Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Fairy Thorn by Sir Samuel Ferguson

“GET up, our Anna dear, from the weary spinning-wheel;
For your father’s on the hill, and your mother is asleep;
Come up above the crags, and we’ll dance a Highland reel
Around the Fairy Thorn on the steep.”
At Anna Grace’s door ’twas thus the maidens cried,        5
Three merry maidens fair in kirtles of the green;
And Anna laid the rock and the weary wheel aside,
The fairest of the four, I ween.
They’re glancing through the glimmer of the quiet eve,
Away in milky wavings of neck and ankle bare;        10
The heavy-sliding stream in its sleepy song they leave,
And the crags in the ghostly air.
And linking hand-in-hand, and singing as they go,
The maids along the hillside have ta’en their fearless way,
Till they come to where the rowan trees in lonely beauty grow        15
Beside the Fairy Hawthorn grey.
The Hawthorn stands between the ashes tall and slim,
Like matron with her twin grand-daughters at her knee;
The rowan berries cluster o’er her low head grey and dim
In ruddy kisses sweet to see.        20
The merry maidens four have ranged them in a row,
Between each lovely couple a stately rowan stem,
And away in mazes wavy, like skimming birds they go,
Oh, never carolled bird like them!
But solemn is the silence on the silvery haze        25
That drinks away their voices in echoless repose,
And dreamily the evening has stilled the haunted braes,
And dreamier the gloaming grows.
And sinking one by one, like lark-notes from the sky,
When the falcon’s shadow saileth across the open shaw,        30
Are hushed the maidens’ voices, as cowering down they lie
In the flutter of their sudden awe.
For, from the air above and the grassy ground beneath,
And from the mountain-ashes and the old white-thorn between,
A power of faint enchantment doth through their beings breathe,        35
And they sink down together on the green.
They sink together silent, and stealing side to side,
They fling their lovely arms o’er their drooping necks so fair,
Then vainly strive again their naked arms to hide,
For their shrinking necks again are bare.        40
Thus clasped and prostrate all, with their heads together bowed,
Soft o’er their bosoms beating—the only human sound—
They hear the silky footsteps of the silent fairy crowd,
Like a river in the air gliding round.
Nor scream can any raise, nor prayer can any say,        45
But wild, wild the terror of the speechless three—
For they feel fair Anna Grace drawn silently away,
By whom they dare not look to see.
They feel their tresses twine with her parting locks of gold,
And the curls elastic falling, as her head withdraws.        50
They feel her sliding arms from their tranc├Ęd arms unfold,
But they dare not look to see the cause;
For heavy on their senses the faint enchantment lies
Through all that night of anguish and perilous amaze
And neither fear nor wonder can ope their quivering eyes,        55
Or their limbs from the cold ground raise;
Till out of night the earth has rolled her dewy side,
With every haunted mountain and streamy vale below;
When, as the mist dissolves in the yellow morningtide,
The maiden’s trance dissolveth so.        60
Then fly the ghastly three as swiftly as they may,
And tell their tale of sorrow to anxious friends in vain—
They pined away and died within the year and day,
And ne’er was Anna Grace seen again.

The Guest House by Jellaludin Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Heroic Simile by Richard Hass

When the swordsman fell in Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai
in the gray rain,
in the Cinemascope and the Tokugawa dynasty,
he fell straight as a pine, he fell
as Ajax fell in Homer
in chanted dactyls and the tree was so huge
the woodsman returned for two days
to that lucky place before he was done with the sawing
and on the third day he brought his uncle.

They stacked logs in the resinous air,
hacking the small limbs off,
tying those bundles separately.
The slabs near the root
were quartered and still they were awkwardly large;
the logs from the midtree they halved:
ten bundles and four great piles of fragrant wood,
moons and quarter moons and half moons
ridged by the saw’s tooth.

The woodsman and the old man his uncle
are standing in midforest
on a floor of pine silt and spring mud.
They have stopped working
because they are tired and because
I have imagined no pack animal   
or primitive wagon. They are too canny
to call in neighbors and come home
with a few logs after three days’ work.
They are waiting for me to do something   
or for the overseer of the Great Lord
to come and arrest them.

How patient they are!
The old man smokes a pipe and spits.
The young man is thinking he would be rich
if he were already rich and had a mule.
Ten days of hauling
and on the seventh day they’ll probably
be caught, go home empty-handed
or worse. I don’t know
whether they’re Japanese or Mycenaean
and there’s nothing I can do.
The path from here to that village
is not translated. A hero, dying,
gives off stillness to the air.
A man and a woman walk from the movies
to the house in the silence of separate fidelities.
There are limits to imagination.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Gaffe by C.K. Williams


If that someone who’s me yet not me yet who judges me is always with me,    
as he is, shouldn’t he have been there when I said so long ago that thing I said?   

If he who rakes me with such not trivial shame for minor sins now were there then,   
shouldn’t he have warned me he’d even now devastate me for my unpardonable affront?   

I’m a child then, yet already I’ve composed this conscience-beast, who harries me:   
is there anything else I can say with certainty about who I was, except that I, that he,   

could already draw from infinitesimal transgressions complex chords of remorse,   
and orchestrate ever undiminishing retribution from the hapless rest of myself?   

The son of some friends of my parents has died, and my parents, paying their call,   
take me along, and I’m sent out with the dead boy’s brother and some others to play.   

We’re joking around, and some words come to my mind, which to my amazement are said.   
How do you know when you can laugh when somebody dies, your brother dies

is what’s said, and the others go quiet, the backyard goes quiet, everyone stares,   
and I want to know now why that someone in me who’s me yet not me let me say it.   

Shouldn’t he have told me the contrition cycle would from then be ever upon me,   
it didn’t matter that I’d really only wanted to know how grief ends, and when?   

I could hear the boy’s mother sobbing inside, then stopping, sobbing then stopping.   
Was the end of her grief already there? Had her someone in her told her it would end?   

Was her someone in her kinder to her, not tearing at her, as mine did, still does, me,   
for guessing grief someday ends? Is that why her sobbing stopped sometimes?   

She didn’t laugh, though, or I never heard her. How do you know when you can laugh
Why couldn’t someone have been there in me not just to accuse me, but to explain?   

The kids were playing again, I was playing, I didn’t hear anything more from inside.   
The way now sometimes what’s in me is silent, too, and sometimes, though never really, forgets.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Burial Rites by Philip Levine

Everyone comes back here to die
as I will soon. The place feels right
since it’s half dead to begin with.
Even on a rare morning of rain,
like this morning, with the low sky
hoarding its riches except for
a few mock tears, the hard ground
accepts nothing. Six years ago
I buried my mother’s ashes
beside a young lilac that’s now
taller than I, and stuck the stub
of a rosebush into her dirt,
where like everything else not
human it thrives. The small blossoms
never unfurl; whatever they know
they keep to themselves until
a morning rain or a night wind
pares the petals down to nothing.
Even the neighbor cat who shits
daily on the paths and then hides
deep in the jungle of the weeds
refuses to purr. Whatever’s here
is just here, and nowhere else,
so it’s right to end up beside
the woman who bore me, to shovel
into the dirt whatever’s left
and leave only a name for some-
one who wants it. Think of it,
my name, no longer a portion
of me, no longer inflated
or bruised, no longer stewing
in a rich compost of memory
or the simpler one of bone shards,
dirt, kitty litter, wood ashes,
the roots of the eucalyptus
I planted in ’73,
a tiny me taking nothing,
giving nothing, and free at last.

Thursday, February 26, 2015


Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
       Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
       A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunts about thy shape
       Of deities or mortals, or of both,
               In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
       What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
               What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
         Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
         For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
         For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
                For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
         That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
                A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
         To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
         And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
         Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
                Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
         Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
                Why thou art desolate, can e'er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
         Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
         Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
         When old age shall this generation waste,
                Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
         "Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Morning Poem by Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not

you have ever dared to pray.

NOTE: Poet Mary Oliver  (b.1935) is an “indefatigable guide to the natural world,” wrote Maxine Kumin in the Women’s Review of Books,“particularly to its lesser-known aspects.” Oliver’s verse focuses on the quiet of occurrences of nature: industrious hummingbirds, egrets, motionless ponds, “lean owls / hunkering with their lamp-eyes.”  She sought to understand the wonder and pain of nature.