Friday, January 6, 2012

the hope of results

Do not depend on the hope of results. 
… you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless 
and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. 

As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results
 but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. 

~ Thomas Merton
in a letter to Jim Forest dated February 21, 1966, 
reproduced in The Hidden Ground of Love: Letters by Thomas Merton
art by Winslow Homer

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly, 
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow. 
Down the ravine behind the empty house, 
The cowbells follow one another 
Into the distances of the afternoon. 
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines, 
The droppings of last year’s horses 
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on. 
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

~  James Wright
from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose

a blessing

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness 
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs. 
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness. 
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me 
And nuzzled my left hand. 
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

~ James Wright
 from Above the River: The Complete Poems and Selected Prose

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

the bridegroom

The bridegroom wanted to reach the Norwegian Church.
But the roads were made impassable by huge snows.
We are each the bridegroom longing for existence.

Marriage brings the moth close to the candle flame.
With their frail wings, men and women
Are constantly flying into the fire of existence.

Some say that each drop of ground water in Kansas
Knows about the ocean. How can this be?
Every drop of water longs like us for existence.

Abu Said fasted in the desert for twenty years.
Later when he came back, his dragon friend
Wept. "Your suffering gave me a hint of existence."

When the pianist's fingers strike all the notes
In the Tenth Prelude, it's clear Bach's soul has been
Leaping about like a hare in the field of existence.

Robert, you're close to joy but not quite there.
You are a hunchback standing in an Italian
Square, looking in at the festival of existence.

~ Robert Bly
from My Sentence Was A Thousand Years of Joy

april and silence

Spring lies abandoned
A ditch the color of dark violet
moves alongside me
giving no images back.

The only thing that shines
are some yellow flowers.

I am carried inside
my own shadow like a violin
in its black case.

The only thing I want to say
hovers just out of reach
like the family silver
at the pawnbroker's.

~ Tomas Transtromer
translation by Robert Bly
from The Half-Finished Heaven

Bly's Commentary:

Tranströmer wrote this poem just before his stroke. Since then, he couldn't talk for 15 years. His mind is still alert. He communicates with his wife by writing. Could you sense the power of those last lines of his poem?— "hovers just out of reach / like the family silver / at the pawnbroker's." That's some image few American writers could invoke that Tranströmer does all the time.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

the country of marriage


I dream of you walking at night along the streams of the country of my birth, warm blooms and the nightsongs of birds opening around you as you walk. You are holding in your body the dark seed of my sleep.


This comes after silence. Was it something I said that bound me to you, some mere promise or, worse, the fear of loneliness and death? A man lost in the woods in the dark, I stood still and said nothing. And then there rose in me, like the earth’s empowering brew rising in root and branch, the words of a dream of you I did not know I had dreamed. I was a wanderer who feels the solace of his native land under his feet again and moving in his blood. I went on, blind and faithful. Where I stepped my track was there to steady me. It was no abyss that lay before me, but only the level ground.


Sometimes our life reminds me of a forest in which there is a graceful clearing and in that opening a house, an orchard and garden, comfortable shades, and flowers red and yellow in the sun, a pattern made in the light for the light to return to. The forest is mostly dark, its ways to be made anew day after day, the dark richer than the light and more blessed, provided we stay brave enough to keep on going in.


How many times have I come to you out of my head with joy, if ever a man was, for to approach you I have given up the light and all directions. I come to you lost, wholly trusting as a man who goes into the forest unarmed. It is as though I descend slowly earthward out of the air. I rest in peace in you, when I arrive at last.


Our bond is no little economy based on the exchange of my love and work for yours, so much for so much of an expendable fund. We don’t know what its limits are–that puts us in the dark. We are more together than we know, how else could we keep on discovering we are more together than we thought? You are the known way leading always to the unknown, and you are the known place to which the unknown is always leading me back. More blessed in you than I know, I possess nothing worthy to give you, nothing not belittled by my saying that I possess it. Even an hour of love is a moral predicament, a blessing a man may be hard up to be worthy of. He can only accept it, as a plant accepts from all the bounty of the light enough to live, and then accepts the dark, passing unencumbered back to the earth, as I have fallen tine and again from the great strength of my desire, helpless, into your arms.


What I am learning to give you is my death to set you free of me, and me from myself into the dark and the new light. Like the water of a deep stream, love is always too much. We did not make it. Though we drink till we burst we cannot have it all, or want it all. In its abundance it survives our thirst. In the evening we come down to the shore to drink our fill, and sleep, while it flows through the regions of the dark. It does not hold us, except we keep returning to its rich waters thirsty. We enter, willing to die, into the commonwealth of its joy.


I give you what is unbounded, passing from dark to dark, containing darkness: a night of rain, an early morning. I give you the life I have let live for the love of you: a clump of orange-blooming weeds beside the road, the young orchard waiting in the snow, our own life that we have planted in the ground, as I have planted mine in you. I give you my love for all beautiful and honest women that you gather to yourself again and again, and satisfy–and this poem, no more mine than any man’s who has loved a woman.

~ Wendell Berry
from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry
art by van gogh

the window

I am not -
open or closed -
what you expected, o heart.

Or would you 
without me have thought
to throw open
the flooding and roar,
to step through the lion's gold pelt?

Have thought that
the passionate glass is the body?
And this life, the one life you wanted?

meaning neither lacked,
nor desired.
but something else.
Something closer
to how, when the two owl-lovers
begin their night singing
and all the black length of the woods
is held in those arms,
not one stone, not one leaf goes uncalling.

If I had been what you thought,
o heart,
how could the clear glass
flow as it does with mountains,
with jewel-colored, perishing fish?
Flashing and falling,
the black-bright rain of beings and things -
Some recognizable, yours, but others -
too fleeting or large - that cannot be spoken.

Though the one world touches the other
in every part, o heart,
in silence,
like new lovers taking their fill in the crowded dark.

~ Jane Hirshfield 
from The October Palace
art by picasso

Monday, January 2, 2012

forever Oneness

Forever Oneness,
who sings to us in silence,
who teaches us through each other.
Guide my steps with strength and wisdom.
May I see the lessons as I walk,
honor the Purpose of all things.
Help me touch with respect,
always speak from behind my eyes. 
Let me observe, not judge.
May I cause no harm,
and leave music and beauty after my visit.
When I return to forever
may the circle be closed
and the spiral be broader.

~  Bee Lake, 
(an aboriginal woman)

the art

A wealth you cannot imagine
flows through you.

Do not consider what strangers say.
Be secluded in your secret heart-house,
that bowl of silence.

Talking, no matter how humble-seeming,
is really a kind of bragging.

Let silence be the art 
you practice.

~ Rumi
translation by Coleman Barks
from Rumi: Bridge to the Soul

emerges from us

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.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
 from Letters to a Young Poet
translated by Stephen Mitchell
art by picasso

Carl Jung speaks about death

with thanks to it's all dhamma

Sunday, January 1, 2012

through massive rock

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

I am so deep inside it
I can't see the path or any distance:
everything is 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
from The Book of Poverty and Death III, 1
photo by eliot porter

Saturday, December 31, 2011

a hidden wholeness

at the end of year

The particular mind of the ocean
Filling the coastline's longing
With such brief harvest
Of elegant, vanishing waves
Is like the mind of time
Opening us shapes of days.

As this year draws to its end,
We give thanks for the gifts it brought
And how they became inlaid within
Where neither time nor tide can touch them.

The days when the veil lifted
And the soul could see delight;
When a quiver caressed the heart
In the sheer exuberance of being here.

Surprises that came awake
In forgotten corners of old fields
Where expectation seemed to have quenched.

The slow, brooding times
When all was awkward
And the wave in the mind
Pierced every sore with salt.

The darkened days that stopped
The confidence of the dawn.

Days when beloved faces shone brighter
With light from beyond themselves;
And from the granite of some secret sorrow
A stream of buried tears loosened.

We bless this year for all we learned,
For all we loved and lost
And for the quiet way it brought us
Nearer to our invisible destination.

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

Friday, December 30, 2011

trying to reconcile

On the one hand I felt the call of God; on the other, I continued to follow the world. 
All the things of God gave me great pleasure, but I was held captive by those of the world. 
I might have been said to be trying to reconcile these two extremes, 
to bring contraries together: the spiritual life on the one hand and worldly satisfactions, 
pleasures, and pastimes on the other. 

~ Saint Teresa of Avila