablo Picasso
Boisgeloup, winter 1934

Sunday, October 23, 2011

a choice

"Give us a king."

Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king, 
He said,
"This is what the king who will reign over you will do:

He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses,
and they will run in front of his chariots.
Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties,
 and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest and still others to make weapons
 of war and equipment for his chariots. 

He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves 
and give them to his attendants.

He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it
 to his officials and attendants.
Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys
 he will take for his own use.

He will take a tenth of your flocks,
 and you yourselves will become his slaves.

When that day comes, you will cry out for relief 
from the king you have chosen,
and the Lord will not answer you in that day.


"No," they said, "We want a king over us.
Then we will be like all the other nations,
with a king to lead us and to go out before us
 and fight our battles."

~ 1 Samuel 8, 11-19
from the Holy Bible
new international version

Friday, October 21, 2011

no bell

When I heard the sound of the bell ringing,
there was no bell,
and there was no I -
there was only the ringing. 

Once you stop clinging and let things be,
you’ll be free, even of birth and death. 

You’ll transform everything…
And you’ll be at peace wherever you are. 

Even as fire finds peace
in its resting place without fuel,
when thoughts become silence
the soul finds peace in its own source. 

When the mind is silent,
then it can enter into a world
which is far beyond the mind:
the highest End. 

The mind should be kept in the heart
as long as it has not reached the highest End.
This is wisdom, and this is liberation. 

~ Upanishads 

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I was nearly killed here, one night in February.
My car shivered, and slewed sideways on the ice,
right across into the other lane. The slur of traffic
came at me with their lights.

My name, my girls, my job, all
slipped free and were left behind, smaller and smaller,
further and further away. I was a nobody:
a boy in a playground, suddenly surrounded.

The headlights of the oncoming cars
bore down on me as I wrestled the wheel through a slick
of terror, clear and slippery as egg-white.
The seconds grew and grew – making more room for me –
stretching huge as hospitals.

I almost felt that I could rest
and take a breath
before the crash.

Then something caught: some helpful sand
or a well-timed gust of wind. The car
snapped out of it, swinging back across the road.
A signpost shot up and cracked, with a sharp clang,
spinning away in the darkness.

And it was still. I sat back in my seat-belt
and watched someone tramp through the whirling snow
to see what was left of me.

~ Tomas Transtromer

Tranströmer is the recipient of the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature. His other honors and awards include the Aftonbladets Literary Prize, the Bonnier Award for Poetry, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Oevralids Prize, the Petrach Prize in Germany, and the Swedish Award from International Poetry Forum.

He has read at many American universities, often with poet and friend Robert Bly. Tranströmer is a respected psychologist, and has worked at a juvenile prison, and with the disabled, convicts, and drug addicts. He lives with his wife Monica in Vasteras, west of Stockholm.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

two things

Two things of opposite natures seem to depend
On one another, as Logos depends
On Eros, day on night, the imagined

On the real. This is the origin of change.
Winter and spring, cold copulars, embrace
And forth the particulars of rapture come.

Music falls on the silence like a sense
A passion that we feel, not understand.
Morning and afternoon are clasped together

And North and South are an intrinsic couple
And sun and rain a plural, like two lovers
That walk away together as one in the greenest body.

~ Wallace Stevens

the place of rest

Unto the deep the deep heart goes,
It lays its sadness nigh the breast:
Only the Mighty Mother knows
The wounds that quiver unconfessed.

It seeks a deeper silence still;
It folds itself around with peace,
Where thoughts alike of good or ill
In quietness unfostered cease.

It feels in the unwounding vast
For comfort for its hopes and fears:
The Mighty Mother bows at last;
She listens to her children's tears.

Where the last anguish deepens -- there
The fire of beauty smites through pain:
A glory moves amid despair,
The Mother takes her child again. 

~ A. E. (George William Russell)
with thanks to poetry chaikhana

Saturday, October 15, 2011


a radiance once seen only in time and space
 shares his blessing without boundary

today a named one 
brings a particular beauty to the nameless 

today the pain and strength of  longing
stretches beyond limits

today that sparkling love can't be seen with eyes,
we seek it everywhere

 ~  nead rellek
for Doug

Thursday, October 13, 2011

words' leaves

Truly now I've grown old
in the winter rains.
Even the words' leaves
of love
change in their falling

~ Ono no Komachi



Once upon a time, when Dongshan was ill, a monk asked him, 
"You are ill, teacher, but is there anyone who doesn't get ill?" 

Dongshan said, "There is." 

The monk said, "Does the one who doesn't get ill look after you?" 

Dongshan said, "No, I look after him." 

The monk said, "How is it when you look after him?" 

Dongshan said, "I see that there is no illness." 

~ Dongshan
from the Book of Serenity
Zen dialogue (Case 94)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Now, what is poetry?
If you say it is simply a matter of words, I will say a good poet gets rid of words.
If you say it is simply a matter of meaning, I will say a good poet gets rid of meaning.
"But," you ask, "without words and without meaning, where is the poetry?"
To this I reply, "Get rid of words and get rid of meaning, and still there is poetry."

~ Yang Wan-li
translation by Jonathan Chaves

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

rain in May


The blackened iron
of the stove
is ticking into coolness
when the first drops 
start against the roof.
It is late: the night
has darkened into this
like a fruit--
a sudden pear-aroma fills the room.
Just before dawn 
it comes up harder again,
a white, steady drum of day-rain
caught in the moon's deep pail.
A battered tin-light
overspills ocean and sky,
hill opens to facing hill,
and I wake to a simple longing,
all I want of this ordinary hour,
this ordinary earth
that was long ago married to time:
to hear as a sand-crab hears the waves,
loud as a second heart;
to see as a green thing sees the sun,
with the undividing attention of blind love.

~ Jane Hirshfield

Monday, October 10, 2011

the ending earth-


stand with your lover on the ending earth-
and while a (huge by which huger than
huge) whoing sea leaps to greenly hurl snow, suppose we could not love, dear; imagine
ourselves like living neither nor dead these
(or many thousands hearts which don't and dream
or many million minds which sleep and move)
blind sand, at pitiless the mercy of
time time time time time
how fortunate are you and I, whose home
is timelessness: we who have wandered down
from fragrant mountains of eternal now
to frolic in such mysteries as birth
and death a day (or maybe even less)

~ e.e.cummings



Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. 
Contemplation does not feed the hungry; it does not clothe the naked… 
and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God. 
But without contemplation we cannot see what we do… 
Without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. 
Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial; 
we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, 
losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moments… 
Without contemplation, without the intimate, 
silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, 
our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.

~ Thomas Merton
art by leonardo da vinci

Sunday, October 9, 2011

the silence


How many of your birthdays
I have by now been
glad of!  And all that time
I've been trying to tell you
how with you was born
my truest life and most 
desired, the better man
by your birth I am, however
fallen short. I'll never
get it right by half.
Between us, by now, what
is more telling than the silence
in which once more an old 
redbud simply blooms?

~ Wendell Berry
photo by Eliot Porter

Thursday, October 6, 2011

on creativity

When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone, and of good cheer - say, traveling in a carriage, or walking after a good meal, or during the night when I cannot sleep; it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.  Whence and how they come, I know not; nor can I force them...

When I proceed to write, the committing to paper is done quickly enough, for everything is, as I said before, already finished... But why my productions take from my hand that particular form and style that makes them Mozartish, and different from the works of other composers, is probably owing to the same cause which renders my nose so large or so aquiline, or, in short, make it Mozart's, and different from those other people. For I really do not study or aim at originality.

~ Mozart
translation by Edward Holmes

Mozart as a child, painted by Greuze

You will write if you will write without thinking of the result in terms of a result, but think of the writing in terms of discovery, which is to say that creation must take place between the pen and the paper, not before in a thought or afterwards in a recasting.  Yes, before in a thought , but not in careful thinking.  It will come if it is there and if you will let it come, and if you have anything you will get a sudden creative recognition... The great thing is not ever to think about form but let it come.  Does that sound strange from me?  They have accused me of thinking about nothing else.  Do you see the real joke?  It is the critics who have really thought about form always, and I have thought about - writing!

~ Gertrude Stein

The artist is a receptacle of emotions come from no matter where: from the sky, the earth, a piece of paper, a passing figure, a cobweb. This is why one must not discriminate between things.  There is no rank among them.  One must take one's good where one finds it...

When we invented cubism, we had no intention of inventing cubism, but simply of expressing what was in us. Nobody drew up a program of action, and through our friends the poets followed our efforts attentively, they never dictated to us.  The young painter of today often outline a program for themselves to follow and try to do their assignments correctly like well-behaved schoolboys.

The painter passes through states of fullness and emptying.  That is the whole secret of art.

~ Pablo Picasso
translated by Brewster Ghiselin

quotations taken here from Nine Gates - Entering the Mind of Poetry
by Jane Hirshfield

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

the ancient womb

The world rests in the night. 
Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. 
Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark. 
Darkness is the ancient womb. 
Nighttime is womb- time. Our souls come out to play. 
The darkness absolves everything; 
the struggle for identity and impression falls away. 
We rest in the night.

~ John O’Donohue 
from  Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom

the unseeable animal


My Daughter: "I hope there's an animal
Somewhere that nobody has ever seen.
And I hope nobody ever sees it."

Being, whose flesh dissolves
at our glance, knower
of the secret sums and measures,
you are always here,
dwelling in the oldest sycamores,
visiting the faithful springs
when they are dark and the foxes
have crept to their edges.
I have come upon pools
in streams, places overgrown
with the woods' shadow,
where I knew you had rested,
watching the little fish 
hang still in the flow;
as I approached they seemed
particles of your clear mind
disappearing among the rocks.
I have waked deep in the woods
in the early morning, sure
that while I slept
your gaze passed over me.
That we do not know you
is your perfection
and our hope. The darkness
keeps us near you.

~ Wendell Berry
from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry