Friday, February 22, 2013

the birds' doubt

The hoopoe intones: 'So you must desire with your heart and more
Beyond the enticement of words and knowledge of the stars.
You must want with all your being, you must be sure
Of your substance, which first you have to find far
Within you, to mine your soul's gold to start on the Way.
If you cannot stomach a grain nor sip a simple glass
How do you think that you can sit at the Simurgh's table, pray?
If you drown in a drop, blotted out by a hand's pass,
You will never learn to plumb the depths nor rise 
To the heaven you say you seek, that waits for you.
You must learn to be bewildered, restore surprise
In your heart and eyes, and learn to know what's true.'
The birds consider his challenge with hooded eyes, let it burn
Their serried minds, then they reply: 'We are weak
And aimless atoms, we have no wit to seek and discern
Him who stands above and beyond yet within, we cannot seek
What we do not understand.  He is Solomon, the Ark
That contains us all, we are peripheral, mere ants
At the bottom of the pit scrabbling about in the dark.
We cannot see nor speak of the great Simurgh, we pant
With trepidation when we even begin to consider His being;
He is beyond all moral exchange, or the burden of seeing.'
The hoopoe hears these words with rising ire:
'You are without true aspiration, your hearts are 
Devoid of discrimination, you chatter as you enter the fire
Unwittingly, you fail to see that you can be within that far
And near mystery if only you would charter love and set out
With opened eyes, do not falter, discount your petty life here.
He is the light that ferries shadows which crave to live without
But always fail, His gaze turns them into fleeing birds where
All is form and substance erased; you are shadows of His word.
You must pierce this empty space with your shadowed mind
And if you speak with the discipline of love, you will sense
The Simurgh's shadow which is you, and in your desert find
The Way, that ocean in which you can immerse yourself, in His being
That resides in your heart and in the planted stars without you seeing.'

~ Farid ud-Din Attar
from The Conference of Birds
interpreted by Raficq Abdulla
photo of the Folger Shakespear Theatre's production
by Scott Suchman

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

as intimately as if it were your own body

When I start to write, I’m not a guide or teacher; I’m not even a poet. I’m a person far out at sea, and the poem is a raft made of whatever floats past in the water. Those almost accidental rescuing pieces are words, rhythms, musics, ideas, the memory that is mine and the memory that is all of ours and the memory that is held in language itself. The experience of writing, for me at least, isn’t confidence or wisdom; it’s closer to desperation. You are naked as Odysseus when he’s lost his ship and all his men, before he’s met by the courageous young girl Nausicaa—a version perhaps of the rescuing muse, who helps us find our way back into the world shared with others but only if we bring our own resourcefulness to the situation as well. There is some faint memory that this raft business has worked before, some memory of knot-tying, of the intention to live. There is that in us that recognizes: “this is water; this is land.” A poem is land found, as if for the first time. If I already knew what it would hold, I wouldn’t need the poem, and if what it holds were knowable by any other words or way, I wouldn’t need the poem. 

 You have to welcome both your own strangeness and your own fierceness. And you have to have an ear, an eye, that will recognize when a poem has stumbled in its music, seeing, courage, or path, so you can know that you need to work with it further, to ask of it more.

[Poems offer] A door. One that stands outside our usual addresses and maps—or more truly, perhaps, many doors at once, that lead simultaneously outward and inward, into both the life we share with others and the privacy in which self can take stock with original eyes. I hope my poems might offer: “Here is one experience of life, of its possibilities, exhilarations, bewilderments, griefs. Enter. Now, here is another.” When we bring that spirit of openness, permeability, exploration, and courage into our lives and our hands, everything else follows: a deeper saturation and compassion, a recalibrating sense of proportion, an increase of the possible. Good poems make clarity without making simple. They do not erase darkness; if anything, they open into it.

It's odd perhaps that many of the moments in my life I'm most grateful for are those in which nothing seems to have happened. Yet everything that followed was changed by those moments outside of eventfulness, because I was changed. Thought takes time, feeling takes time. The deepest thought and feeling stop time entirely. You disappear into the poem, the painting, the mountain, the music, the idea, the emotion, the loved person. You disappear into action, even, as every athlete or dancer knows. And by that disappearance, you become your own fullest self, unlimited by ego or skin. Something in us recognizes the sanity of not being so worried about periphery and center. You emerge from those time-stopping moments more able to take care of both your own life and the lives of everyone and everything, which are also yours. If a slope in Patagonia is ruined by toxins or erosion, that's felt as intimately as if it were your own body.

~ Jane Hirshfield 
from an interview with Kim Rosen

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


~ Coleman Barks and Robert Bly
with Bill Moyers
on Rumi

Saturday, February 9, 2013

near field

This is not something new or kept secret
the tilled ground unsown in late spring
the dead are not separate from the living
each has one foot in the unknown
and cannot speak for the other
the field tells none of its turned story
it lies under its low cloud like a waiting river
the dead made this out of their hunger
out of what they had been told
out of the pains and shadows
and bowels of animals
out of turning and 
coming back singing
about another time

~ W. S. Merwin
from The Shadow of Sirius
photo by Kathleen Connally

Friday, February 8, 2013

there is no poverty

There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, "I must," then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge.
Then draw near to nature. Pretend you are the very first man and then write what you see and experience, what you love and lose. Do not write love poems, at least at first; they present the greatest challenge. It requires great, fully ripened power to produce something personal, something unique, when there are so many good and sometimes even brilliant renditions in great numbers. Beware of general themes. Cling to those that your every- day life offers you. Write about your sorrows, your wishes, your passing thoughts, your belief in anything beautiful. Describe all that with fervent, quiet, and humble sincerity. In order to express yourself, use things in your surroundings, the scenes of your dreams, and the subjects of your memory.
If your everyday life appears to be unworthy subject matter, do not complain to life. Complain to yourself. Lament that you are not poet enough to call up its wealth. For the creative artist there is no poverty—nothing is insignificant or unimportant. Even if you were in a prison whose walls would shut out from your senses the sounds of the outer world, would you not then still have your childhood, this precious wealth, this treasure house of memories? Direct your attention to that. Attempt to resurrect these sunken sensations of a distant past. You will gain assuredness. Your aloneness will expand and will become your home, greeting you like the quiet dawn. Outer tumult will pass it by from afar.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from Letters to a Young Poet  (the first letter)
translated by Joan M. Burnham

Monday, February 4, 2013

5 Japanese songs

~ Kathleen Battle

clarity and confusion

There are, in fact, moments when a person stands out from his grandeur in clarity and silence before you. These are rare festive pleasures that you never forget. You love this person from then on. In other words, you work to retrace with your own tender hands the outlines of the personality that you came to know in this hour.

Art does the same thing. For art is a farther reaching, more immodest love. It is God’s love. It cannot stop with an individual, who is only the portal of life itself: it must move through that individual. It cannot tire. To fulfill its destiny, it has to appear where everyone is — a someone. Then it bestows its gifts on this someone, and boundless riches come over everyone.

Art has accomplished nothing, except to show us the confusion in which we already find ourselves most of the time. It has frightened us, rather than making us quiet and peaceful. It has shown us that we all live on different islands, only the islands are not far enough apart for us to stay solitary and untroubled. Someone on one island can pester someone on another, or terrorize him, or hunt him with spears — the only thing no one can do to anyone else is help him.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke
from Notes on the Melody of Things 
found in The Inner Sky 
translated by Damion Searls
photo by ansel adams

Friday, February 1, 2013

transformed into love

~ Franz Peter Schubert
performed by Andrea Bocelli

Schubert at the piano - by Gustav Klimt

When I wished to sing of love,
 it turned to sorrow. 
And when I wished to sing of sorrow, 
it was transformed for me into love.

~ Schubert

Thursday, January 31, 2013

heaven kicks away the blankets and sheets

that because of the wine's pureness
and the crystal clarity of the glass
the color of glass and wine were confused.
All is glass - or, no, all is wine.
All is wine - or, no, all is glass.
When the sky is tainted
with the colors of the sun
heaven kicks away the blankets and sheets,
the shadows of nothingness.  Day and Night
make peace with each other:
thus have the world's affairs been ordered.

~ Fakhruddin 'Iraqi
from Divine Flashes
art by Lynda Lehmann

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

after the wedding

After the white balloons were swept away
on the wind that had swallowed
most of our vows, after the embraces
and tears, the flung rose petals,
after new friends and old friends and aunts
from all over, after you tossed
the bouquet, and the cries of the children
raised coyote cries on the rim,
after chicken grilled on juniper coals,
cold beer from the cattle trough
and hours of hot dancing to Beatles and Stones,
the last of us swaying arms on shoulders,
singing ourselves hoarse,
how good it is
to find you now beyond all
the loud joy, driving north in rain
and the lovely ease of our silence.

~ John Daniel
with thanks to writers almanac

three stanzas


The knight and his lady
turned to stone but happy
on a flying coffin lid
outside time.


Jesus held up a coin
with Tiberius in profile
a profile without love
power in circulation.


A streaming sword
wipes out the memories.
Trumpet and sword belts
rust in the ground.

Tomas Tranströmer
from The Sorrow Gondola
translation by Michael McGriff and Mikaela Grassl
photos of the tomb of Sir John and Lady Isobel de Sully
Sir John died in 1387 at the age of 106

Monday, January 28, 2013


The dark inside us is sistered outside
in night which dislikes the light of the face
and the colours the eye longs to embrace.

Night adores the mountain, wrapped to itself,
a giant heart beating beneath rock and grass
and a mind stilled inside one, sure thought.

Something has broken inside this Spring night,
unconsolably its rain teems unseen
onto Gleninagh Mountain's listening depth.

Next morning the light is cleansed to behold
the glad milk of thirty streams pulse and spurt
out of unknown pores in the mountain's hold.

~ John O'Donohue
from Echoes of Memory

Friday, January 25, 2013

you can smell it and that is all

To acquire the habit of reading 
is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.

His father was in Paris as a lawyer for the British Embassy. At eight years old, his mother died from tuberculosis. His father died of cancer two years later. He was sent back to England into the care of a cold and distant uncle, a vicar.  Miserable at his school. He said later: "I wasn't even likable as a boy. I was withdrawn and unhappy, and rejected most overtures of sympathy over my stuttering and shyness." He became a doctor and practiced in the London slums. He was particularly moved by the women he encountered in the hospital, where he delivered babies; and he was shocked by his fellow doctors' callous approach to the poor. He wrote: "I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief; I saw the dark lines that despair drew on a face; I saw courage and steadfastness. I saw faith shine in the eyes of those who trusted in what I could only think was an illusion and I saw the gallantry that made a man greet the prognosis of death with an ironic joke because he was too proud to let those about him see the terror of his soul."

Beauty is an ecstasy; it is as simple as hunger. 
There is really nothing to be said about it.
It is like the perfume of a rose: 
you can smell it and that is all.

~ Somerset Maugham


November's hunger strips the fields, its thin light
rifles the web and warmth of every nest,
allows the cold day to invade each secret,
absolves the ghosts of leaf that outlast autumn.

Now I can depend less and less on the grace
of spontaneity, talk quickly tires,
words become contrived as the eyes of others
notice my mind unravel in this sallow light.

Intense with silence my room waits for me,
the paintings and open books grown distant,
its window one huge eye on the tree outside;
in the mirror the glimpse of my face draws tears.

~ John O'Donohue
from Echoes of Memory
photo by Christine de Grancy

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

taking the hands

Taking the hands of someone you love,
You see they are delicate cages . . .
Tiny birds are singing
In the secluded prairies
And in the deep valleys of the hand.

~ Robert Bly