Friday, September 4, 2009

THOUGHT WORK by John O'Donohue

Off course from the frail music sought by words
And the path that always claims the journey,
In the pursuit of a more oblique rhythm,
Creating mostly its own geography,
The mind is an old crow
Who knows only to gather dead twigs,
Then take them back to vacancy
Between the branches of the parent tree
And entwine them around the emptiness
With silence and unfailing patience
Until what has fallen, withered and lost
Is now set to fill with dreams as a nest.


Unknown to us, there are moments
When crevices we cannot see open
For time to come alive with beginning.

As in autumn a field of corn knows
When enough green has been inhaled
From the clay and under the skill
Of an artist breeze becomes gold in a day.

When the ocean still as a mirror
Of a sudden takes a sinister curve
To rise in a mountain of wave
That would swallow a village.

How to a flock of starlings
Scattered, at work on grass,
From somewhere, a signal comes
And suddenly as one, they describe
A geometric shape in the air.

When the audience becomes still
And the soprano lets the silence deepen,
In the slowed holding, the whole aria
Hovers nearer, then alights
On the wings of breath
Poised to soar into song.

These inklings were first prescribed
The morning we met in Westport
And I was left with such sweet time
Wondering if between us something
Was deciding to begin or not.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Xenophanes Topples Traditional Poetic Conceptions of the Gods

The Ethiops say that their gods are flat-nosed and black,
While the Thracians say that theirs have blue eyes and red hair.
Yet if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,
And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle; and each they would shape
Bodies of gods in the likeness, each kind, of their own.

-- Xenophanes (570 – 480 BCE) - Greek philosopher, poet and social and religious critic - Writes in rebuttal to the "oral mythos" of Homer and Hesoid.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Monday, August 24, 2009

On the occasion of Andrea's birthday

by Derek Walcott

The time will come when,
with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other's welcome,
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your own image from the mirror.
Feast on your life.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

THE WORLD IS TOO MUCH WITH US (1807) William Wordsworth

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,

The winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be

A Pagan, suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

THE LAKE ISLE OF INNISFREE (1892) William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear the water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.

AT ARDBOE POINT by Seamus Heaney

Right along the lough shore
A smoke of flies
Drifts thick in the sunset.

They come smattering daintily
Against the windscreen,
The grill and bonnet whisper

At their million collisions:
It is to drive thought
A hail of fine chaff.

Yet we leave no clear wake
For they open and close on us
As the air opens and closes.

To-night when we put out our light
To kiss between sheets
Their just audible siren will go

Outside the window,
Their invisible veil
Weakening the moonlight still further

And the walls will carry a rash
Of them, a green pollen.
They’ll have infiltrated our clothes by morning.


Inscribed ‘Belonged to Louise Catherine Coe before her marriage to John Charles Smith, March 1852.’

I expected the lettering to carry
The date of the gift, a kind of christening:
This is more like the plate on a coffin.

Louisa Catherine Smith could not be light.
Far more than a maiden name
Was cancelled by him on the first night.

I believe he cannot have known your touch
Like this instrument—for clearly
John Charles did not hold with fingering—

Which is obviously a lady’s:
The sound-box trim as a girl in stays,
The neck right for the smallest span.

Did you even keep track of it as a wife?
Do you know the man who has it now
Is giving it the time of its life?


You can still feel the community pack
This place: it’s like going into a turfstack,
A core of old dark walled up with stone
A yard thick. When you’re in it alone,
You might have dropped, a reduced creature,
To the heart of the globe. No worshipper
Would leap up to his God off this floor.

Founded there like heroes in a barrow,
They sought themselves in the eye of their King
Under the black weight of their own breathing.
And how he smiled on them as out they came,
The sea a censer and the grass a flame.

Having been inside this oratory, I can relate to the feelings of constriction and diminution experienced in this “core of old dark.” It was built around the 6-9th century AD on the Dingle Peninsula, one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Once you step out, you realize that THIS is where one can experience the divine. The divine can be found in Nature not within an always second-rate, man-made structure.

LAST GODS by Galway Kinnell

She sits naked on a rock
a few yards out in the water.
He stands on the shore, also naked, picking blueberries.
She calls. He turns. She opens
her legs showing him her great beauty,
and smiles, a bow of lips
seeming to tie together
the ends of the earth.
Splashing her image
to pieces, he wades out
and stands before her, sunk
to the anklebones in leaf-mush
and bottom-slime--the intimacy
of the visible world. He puts
a berry in its shirt
of mist into her mouth.
She swallows it. Over the lake
two swallows whim, juke, jink,
and when one snatches
an insect they both whirl up
and exult. He is swollen
not with ichor but with blood.
She takes him and sucks him
more swollen. He kneels, opens
the dark, vertical smile
linking heaven with the underneath
and licks her smoothest flesh more smooth.
On top of the rock they join.
Somewhere a frog moans, a crow screams.
The hair of their bodies
startles up. They cry
in the tongue of the last gods,
who refused to go,
chose death, and shuddered
in joy and shattered in pieces,
bequeathing their cries
into the human mouth. Now in the lake
two faces float, looking up
at a great maternal pine whose branches
open out in all directions
explaining everything.

THE JOURNEY by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice--

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

"Mend my life!"

each voice cried.

But you didn't stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do--

determined to save

the only life you could save.

ELEGY FOR A STILL-BORN CHILD (ca. 1966) by Seamus Heaney

Your mother walks light as an empty creel
Unlearning the intimate nudge and pull

Your trussed-up weight of seed-flesh and bone-curd
Had insisted on. That evicted world

Contracts round its history, its scar.
Doomsday struck when your collapsed sphere

Extinguished itself in our atmosphere,
Your mother heavy with the lightness in her.


For six months you stayed cartographer
Charting my friend from husband towards father.

He guessed a globe behind your steady mound.
Then the pole fell, shooting star, into the ground.


On lonely journeys I think of it all,
Birth of death, exhumation for burial;

A wreath of small clothes, a memorial pram
And parents reaching for a phantom limb.

I drive by remote control on this bare road
Under a drizzling sky, a circling rock.

Past mountain fields full to the brim with cloud.
White waves riding home on a wintry lough.