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

the rain


All night the sound had 
come back again, 
and again falls 
this quiet, persistent rain. 

What am I to myself 
that must be remembered, 
insisted upon 
so often? Is it 

that never the ease, 
even the hardness, 
of rain falling 
will have for me 

something other than this, 
something not so insistent— 
am I to be locked in this 
final uneasiness. 

Love, if you love me, 
lie next to me. 
Be for me, like rain, 
the getting out 

of the tiredness, the fatuousness, the semi- 
lust of intentional indifference. 
Be wet 
with a decent happiness.

~ Robert Creeley
with thanks to the mark on the wall

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

time and space?

We tend to misunderstand the nature, 
and exaggerate the importance, of "time" and "space."

There are no such "things" (they do not exist in their own right):
 these come into apparent existence, i.e. they "function"
 only as a mechanism whereby events, extended spatially and sequentially, 
may become cognizable. 
 They accompany events and render their development realizable.
   In themselves they have no existence whatever.  They are appearances, 
and their apparent existence is deduced from the events they accompany
 and render perceptible.  They are hypothetical,
 like the "ether," symbols, like algebra, psychic inferences to aid 
in the cognizance of the universe we objectify,
 and they neither preexist, nor survive apart from, 
the events they accompany, but are utilized in function
 of each such event as it occurs.

Where there is no event there is no need of "time" or of "space"
 - and in their absence we are no longer in bondage- 
for there is no one to believe that he is bound.

Time is only an inference, devised in an effort to explain growth, 
development, extension and change, which constitute a further direction 
of measurement beyond the three that we know 
and at right-angles to volume; and "past," "present" and "future" 
are inferences derived from this temporal interpretation 
of the further dimension in which extension appears to occur. 
 All forms of temporality, therefore, are conceptual and imagined.

~ Wei Wu Wei
from Open Secret

Monday, October 3, 2011

this rain


Some Sunday afternoon, it may be,
you are sitting under your porch roof,
looking down through the trees
to the river, watching the rain.  The circles
make by the raindrops' striking
expand, intersect, dissolve,

and suddenly (for you are getting on
now, and much of your life is memory)
the hands of the dead, who have been here
with you, rest upon you tenderly
as the rain rests shining
upon the leaves.  And you think then

(for thought will come) of the strangeness
of the thought of Heaven, for now
you have imagined yourself there,
remembering with longing this 
happiness, this rain.  Sometimes here
we are there, and there is no death.

~ Wendell Berry
from A Timbered Choir
photo by laffy4k

Saturday, October 1, 2011

the great harvest


Consider the vast crop is thus annually shed upon the earth.  
This, more than any mere grain or seed, is the great harvest of the year.  
This annual decay and death, this dying by inches, 
before the whole tree at last lies down and turns to soil.  
As trees shed their leaves, so deer their horns, and men their hair or nails.  
The year's great crop.   
I am more interested in it than in the English grass alone or in the corn.  
It prepares the virgin mold for future cornfields on which the earth fattens.  
They teach us how to die.

~ Henry David Thoreau
from his journal entry, 1853

the wren from Carolina


Just now the wren from Carolina buzzed
through the neighbor's hedge
a line of grace notes I couldn't even write down
much less sing.

Now he lifts his chestnut colored throat
and delivers such a cantering praise -
for what?
For the early morning, the taste of the spider,

for his small cup of life
that he drinks from every day, knowing it will refill.
All things are inventions of holiness.
Some more rascally than others.

I'm on that list too,
though I don't know exactly where.
But every morning, there's my own cup of gladness,
and there's that wren in the hedge, above me, with his

blazing song.

~ Mary Oliver
from Why I Wake Early