After all, what is every man? A horde of ghosts-- like a Chinese nest of boxes-- oaks that were acorns that were oaks. Death lies behind us, not in front-- in our ancestors, back and back until...
-- from 'The Return'; Walter de la Mare (1910)
--Walter de la Mare
Ye say we sleep;
But nay, we wake;
Life was that strange and chequered dream
Only for waking’s sake.
O passer-by, beware!
Is the day fair?—
Yet unto evening shall the day spin on
And soon thy sun be gone;
Then darkness come,
And this, a narrow home.
Not that I bid thee fear;
Only, when thou at last lie here,
Bethink thee, there shall only be
.....Thyself for company.
All loves and dreams and sounds and gleams of night
......Made it all music that such minstrels may,
And all they had they gave it of delight;
......But in the full face of the fire of day
What place shall be for any starry light,
......What part of heaven in all the wide sun's way?
Yet the soul woke not, sleeping by the way,
.....Watched as a nursling of the large-eyed night,
And sought no strength nor knowledge of the day,
......Nor closer touch conclusive of delight,
Nor mightier joy nor truer than dreamers may,
......Nor more of song than they, nor more of light.
For who sleeps once and sees the secret light
.....Whereby sleep shows the soul a fairer way
Between the rise and rest of day and night,
......Shall care no more to fare as all men may,
But be his place of pain or of delight,
......There shall he dwell, beholding night as day.
--from 'Sestina'; Algernon Charles Swinburne
Air, to Dream In
Leave it, leave it
..........behind the dark
..........window the owls
..........calling out to each other
..........my voice to you
..........there in the dark
..........treetops of the sea
...............red the moon rose
...............cooled off shrunk
...............to a coin in the blue
alone....it is if it is
a poem for you
A blowing night in late fall,
The moon rises with a nick
In it. All day Mary has
Been talking about the eclipse.
Every once in a while I
Go out and report on the
Progress of the earth's shadow.
When it is passing the half,
Marthe and Mary come out
And we stand on the corner
In the first wisps of chilling
Fog and watch the light go out.
Streamers of fog reach the moon,
But never quite cover it.
We have explained with an orange,
A grapefruit, and a lamp, not
That we expect a four
Year old child to understand -
Just as a sort of ritual
Duty. But we are surprised
'The earth's shadow is like blood,'
She says. I tell her the Indians
Called an eclipse blood on the moon.
'Is it all the blood on the earth
Makes the shadow that color?'
She asks. I do not answer.
What do I know now,
of myself, of the others?
Blood flows out to the fleeing
Nebulae, and flows back, red
With all the worn space of time.
It is my blood. I cannot
Taste in it as it leaves me
More of myself than on its
Return. I can see in it
Trees of silence and fire.
--from 'The Reflecting Trees of Being
..and Not Being'; Kenneth Rexroth
.............................................Do you think
the dirt disapproves of anything? Nothing rots
underground, the brain seeps autumnal garlands
like those late Sinatra songs where he’s hungover
just enough to sound husky and roughed-up
like a butterfly caught in a downpour.
Yes, the height of civilization is still
guided tours of prisons so surely now
is no time to be serious. Look how frantically
the hearts of these roses beat. Look
at those party-boats in the sky. Yes,
we all come into this world through a wound.
The soft thing tips, monsters arrive
with the light and what a struggle
just to stand up while the clouds break,
crickets quiet, flames come to the tongue
and the thorax is ransacked by bells bells bells.
--from 'The Death of André Breton'; Dean Young
The Annihilation of Nothing
Nothing remained: Nothing, the wanton name
That nightly I rehearsed till led away
To a dark sleep, or sleep that held one dream.
In this a huge contagious absence lay,
More space than space, over the cloud and slime,
Defined but by the encroachments of its sway.
Stripped to indifference at the turns of time,
Whose end I knew, I woke without desire,
And welcomed zero as a paradigm.
But now it breaks-- images burst with fire
Into the quiet sphere where I have bided,
Showing the landscape holding yet entire:
The power that I envisaged, that presided
Ultimate in its abstract devastations,
Is merely change, the atoms it divided
Complete, in ignorance, new combinations.
Only an infinite finitude I see
In those peculiar lovely variations.
It is despair that nothing cannot be
Flares in the mind and leaves a smoky mark
.............Look upward. Neither firm nor free,
Purposeless matter hovers in the dark.
Impermanence is not just of philosophical interest. It's very personal. Until we accept and deeply understand in our very being that things change from moment to moment, and never stop even for one instant, only then can we let go. And when we really let go inside, the relief is enormous. Ironically this gives release to a whole new dimension of love. People think that if someone is unattached, they are cold. But this isn't true. Anyone who has met very great spiritual masters who are really unattached is immediately struck by their warmth to all beings, not just to the ones they happen to like or are related to. Non-attachment releases something very profound inside us, because it releases that level of fear. We all have so much fear: fear of losing, fear of change, an inability to just accept.
It's like a dance. And we have to give each being space to dance their dance. Everything is dancing; even the molecules inside the cells are dancing. But we make our lives so heavy. We have these incredibly heavy burdens we carry with us like rocks in a big rucksack. We think that carrying this big heavy rucksack is our security; we think it grounds us. We don't realize the freedom, the lightness of just dropping it off, letting it go. That doesn't mean giving up relationships; it doesn't mean giving up one's profession, or one's family, or one's home. It has nothing to do with that; it's not an external change. It's an internal change. It's a change from holding on tightly to holding very lightly.
“Dead? How can that BE?”
.....a woman sobs as
..........the airplane taxies to the gate;
flames on water; the whir
.....of a hummingbird behind my eyelids;
..........these are means
by which we live: joy, grief, delight–
..........rising into the visible world;
wisps of rabbitbrush are all
.....that remain of generals’ dreams;
..........a branch of a river rejoins a river;
flip a house and it’s shelter,
.....flip it again and cabinets
..........open, wine is poured, dogs yap,
people joke and laugh;
.....sandhill cranes swirl
..........and descend into a cornfield;
we ampere each other;
.....a bus stops: a child gets off,
..........starts walking on a red-clod road:
nothing in sight
.....in all directions;
..........a rose flame under our skin,
hummingbird whirring its wings;
.....a rose flame,
..........nothing in sight, in all directions:
–from ‘The Unfolding Center’; Arthur Sze
Think of being a judge or architect
or trombonist, and do not worry whether
thinking so makes it so. I overhear
two men talking in another room;
I cannot transcribe the conversation
word for word, but know if they are
vexed or depressed, joyful or nostalgic.
An elm leaf floats on a pond.
Look, a child wants to be a cardiologist
then a cartographer, but wanting so
does not make it so. It is not
a question of copying out the Heart Sutra
in your own blood on an alabaster wall.
It is not a question of grief or joy.
But as a fetus grows and grows,
as the autumn moon ripens the grapes,
greed and cruelty and hunger for power
ripen us, enable us to grieve, act,
laugh, shriek, see, see it all as
the water on which the elm leaf floats.
--from 'Shooting Star'; Arthur Sze
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
........The Lady of Shalott?
Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
........Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers " 'Tis the fairy
........Lady of Shalott."
--from 'The Lady of Shalott'; Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Today I am in cobwebs made of light –
Black-haired, fair-brown –
Mankind needs light and clear blue air
And it needs bread and Elbrus snow.
And there is no one to consult with me,
While I will hardly find one on my own:
Not in the Urals, not in the Crimea –
There are no such transparent, weeping stones.
Mankind needs a poem mysteriously familiar,
To be awakened by it all his days
And in the sound of it to lave forever –
As in a flaxen curl, a nut-brown wave.
--Osip Mandelstam (1937); trans by Ilya Bernstein
Do not compare: who lives is beyond compare.
Embracing the equality of the plains
I felt somehow caressed and scared,
and the sky's circle was my pain.
And I addressed my servants the air,
Awaiting tidings from him or service,
And I prepared to sail, and sailed the arc
Of uninitiated journeys.
Where there is more sky for me, there I am
.....ready to roam,
And clear despair will not release me
From the Voronezh hills, which are still young,
To the all-human hills of Tuscany.
-- Osip Mandelstam (1937); trans by Ilya Bernstein
how the swan blanched forever
How the wolf threw away its telltale heart
And the stars dropped their pretence
The air gave up appearances
Water went deliberately numb
The rock surrendered its last hope
And cold died beyond knowledge
How everything had nothing more to lose
Then sat still with fear
Seeing the clawtrack of star
Hearing the wingbeat of rock
And his own singing
-- Ted Hughes
When it comes down to it
Hair is afraid. Words from within are afraid.
They sheer off, like a garment,
Cool, treacherous, no part of you.
Hands the same, feet, and all blood
Till nothing is left. Nothing stays
But what your gaze can carry.
And maybe you vomit even that, like a too-much poison.
Then it is
That the brave hunger of your skull
Supplants you. It stands where you stood
And shouts, with a voice you can't hear,
For what you can't take.