Wednesday, November 30, 2011


It’s not a sheltered world. The noise begins over there, on the other side of the wall
where the alehouse is
with its laughter and quarrels, its rows of teeth, its tears, its chiming of clocks,
and the psychotic brother-in-law, the murderer, in whose presence
everyone feels fear.

The huge explosion and the emergency crew arriving late,
boats showing off on the canals, money slipping down into pockets
– the wrong man’s –
ultimatum piled on the ultimatum,
widemouthed red flowers whose sweat reminds us of approaching war.

And then straight through the wall — from there — straight into the airy studio
in the seconds that have got permission to live for centuries.
Paintings that choose the name: “The Music Lesson”
or ” A Woman in Blue Reading a Letter.”
She is eight months pregnant, two hearts beating inside her.
The wall behind her holds a crinkly map of Terra Incognita.

Just breathe. An unidentifiable blue fabric has been tacked to the chairs.
Gold-headed tacks flew in with astronomical speed
and stopped smack there
as if there had always been stillness and nothing else.

The ears experience a buzz, perhaps it’s depth or perhaps height.
It’s the pressure from the other side of the wall,
the pressure that makes each fact float
and makes the brushstroke firm.

Passing through walls hurts human beings, they get sick from it,
but we have no choice.
It’s all one world. Now to the walls.
The walls are a part of you.
One either knows that, or one doesn't; but it’s the same for everyone
except for small children. There aren't any walls for them.

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”

~ Tomas Tranströmer
translation by Robert Bly
from The Winged Energy of Desire
art by Vermeer

Saturday, November 26, 2011

the november angels

Late dazzle
of yellow
the simplified woods, 
spare chipping away
of the afternoon-stone
by a small brown finch—
there is little
for them to do,
and so their gossip is
idle, modest:

the Earth-pelt 
dapples and flows 
with slow bees 
that spin
the thick, deep jute
of the gold time’s going,
the pollen’s
traceless retreat; 
enter their kingdom,
their blue crowns on fire,
and feast on
the still-wealthy world.

A single, cold blossom 
tumbles, fledged
from the sky’s white branch.
And the angels
look on,
observing what falls: 
all of it falls.

Their hands hold
no blessings,
no word
for those who walk
in the tall black pines,
who do not
feel themselves falling—
the ones who believe
the loved companion
will hold them forever,
the ones who cross through 
alone and ask for no sign.

The afternoon 
lengthens, steepens,
flares out—
no matter for them.
It is assenting
that makes them angels,
neither increased 
nor decreased
by the clamorous heart:
their only work 
to shine back,
however the passing brightness 
hurts their eyes.

~ Jane Hirshfield
 from Of Gravity and Angels

Monday, November 21, 2011

a morning offering

I bless the night that nourished my heart
To set the ghosts of longing free
Into the flow and figure of dream
That went to harvest from the dark
Bread for the hunger no one sees.

All that is eternal in me
Welcome the wonder of this day,
The field of brightness it creates
Offering time for each thing
To arise and illuminate.

I place on the altar of dawn:
The quiet loyalty of breath,
The tent of thought where I shelter,
Wave of desire I am shore to
And all beauty drawn to the eye.

May my mind come alive today
To the invisible geography
That invites me to new frontiers,
To break the dead shell of yesterdays,
To risk being disturbed and changed.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.

~ John O'Donohue

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

notice to quit

John had a disreputable old uncle who was the tenant of a poor little farm beside his father's.  One day when John came in from the garden, he found a great hubbub in the house.  His uncle was sitting there with his cheeks the colour of ashes.  His mother was crying.  His father was sitting very still with a solemn face.  And there, in the midst of them, was the Steward with his mask on,  John crept round to his mother and asked her what the matter was.

'Poor Uncle George has had notice to quit,' she said.
'Why?' said John.
'His lease is up.  The Landlord has sent him notice to quit.'
'But didn't you know how long the lease was for?'
'Oh, no, indeed we did not.  We thought it was for years and years more.  I am sure the Landlord never gave us any idea he was going to turn him out at a moment's notice like this.'
'Ah, but it doesn't need any notice,' broke in the Steward. 'You know he always retains the right to turn anyone out whenever he chooses.  It is very good of him to let any of us stay here at all.'
'To be sure, to be sure,' said the mother.
'That goes without saying,' said the father.
'I'm not complaining,' said Uncle George.  'But it seems cruelly hard.'
'Not at all, ' said the Steward.  'You've only got to go to the Castle and knock at the gate and see the Landlord himself.  You know that he's only turning you out of here to make you much more comfortable somewhere else.  Don't you?'
Uncle George nodded. He did not seem able to get his voice.


'Well, dear?'
'Could any of us be turned out without notice like that any day?'
'Well, yes.  But it is very unlikely.'
But we might be?'
'You oughtn't to be thinking of that sort of thing at your age.'
'Why oughtn't I?'
'It's not healthy.  A boy like you.'
'Can we break off the lease without notice too?'
'How do you mean?'
Well, the Landlord can turn us out of the farm whenever he likes.  Can we leave the farm whenever we like?'
'No, certainly not.'
Why not?'
'That's in the lease.  We must go when he likes, and stay as long as he likes.'
'I suppose because he makes the leases.'
'What would happen if we did leave?'
'He would be very angry.'
'Would he put us in the black hole?'
'Well, dear?'
'Will the Landlord put Uncle George in the black hole?'
'How dare you say such a thing about your poor uncle? Of course he won't.'
'But hasn't Uncle George broken all the rules?'
'Broken all the rules? Your Uncle George was a very good man.'
'You never told me that before,' said John.

~ C. S. Lewis
from The Pilgrim's Regress

legs and super powers

~ Aimee Mullins
with thanks to Chemin faisant

Monday, November 14, 2011

the voices


It's OK for the rich and the lucky to keep still,
no one wants to know about them anyway,
But those in need have to step forward,
have to say: I am blind,
or: I'm about to go blind,
or: nothing is going well with me,
or: I have a child who is sick,
or: right there I'm sort of glued together...

And probably that doesn't do anything either.

They have to sing; if they didn't sing, everyone
would walk past, as if they were fences or trees.

That's where you can hear good singing.

People really are strange: they prefer
to hear castratos in boychoirs.

But God himself comes and stays a long time
when the world of half-people start to bore him.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
translation by Robert Bly
art by van gogh

for the senses

May the touch of your skin 
Register the beauty
Of the otherness
That surrounds you.

May your listening be attuned
To the deeper silence
Where sound is honed
To bring distance home.

May the fragrance
Of a breathing meadow
Refresh your heart
And remind you you are
A child of the earth.

And when you partake
Of food and drink,
May your taste quicken 
To the gift and sweetness
That flows from the earth.

May your inner eye
See through the surfaces
And glean the real presence
Of everything that meets you.

May your soul beautify
The desire of your eyes 
That you might glimpse
The infinity that hides
In the simple sights 
That seem worn
To your usual eyes.

~ John O'Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us

the fleeting quality of the light

I would like to paint the way a bird sings

~ Claude Monet
 born in Paris in 1840

He met Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille; the four young artists became disillusioned with the meticulous detail that was fashionable in academic circles, and they began experimenting with a new style of landscape painting, producing rapid "sketches" using short, broken brushstrokes and trying to capture, above all, the fleeting quality of the light.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

a quiet light

There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no
attention to itself, though it is always secretly there.
It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire 
to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life. Without this
subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and
no horizon would ever awaken our longing. Our passion for life
is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is welded to
the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what
enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here 
as blessing. We enter the world as strangers who all at once 
become heirs to a harvest of memory, spirit, and dream that has 
long preceded us and will now enfold, nourish, and sustain us.
The gift of the world is our first blessing.

~ John O'Donohue
from the introduction to To Bless the Space Between Us
art by Leonardo Da Vinci

starting a poem

You are alone. Then there's a knock 
On the door. It's a word. You
Bring it in. Things go
OK for a while. But this word 

Has relatives. Soon
They turn up. None of them work.
They sleep on the floor, and they steal
Your tennis shoes. 

You started it; you weren't
Content to leave things alone.
Now the den is a mess, and the
Remote is gone. 

That's what being married 
Is like. You never receive your
Wife only, but the
Madness of her family. 

Now see what's happened?
Where is your car? You won't 
Be able to find 
The keys for a week.

~ Robert Bly
art by Janet Sobel

on the death of the beloved

Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or might or pain can reach you.

Your love was like the dawn
Brightening over our lives
Awakening beneath the dark
A further adventure of colour.

The sound of your voice
Found for us
A new music
That brightened everything.

Whatever you enfolded in your gaze
Quickened in the joy of its being;
You placed smiles like flowers
On the altar of the heart.
Your mind always sparkled
With wonder at things.

Though your days here were brief,
Your spirit was live, awake, complete.

We look towards each other no longer
From the old distance of our names;
Now you dwell inside the rhythm of breath,
As close to us as we are to ourselves.

Though we cannot see you with outward eyes,
We know our soul’s gaze is upon your face,
Smiling back at us from within everything
To which we bring our best refinement.

Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.

When orchids brighten the earth,
Darkest winter has turned to spring;
May this dark grief flower with hope
In every heart that loves you.

May you continue to inspire us:

To enter each day with a generous heart.
To serve the call of courage and love
Until we see your beautiful face again
In that land where there is no more separation,
Where all tears will be wiped from our mind,
And where we will never lose you again.

~ John O'Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us
art by Camille Pissarro


Friday, November 11, 2011

happy birthday Kurt

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Work of Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

with thanks to intense city

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

too simple for words

truth is too simple for words
before thought gets tangled up in nouns and 
there is a wordless sound
a deep breathless sigh
of overwhelming relief
to find the end of fiction
in this ordinary
yet extraordinary moment
when words are recognized
as words
and truth is recognized
as everything else

~ Nirmala
with thanks to poetry chaikhana
Nirmala is a contemporary spiritual teacher in the nondualist Advaita tradition. 
He traces his spiritual lineage through Neelam and H.W.L. Poonja to Ramana Maharshi.

love of the wind


We've spent a lot of time keeping some old men alive. 
I don’t’ think you should criticize us for that. 
Even old sailors keep their love of the wind. 

We know so little of our neighbor’s sorrow. 
He never told us what happened to his son. 
What can it mean that Jesus had no sister? 

We’ll never know anything better than a dog. 
It doesn't matter how deeply he sleeps. 
The sleeping dog leaves all the world for the floor. 

It’s all right if the family gathers together at night 
And sings like sailors when the wind rises. 
The roof of the house will last the night. 

I've never been an old friend to the wind. 
Don’t expect me to be happy about haystacks 
Scattered in a storm or blown-down barns. 

Don’t expect me to talk about the Spanish armada 
Getting into trouble off the Galway coast. 
Even old sailors keep their love of the wind.

~ Robert Bly
art by van gogh

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

carmel point

The extraordinary patience of things!
This beautiful place defaced with a crop of suburban houses -
How beautiful when we first beheld it,
Unbroken field of poppy and lupin walled with clean cliffs;
No intrusion but two or three horses pasturing,
Or a few milch cows rubbing their flanks on the outcrop rockheads -
Now the spoiler has come: does it care?
Not faintly, It has all time, It knows the people are a tide
That swells and in time will ebb, and all
Their works dissolve.  Meanwhile the image of the pristine beauty
Lives in the very grain of the granite,
Safe as the endless ocean that climbs our cliff. - As for us:
We must uncenter our minds from ourselves;
We must unhumanize our views a little, and become confident 
As the rock and ocean that we were made from.

~ Robinson Jeffers
art by Gordon Mortensen

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Nature — the Gentlest Mother is,
Impatient of no Child —
The feeblest — or the waywardest —
Her Admonition mild —

In Forest — and the Hill —
By Traveller — be heard —
Restraining Rampant Squirrel —
Or too impetuous Bird —

How fair Her Conversation —
A Summer Afternoon —
Her Household — Her Assembly —
And when the Sun go down —

Her Voice among the Aisles
Incite the timid prayer
Of the minutest Cricket —
The most unworthy Flower —

When all the Children sleep —
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light Her lamps —
Then bending from the Sky —

With infinite Affection —
And infiniter Care —
Her Golden finger on Her lip —
Wills Silence — Everywhere —

~ Emily Dickinson
with thanks to writers almanac

Friday, November 4, 2011

lost in the forest

Lost in the forest, I broke off a dark twig
and lifted its whisper to my thirsty lips:
myabe it was the voice of the rain crying, 
a cracked bell, or a torn heart.

Something from far off it seemed
deep and secret to me, hidden by the earth,
a shout muffled by huge autumns,
by the moist half-open darkness of the leaves.

Wakening from the dreaming forest there, the hazel-sprig
sang under my tongue, its drifting fragrance
climbed up though my conscious mind

as if suddenly the roots I had left behind
cried out to me, the land I had lost with my childhood -
and I stopped, wounded by the wandering scent.

~ Pablo Neruda


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

a thought

Some thoughts
throw off 
a backward heat
as walls might,
at night, in summer.

It could happen 
this moment -

Some movement.

One word's almost
imperceptible shiver.

And what was
long cold
in your left palm,
long cold in your right palm,
might find itself
malleable, warmer.

An apricot
could be planted
in such a corner.

~ Jane Hirshfield
from Come, Thief

sadness and solitude


It seems to me that almost all our sadnesses are moments of tension, which we feel as paralysis because we no longer hear our astonished emotions living. Because we are alone with the unfamiliar presence that has entered us; because everything we trust and are used to is for a moment taken away from us; because we stand in the midst of a transition where we cannot remain standing. That is why the sadness passes: the new presence inside us, the presence that has been added, has entered our heart, has gone into its innermost chamber and is no longer even there, is already in our bloodstream. And we don’t know what it was. We could easily be made to believe that nothing happened, and yet we have changed, as a house that a guest has entered changes. We can’t say who has come, perhaps we will never know, but many signs indicate that the future enters us in this way in order to be transformed in us, long before it happens. And that is why it is so important to be solitary and attentive when one is sad: because the seemingly uneventful and motionless moment when our future steps into us is so much closer to life than that other loud and accidental point of time when it happens to us as if from outside. The quieter we are, the more patient and open we are in our sadnesses, the more deeply and serenely the new presence can enter us, and the more we can make it our own, the more it becomes our fate; and later on, when it “happens” (that is, steps forth out of us to other people), we will feel related and close to it in our innermost being. And that is necessary. It is necessary – and toward this point our development will move, little by little – that nothing alien happen to us, but only what has long been our own. People have already had to rethink so many concepts of motion; and they will also gradually come to realize that what we call fate does not come into us from the outside, but emerges from us. It is only because so many people have not absorbed and transformed their fates while they were living in them that they have not realized what was emerging from them; it was so alien to them that, in their confusion and fear, they thought it must have entered them at the very moment they became aware of it, for they swore they had never before found anything like that inside them. just as people for a long time had a wrong idea about the sun’s motion, they are even now wrong about the motion of what is to come. The future stands still, dear Mr. Kappus, but we move in infinite space.

And to speak of solitude again, it becomes clearer and clearer that fundamentally this is nothing that one can choose or refrain from. We are solitary. We can delude ourselves about this and act as if it were not true. That is all. But how much better it is to recognize that we are alone; yes, even to begin from this realization. It will, of course, make us dizzy; for all points that our eyes used to rest on are taken away from us, there is no longer anything near us, and everything far away is infinitely far. A man taken out of his room and, almost without preparation or transition, placed on the heights of a great mountain range, would feel something like that: an unequaled insecurity, an abandonment to the nameless, would almost annihilate him. He would feel he was falling or think he was being catapulted out into space or exploded into a thousand pieces: what a colossal lie his brain would have to invent in order to catch up with and explain the situation of his senses. That is how all distances, all measures, change for the person who becomes solitary; many of these changes occur suddenly and then, as with the man on the mountaintop, unusual fantasies and strange feelings arise, which seem to grow out beyond all that is bearable. But it is necessary for us to experience that too. We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it. This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us. The fact that people have in this sense been cowardly has done infinite harm to life; the experiences that are called it apparitions, the whole so-called “spirit world,” death, all these Things that are so closely related to us, have through our daily defensiveness been so entirely pushed out of life that the senses with which we might have been able to grasp them have atrophied. To say nothing of God. But the fear of the inexplicable has not only impoverished the reality of the individual; it has also narrowed the relationship between one human being and another, which has as it were been lifted out of the riverbed of infinite possibilities and set down in a fallow place on the bank, where nothing happens. For it is not only indolence that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new, inconceivable experience, which we don’t think we can deal with. But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn't exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another person as something alive and will himself sound the depths of his own being. For if we imagine this being of the individual as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. In this way they have a certain security. And yet how much more human is the dangerous in security that drives those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells. We, however, are not prisoners. No traps or snares have been set around us, and there is nothing that should frighten or upset us. We have been put into life as into the element we most accord with, and we have, moreover, through thousands of years of adaptation, come to resemble this life so greatly that when we hold still, through a fortunate mimicry we can hardly be differentiated from everything around us. We have no reason to harbor any mistrust against our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then what now appears to us as the most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from Letters to a Young Poet 
The Eighth Letter
photo by Eliot Porter