....[ Winter Scene in Moonlight ; Henry Farrer (1869) ]
[via this isn't happiness]
Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.
A Love Poem
--Knuts Skujenieks (trans. Bitite Vinklers)
I would like clarity. To exclude
A relationship's tangled yarn.
Not a word.
Let reaction suffice.
So. Only so. And if the two of us
Are pitched alone against the world,
That we can instantly swing about
And stand back to back.
Would that be too much?
But a poem cannot be written
If one awaits the bullet
From the back,
And not from the front.
At the Edge of the World
--Knuts Skujenieks (trans. Bitite Vinklers)
I have nothing in common with those
Who are afraid of burns
This is the last barricade, firebreak, red line.
We will no longer shake hands
As friends, politicians, or drinking buddies.
The final day, the last sentence, the last chance.
At the border the word we will go up in flames.
The word you won't make it through the fire.
Only they will remain.
Tonight let's sit awhile on our suitcases filled with reason,
Our backpacks bulging with feelings of honor,
And count a lifetime's worth of pocket change
For the road ahead, or back.
Let us sit until the morning.
Everywhere these days more and more people knock their heads against the fact that the future of our planet and what it will offer or deny to its inhabitants, is being decided by boards of men who control more money than all the governments in the world, who never stand for election, and whose sole criterion for every decision they take is whether or not it increases or is prone to increase Profit.
Matthew Brady Arranging The Bodies
On a mountain flat with snow
a blue cloud
paints a last touch of life.
There’s endless harm in trying
a dead body on for size.
The gentleman stands out
in every detail, except color.
He considers his life of a madness
that breaks unexpected
(one boy had a sweetheart
he wore her hair round his finger
it kept it from falling off
with the rest)
or comes also if he composes it
(lift one eye shut, put
rifle butt in the slack jaw
of soldiers decomposing).
He fell in love like a woman
in the folded arms
of a drying sweater:
touched one shoulder
and a whole platoon
was affixed with smiles.
Teeth already loose
falling from their envelopes
thick folded letters
in a dead white mist.
Oh, I said, this is going to be.
And it was.
Oh, I said, this will never happen.
But it did.
And a purple fog descended upon the land.
The roots of trees curled up.
The world was divided into two countries.
Every photograph taken in the first was of people.
Every photograph taken in the second showed none.
All of the girl children were named And.
All of the boy children named Then.
I spend all day on the internet, but many of its mandates are alien to me, and none feel quite as strange as this central, self-contradictory, two-part injunction: first, that you should talk all the time — weigh in on things, as if that was our duty — and, impossibly, always believe that you are right.
That pressure is becoming increasingly powerful among the people who shape public rhetoric. Print media is mirroring online media; online media is mirroring social media. Some days everything feels like a maelstrom, a series of fights over identity, in which everyone is constantly misrepresenting their own stakes. The danger of writing on the internet is that you can place too much trust in your own quick opinions, and thereby screw the precious pooch of your own mind. A passing thought needs time in private; there is nothing more suspect than a person in uncomplicated love with what he thinks....
Poetry teaches me that I basically know nothing, and that acknowledging this position is a beginning and never an end. The great thing is not having a mind. From a point of nothingness, the world starts to sparkle. It becomes declarable. It brings you those fleeting sensations that are worth sitting on, punching around, forming into ideas that may not be correct, necessarily, but will have some gravity, maybe even feel new.
There may be Chaos still around the World
There may be chaos still around the world,
This little world that in my thinking lies;
For mine own bosom is the paradise
Where all my life’s fair visions are unfurled.
Within my nature’s shell I slumber curled,
Unmindful of the changing outer skies,
Where now, perchance, some new-born Eros flies,
Or some old Cronos from his throne is hurled.
I heed them not; or if the subtle night
Haunt me with deities I never saw,
I soon mine eyelid’s drowsy curtain draw
To hide their myriad faces from my sight.
They threat in vain; the whirlwind cannot awe
A happy snow-flake dancing in the flaw.
A Poem- for January
Oxen sized weather
outside. Inside, a glass
of soda water. A page
of ordinary air traced
with hyaline poetry,
to afternoon's celsius,
layers of semi gloss
for word faintly brought
off table's dimension
amidst noonday weight,
that minikin narrative
of a lamp and the door,
and guesswork cadence
framed by the window.
The stars nothing but whole notes.
Who knows whether thoughts themselves do not produce an infinitesimally faint sound that may be detected by the most sensitive instruments and deciphered empirically (i.e., by means of comparison and experimentation).
Rhythmically animated air is in a certain sense colored air. The effect of bells.
Nature knows only transitions between colors, not colors.
Much worthier of wonder than a simple mirror is a translucent mirror—i.e., a window which looks out on a landscape and in which at the same time the objects of our room are reflected.
It is the same with landscapes as with people: one never finishes getting to know them. Under certain circumstances every person and every landscape is capable of passing by stages from the paltriest ugliness to the liveliest beauty.Nature is the great reposefulness poised against our mobility. That is why humankind will love her more and more as it becomes ever more subtle and mobile. Nature gives it the basic contours, broad perspectives, and at the same time the image of a lofty placidity in the midst of all unremitting evolution.
It is a curious feeling to think our way perpendicularly into the earth beneath our feet. One doesn’t get very far; one’s imagination literally suffocates.
No locale consists of any elements but ones with which we are already familiar. We know this, and yet we dally at surmising mysteries in a landscape as long as we are not familiar with it in precise detail.
For an entire big-city winter you have been yearning in vain for an instance of unaffected natural grace. Perhaps sitting behind you on the otherwise empty sofa there is a roughly one-year-old cat that visits you every now and then to spend a half an hour elaborately grooming itself and then another half an hour slumbering with profound contentment—and you behold what you were seeking, the aboriginal suasiveness of unconscious nature.One of the most egregiously impertinent attributes of humankind is its tendency to give an emphatically erroneous name to this or that animal, as if there had ever been a being more erroneous in its relation to other beings than a human being!
It is a remarkable feeling to realize that we are attached to this native earth of ours in a manner not much different from that of those little rubber suction cups that you stick to the wall so that you can hang watches and keys on them.A dark blue Chinese lantern, lit from within by a single candle, hung against the night sky. A vision of a phantasmal planet in the nocturnal twilight.
Anybody who had not grown up accustomed to the world would be bound to lose his mind thanks to it. The miraculousness of a single tree would suffice to annihilate him.I believe that any blind person would necessarily have a highly superior understanding of plants.What is the use of a flower to God? It allows God to be pleased. In the flower, as a flower, he dreams his happiest dream, in which nothing strives against him.I don’t recognize any “separate territories.”
Larches, birches, alders, a womanly forest!The tall firs say: we are not sorrowful and we are not mirthful; we are steadfast.Behold a tiny scrap of a spider’s web full of raindrops—who imitates this?On reflecting that the earth like the sea ebbs and flows under the influence of the moon, I ask myself why the human body’s combination of blood and brain should not have tides of its own.
The reason that nature is so profoundly comforting is that it is a world asleep, a world dreamlessly asleep. It feels neither joy nor pain, and yet both before us and for us it lives a life full of wisdom, beauty, and goodness. We, too, once slept thus, and to this state we shall someday return, but with the difference that we shall then be aware of this surplus of joy, this surplus of sorrow, and that we shall no longer have any need of dreams then either, for we shall have a direct and open view of the heavens themselves.The small in nature is usually greater than “the great.” For the small is quite often the ongoing labor of God, whereas the great is the finished work of mere gods.
There are some tiny obvious details in human life that survive the divine purpose of boring fools to death. In France, all the way down south in Avallon, people like to eat cake. The local bakers there spin up a little flour and chocolate into the shape of a penguin. We came back again and again to a certain window to admire a flock of them. But we never bought one.
We found ourselves wandering through Italy, homesick for penguins.
Then a terrible and savage fire of the dog-days roared all over the fourteenth Arrondissement: which is to say it was August: and three chocolate penguins appeared behind a window near Place Denfert-Rochereau. We were afraid the Parisians would recognize them, so we bought them all and snuck them home under cover.
We set them out on a small table above half the rooftops of Paris. I reached out to brush a tiny obvious particle of dust from the tip of a beak. Suddenly the dust dropped an inch and hovered there. Then it rose to the beak again.
It was a blue spider.
If I was a blue spider, I would certainly ride on a train all the way from Avallon to Paris, and I would set up my house on the nose of a chocolate Penguin. It's just a matter of common sense.
What does it mean to be radical, to tell radical stories in our time, to win the battle of the story? The North American tradition seems to focus its activity on the exposé, the telling of the grim underside of what we know: the food is poison, the system is corrupt, the leaders are lying, the war is failing. There is a place for this, but you cannot base a revolution on the bad things the status quo forgot to mention. You need to tell the stories they are not telling, to learn to see where they are blind, to look at how the great changes of the world come from the shadows and the margins, not center stage, to see where we’re winning and that we can win something that matters, if not everything all the time.
Stairway to the Stars
"And then there were three
whereas before there had been four
And then there were four or two."
Thus spake the King.
No one dared ask what it meant.
He seemed satisfied by the beauty
of the logic that had arrived,
the royal hall now lightly radiant
as he arose from his throne
and the world fell away,
courtiers, battlements, and clouds,
and he rose like a piece of paper
on which his effigy had been traced
in dotted lines whose dots came loose
and flew away to a place in history
where nothing mattered.
And then there was one.
True poetry is antibiographical. The poet’s homeland is his poem and changes from one poem to the next. The distances are the old, eternal ones: infinite like the cosmos, in which each poem attempts to assert itself as a — minuscule — star. Infinite also like the distance between one’s I and one’s You: from both sides, from both poles the bridge is built: in the middle, halfway, where the carrier pylon is expected, from above or from below, there is the place of the poem. From above: invisible and uncertain. From below: from the abyss of hope for the distant, the future-distant kin.
--from Microliths; Paul Celan
Poetry is the imagination of life. A poem is a particular of life thought of for so long that one’s thought has become an inseparable part of it or a particular of life so intensely felt that the feeling has entered into it. When, therefore, we say that the world is a compact of real things so like the unreal things of the imagination that they are indistinguishable from one another and when, by way of illustration, we cite, say, the blue sky, we can be sure that the thing cited is always something that, whether by thinking or feeling, has become a part of our vital experience of life, even though we are not aware of it. It is easy to suppose that few people realize on that occasion, which comes to all of us, when we look at the blue sky for the first time, that is to say: not merely see it, but look at it and experience it and for the first time have a sense that we live in the center of a physical poetry, a geography that would be intolerable except for the non-geography that exists there—few people realize that they are looking at the world of their own thoughts and the world of their own feelings. On that occasion, the blue sky is a particular of life that we have thought of often, even though unconsciously, and that we have felt intensely in those crystallizations of freshness that we no more remember than we remember this or that gust of wind in spring or autumn.
The Snow Man
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.
Michael O’Keefe: I’m curious if there has been any kind of influence from Zen practice or Buddhism in your work and personal philosophy?
Mark Strand: Well, not formally. I mean, the closest I’ve ever come is from reading Sufi tales. I never practiced Zen or Sufism. People have told me that I am a kind of a natural Buddhist. But I don’t know what that means.
MO: Well, it seems to me Zen is not necessarily constrained to the province of Buddhism and that neither insight nor truth are. There is a sense that I get from reading your work that you have the ability to abandon self or forget the self so that you can get into whatever it is you’re creating on the page.
MS: I think you have to forget self when you write. I call it “The Other Strand.” When writing you are in a place where all those things that seem to define life aren’t operating. It’s more or less a feeling that you are just writing. You are in the world of your writing and that’s not necessarily the world in which you live. There is an excitement that attends to being in that world that makes it all worthwhile. It’s not that you are going to show it to somebody or that it’s going to be published but just to be in it and have it there everyday to work on. That is, to enter that world again and again is kind of thrilling.
MO: I want to quote a famous Zen expression from Dogen Zenji who lived in the 13th Century. He wrote, “To study the Buddha way is to study oneself. To study oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to be enlightened by the myriad dharmas.” What he is getting at is that when you really sit down and examine yourself, the more you do the less you find, the less you find the more there is.
MS: Yeah, I said something like that in one of my early poems.
MO: Sometimes I get the sense in your work that “self” is a kind of sickness.
MO: And that this forgetting of the self is a kind of antidote.
MS: Yeah, I think so.
MO: That’s why I got into Zen. It is really a school of forgetting.
MS: Oh? Why do you need a school?