15 February, 2013 § Leave a comment
Is it not time that, in loving,
we freed ourselves from the loved one, and, quivering,
as the arrow endures the string, to become, in the gathering
something more than itself? For staying is nowhere.
– From First Elegy by Rainer Maria Rilke
26 May, 2012 § Leave a comment
Of all the streets that blur into the sunset,
there must be one (which, I am not sure)
that I by now have walked for the last time
without guessing it, the pawn of that Someone
who fixes in advance omnipotent laws,
sets up a secret and unwavering scale
for all the shadows, dreams, and forms
woven into the texture of this life.
If there is a limit to all things and a measure
and a last time and nothing more and forgetfulness,
who will tell us to whom in this house
we without knowing it have said farewell?
Through the dawning window night withdraws
and among the stacked books that throw
irregular shadows on the dim table,
there must be one which I will never read.
There is in the South more than one worn gate,
with its cement urns and planted cactus,
which is already forbidden to my entry,
inaccessible, as in a lithograph.
There is a door you have closed forever
and some mirror is expecting you in vain;
to you the crossroads seem wide open,
yet watching you, four-faced, is a Janus.
There is among all your memories one
which has now been lost beyond recall.
You will not be seen going down to that fountain,
neither by white sun nor by yellow moon.
You will never recapture what the Persian
said in his language woven with birds and roses,
when, in the sunset, before the light disperses,
you wish to give words to unforgettable things.
And the steadily flowing Rhone and the lake,
all that vast yesterday over which today I bend?
They will be as lost as Carthage,
scourged by the Romans with with fire and salt.
At dawn I seem to hear the turbulent
murmur of crowds milling and fading away;
they are all I have been loved by, forgotten by;
space, time, and Borges now are leaving me.
20 May, 2012 § 2 Comments
The story goes that in those far-off times
when every sort of thing was taking place –
things real, imaginary, dubious things –
a man thought up a plan that would embrace
the universe entire in just one book.
Relentlessly spurred on by this vast notion,
he brought off the ambitious manuscript,
polishing the final verse with deep emotion.
All set to offer thanks to his good fortune,
he happened to loop up and, none too soon,
beheld a glowing disk in the upper air,
the one thing he’d left out – the moon.
The story I have told, although made up,
could very well symbolize the plight
of those of us who cultivate the craft
of turning our lives into the words we write.
The essential thing is what we always miss.
From this law no one will be immune
nor will this account be an exception,
of my protracted dealings with the moon.
Where I saw it first I do not know,
whether in the other sky that, the Greeks tell,
preceded ours, or one fading afternoon
in the patio, above the fig-tree and the well.
As is well known, this changing life of ours
may incidentally seem ever so fair,
and so it was on evenings spent with her
when the moon was ours alone to share.
More than moons of the night, there come to mind
moons I have found in the verse: the weirdly haunting
dragon moon that chills us in the ballad
and Quevedo’s blood-stained moon, fully as daunting.
In the book he wrote full of all the wildest
wonders and atrocious jubilation,
John tells of a bloody scarlet moon.
There are other sliver moons for consolation.
Pythagoras, an old tradition holds,
used to write his verse in blood on a mirror.
Men looked to its reflection in the moon’s
hoping thus to make his meaning clearer.
In a certain ironclad wood is said to dwell
a giant wolf whose fate will be to slay
(This is well known throughout the prophetic North
as also that on that day, as all hope fails,
by a ship built solely out of dead men’s nails.)
When in Geneva or Zurich the fates decreed
that I should be a poet, one of the few,
I set myself a secret obligation
to define the moon, as would-be poets do.
Working away with studious resolve,
I ran through my modest variations,
terrified that my moonstruck friend Lugones
would leave no sand or amber for my creations.
The moons that shed their silver on my lines
were moons of ivory, smokiness, or snow.
Needless to say, no typesetter ever saw
the faintest trace of their transcendent glow.
I was convinced that like the red-hot Adam
of Paradise, the poet alone may claim
to bestow on everything within his reach
its uniquely fitting, never-yet-heard-of-name.
Ariosto holds that in the fickle moon
dwell dreams that slither through our fingers here,
all time that’s lost, all things that might have been
or might not have – no difference, it would appear.
Apollodorus let me glimpse the threefold shape
Diana’s magic shadow may assume.
Hugo gave me that reaper’s golden sickle
and an Irishman his pitch-black tragic moon.
And as I dug down deep into that mine
of mythic moons, my still unquiet eye
happened to catch, shining around the corner,
the familiar nightly moon of our own sky.
To evoke our satellite there spring to mind
all those lunar cliches like croon and June.
The trick, however, is mastering the use
of a single modest word: that word is moon.
My daring fails. How can I continue
to thrust vain images in that pure face?
The moon, both unknowable and familiar,
disdains my claims to literary grace.
The moon I know or the letters of its name
were created as a puzzle or a pun
for the human need to underscore in writing
our untold strangeness, many or one.
Include it then with symbols that fate or chance
bestow on humankind against the day –
sublimely glorious or plain agonic –
when at least we write its name the one true way.
22 April, 2012 § Leave a comment
“Why, when this span of life might be fleeted away
as laurel, a little darker than all
the surrounding green, with tiny waves on the border
of every leaf (like the smile of the wind): – oh, why
have to be human, and, shunning Destiny,
long for Destiny? …
Not because happiness really
exists, that precipitate profit of imminent loss.
Not out of curiosity, not just to practise the heart,
that could still be there in laurel. …
But because being here is much, and because all this
that’s here, so fleeting, seems to require us and strangely
concerns us. Us the most fleeting of all. Just once,
everything, only for once. Once and no more. And we, too,
once. And never again. But this
having been once, though only once,
having been once on earth – can it ever be cancelled?”
– From The Ninth Elegy by Reiner Maria Rilke
5 June, 2010 § Leave a comment
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
– The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
27 April, 2010 § Leave a comment
Picked up a copy of Carol Ann Duffy’s amazing collection of poems from the local library and have been spending a couple of quiet nights with nothing but the buzz of the rotary fan and her perfect cadence for company.
When you read a poem aloud, the world distills itself, shrugs away the noise, reduced to just sound and sensibility – a co-mingling of vowels, consonants, the sound of breathing; in the middle, a stillness.
Rapture | by Carol Ann Duffy
Thought of by you all day, I think of you.
The birds sing in the shelter of a tree.
Above the prayer of rain, unacred blue,
not paradise, goes nowhere endlessly.
How does it happen that our lives can drift
far from our selves, while we stay trapped in time,
queuing for death? It seems nothing will shift
the pattern of our days, alter the rhyme
we make with loss to assonance with bliss.
Then love comes, like a sudden flight of birds
from earth to heaven after rain. Your kiss,
recalled, unstrings, like pearls, this chain of words.
Huge skies connect us, joining here to there.
Desire and passion on the thinking air.