Monday, January 31, 2011
(Awaiting the Train, Bertherville, Quebec by Kathleen
Morris, 1893-1986, Canadian painter)
We now come to the end of January. This month, we’ve been listening in the snow, taking heed of the silence.
Our final poem on this theme proposes that silence signifies more than an absence of sound.
I would like to decorate this silence,
but my house grows only cleaner
and more plain. The glass chimes I hung
over the register ring a little
when the heat goes on.
I waited too long to drink my tea.
It was not hot. It was only warm.
~ Linda Gregg, born 1942, American poet
Sunday, January 30, 2011
(Pine Tree and Red House by Lawren Harris, 1885-1970,
Take a walk in your neighborhood and you’ll come upon a pantomime.
SNOW IN THE SUBURBS
Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward, when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.
A sparrow enters the tree,
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eyes,
And overturns him,
And near inurns* him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.
The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.
~ Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), English novelist and poet
* inurn – to put in an urn, to entomb or bury
Saturday, January 29, 2011
(Village in the Snow by George Callaghan, Irish artist)
This poem is by Janet Frame (1924-2004), a novelist and poet from New Zealand. She spent years in insane asylums for the treatment of schizophrenia. In her late twenties, she was even scheduled for a lobotomy. Only the announcement that she had won a literary prize prevented that operation.
Janet Frame’s startlingly imaginative works bring up questions that perhaps we should leave for the psychiatrist or the philosopher. Mental illness can distort one’s sense of reality. Could we then say that this is one source of her remarkably original images or metaphors? Or, is it more accurate to say that creativity, like character or personality, is largely independent of an illness?
You can learn more about Janet Frame from a sensitive film of her life, An Angel at My Table. It is based on her autobiography and was directed by Jane Campion, another artist from New Zealand.
A crime so frequent, so huge
of fraud and camouflage
would make it seem almost natural
the hurt world lying forever
locked in plaster
with some remembering the green
others never forgetting the
~ Janet Frame
Friday, January 28, 2011
(A Möbius Strip)
This popular and well-known poem has been a puzzle to many.
For the pessimists, it seems to describe the prospect that there is really nothing to see or to be. We just are.
Others reject this nihilism and insist that even nothingness is still a presence and should therefore not be dismissed.
A clue to the poem’s meaning may lie in its fascinating yet difficult construction, bringing to mind the unending circularity of the möbius strip. The poem is just one sentence, divided into sections that go around and around each other, right back to the beginning until the end, and back again.
The poet sticks to the adage: show, not tell. The form tells the story. The reader begins with the past, comes to the present, which includes the past, a past that is nothingness because it may be gone but still forms part of our present, and then begins it all over again. In short, nothing is to be lost; all has meaning.
Or, then again, perhaps it’s just about snow swirling all around us, seemingly without direction.
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.
~ Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), American poet and insurance company executive
Thursday, January 27, 2011
(Red, Orange, Tan and Purple, 1954 by Mark
Rothko, 1903-1970, American painter)
The poet begins with winter as a metaphor for the bleak and dark and cold of despair, but then reminds us of the powerful choice within us, to use our free will.
THE TIMES ARE NIGHTFALL
The times are nightfall, look, their light grows less;
The times are winter, watch, a world undone:
They waste, they wither worse; they as they run
Or bring more or more blazon man’s distress.
And I not help. Nor word now of success:
All is from wreck, here, there, to rescue one —
Work which to see scarce so much as begun
Makes welcome death, does dear forgetfulness.
Or what is else? There is your world within.
There rid the dragons, root out there the sin.
Your will is law in that small commonweal…
~ Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (1844-1899), British poet whose work has had a profound influence on modern poetry
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
(Winter Woodcut by Fritz Bleyl, 1880-1966,
Sometimes all you need is the gentle sound of snow falling to trigger some fleeting memories.
It’s snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers.
There is only this sound of falling, quiet and remote,
Like the memory of scales descending the white keys
Of a childhood piano — outside the window, palms!
And the heavy head of the cereus*, inclining,
Soon to let down its white or yellow-white.
Now, only these poor snow-flowers in a heap,
Like the memory of a white dress cast down . . .
So much has fallen.
And I, who have listened for a step
All afternoon, hear it now, but already falling away,
Already in memory. And the terrible scales descending
On the silent piano; the snow; and the absent flowers abounding.
~ Donald Justice (1925-2004), American poet
* cereus – a cactus, in this case, the lunar or night-blooming cereus, with its large blossom that appears once a year for one or two days before it falls off
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
(Reflections in the Creek by A. Y. Jackson, 1882-1974,
Some questions are difficult to answer, even by a poet.
WHY IS THE COLOR OF THE SNOW?
Let’s ask a poet with no way of knowing.
Someone who can give us an answer,
another duplicity to help double the world.
What kind of poetry is all question, anyway?
Each question leads to an iceburn,
a snownova, a single bed spinning in space.
Poet, Decide! I am lonely with questions.
What is snow? What isn’t?
Do you see how it is for me.
Melt yourself to make yourself more clear
for the next observer.
I could barely see you anyway.
A blizzard I understand better,
the secrets of many revealed as one,
becoming another on my only head.
It’s true that snow takes on gold from sunset
and red from rearlights. But that's occasional.
What is constant is white,
or is that only sight, a reflection of eyewhites
and light? Because snow reflects only itself,
self upon self upon self,
is a blanket used for smothering, for sleeping.
For not seeing the naked, flawed body.
Concealing it from the lover curious, ever curious!
Who won’t stop looking.
White for privacy.
Millions of privacies to bless us with snow.
Don’t we melt it?
Aren't we human dark with sugar hot to melt it?
Anyway, the question —
if a dream is a construction then what
is not a construction? If a bank of snow
is an obstruction, then what is not a bank of snow?
A winter vault of valuable crystals
convertible for use only by a zen
sun laughing at us.
Oh Materialists! Thinking matter matters.
If we dream of snow, of banks and blankets
to keep our treasure safe forever,
what world is made, that made us that we keep
making and making to replace the dreaming at last.
To stop the terrible dreaming.
~ Brenda Shaughnessy, born 1970, American poet
Monday, January 24, 2011
(Late Afternoon, New York, Winter by Childe
Hassam, 1859-1935, American painter)
The source of the word eavesdrop is the Old English yfesdrype, from eave (brink or brim) and drip. Thus, to eavesdrop is to stand on the ground under the eaves or at walls or windows to listen to what is going on inside.
THE PARTIAL EXPLANATION
Seems like a long time
Since the waiter took my order.
Grimy little luncheonette,
The snow falling outside.
Seems like it has grown darker
Since I last heard the kitchen door
Behind my back
Since I last noticed
Anyone pass on the street.
A glass of ice-water
Keeps me company
At this table I chose myself
And a longing,
On the conversation
~ Charles Simic, born 1938 in Yugoslavia, American poet and translator
Sunday, January 23, 2011
(Hunters in the Snow, 1565, by Peter Bruegel the Elder,
1529?-1569, Dutch landscape painter)
In October, we looked at different examples of ekphrasis, or literary commentary about a work of art. (Scroll down to that month’s poems in the “blog archives” in the column to the right.)
The first verse below is one of ten poems that William Carlos Williams wrote about paintings by Bruegel the Elder.
THE HUNTERS IN THE SNOW
The over-all picture is winter
in the background the return
from the hunt it is toward evening
from the left
sturdy hunters lead in
their pack the inn-sign
hanging from a
broken hinge is a stag a crucifix
between his antlers the cold
inn yard is
deserted but for a huge bonfire
that flares wind-driven tended by
women who cluster
about it to the right beyond
the hill is a pattern of skaters
Brueghel the painter
concerned with it all has chosen
a winter-struck bush for his
complete the picture
~ William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), American poet and practicing physician
John Berryman’s poem about the same painting adds a more fateful scenario, in the future, viewed retrospectively.
The three men coming down the winter hill
In brown, with tall poles and a pack of hounds
At heel, through the arrangement of the trees,
Past the five figures at the burning straw,
Returning cold and silent to their town,
Returning to the drifted snow, the rink
Lively with children, to the older men,
The long companions they can never reach,
The blue light, men with ladders, by the church
The sledge and shadow in the twilit street,
Are not aware that in the sandy time
To come, the evil waste of history
Outstretched, they will be seen upon the brow
Of that same hill: when all their company
Will have been irrecoverably lost,
These men, this particular three in brown
Witnessed by birds will keep the scene and say
By their configuration with the trees,
The small bridge, the red houses and the fire,
What place, what time, what morning occasion
Sent them into the wood, a pack of hounds
At heel and the tall poles upon their shoulders,
Thence to return as now we see them and
Ankle-deep in snow down the winter hill
Descend, while three birds watch and the fourth flies.
~ John Berryman (1917-1972), American poet
Saturday, January 22, 2011
(The Lynx by Christopher Pratt, born 1935, a Canadian
painter living in the province of Newfoundland)
Christopher Pratt is my favorite Canadian painter.
Some critics have dismissed his art as mere “realism,” cold and objective realism. But I think that one Toronto art curator had it right when he wrote: “Because Pratt paints things people recognize, they make that mistake. Nothing could be more misleading. He’s a metaphysical painter, concerned with defining qualities of experience rather than portraying specific objects or events. His work is as abstract as Mondrian.”
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
cobwebs, the grass
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear.
~ Denise Levertov (1923-1997), English-born American poet
Friday, January 21, 2011
(January by Grant Wood, 1891-1942, American painter)
Mary Oliver is part of the Romantic set, sitting around the table with poets like Wordsworth, Keats, and Shelley. Like them, she finds the source of happiness in Nature, and she is inclined to make use of the pathetic fallacy, attaching human qualities and emotions to flora and fauna and inanimate objects.
Unlike them, however, she does not write in the sonnet form, preferring instead a series of stanzas with three or four short lines each. Also unlike them, she sometimes hints at a mysterious something. In this poem, for example, just what is this bird? And exactly how large is it?
all the singing is in
the tops of the trees
where the wind-bird
with its white eyes
shoves and pushes
among the branches.
Like any of us
he wants to go to sleep,
but he’s restless —
he has an idea,
and slowly it unfolds
from under his beating wings
as long as he stays awake.
But his big, round music, after all,
is too breathy to last.
So, it’s over.
In the pine-crown
he makes his nest,
he’s done all he can.
I don’t know the name of this bird,
I only imagine his glittering beak
tucked in a white wing
while the clouds —
which he has summoned
from the north —
which he has taught
to be mild, and silent —
thicken, and begin to fall
into the world below
like stars, or the feathers
of some unimaginable bird
that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent —
that has turned itself
~ Mary Oliver, born 1935, American poet
Thursday, January 20, 2011
(Abstract Treescape by Fritz Brandtner, 1896-1969,
Listen for the hushed sounds that join the silence.
A WINTER TWILIGHT
A silence slipping around like death,
Yet chased by a whisper, a sigh,
a breath; One group of trees, lean,
naked and cold,
Inking their cress ’gainst a
One path that knows where the
corn flowers were;
Lonely, apart, unyielding, one fir;
And over it softly leaning down,
One star that I loved ere the
fields went brown.
~ Angelina Weld Grimké (1880-1958), American playwright and poet, active in the Harlem Renaissance
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
(Bear Tracks, woodcut by Mary Okheena, born 1957,
Canadian Inuit artist)
Inuit is now the preferred name for the indigenous peoples of northern Canada and of Greenland. It replaces the older name of Eskimo, which is still favored in Alaska.
LINES FOR WINTER
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself —
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.
~ Mark Strand, born 1934, American poet and translator
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
(Holiday Snowflakes, stamps based on photographs by
Kenneth Libbrecht, professor of physics at Caltech)
There they are, the pages of an illustrated storybook printed on the window panes.
The door was shut, as doors should be,
Before you went to bed last night;
Yet Jack Frost has got in, you see,
And left your window silver white.
He must have waited till you slept;
And not a single word he spoke,
But penciled o’er the panes and crept
Away again before you woke.
And now you cannot see the hills
Nor fields that stretch beyond the lane;
But there are fairer things than these
His fingers traced on every pane.
Rocks and castles towering high;
Hills and dales, and streams and fields;
And knights in armor riding by,
With nodding plumes and shining shields.
And here are little boats, and there
Big ships with sails spread to the breeze;
And yonder, palm trees waving fair
On islands set in silver seas,
And butterflies with gauzy wings;
And herds of cows and flocks of sheep;
And fruit and flowers and all the things
You see when you are sound asleep.
For, creeping softly underneath
The door when all the lights are out,
Jack Frost takes every breath you breathe,
And knows the things you think about.
He paints them on the window-pane
In fairy lines with frozen steam;
And when you wake you see again
The lovely things you saw in dream.
~ Gabriel Setoun (1861-1930), pseudonym of Thomas Hepburn, Scottish poet and novelist
Monday, January 17, 2011
(A gathering of snowmen with attached good luck wishes
at the annual Sapporo Snow Festival in Japan)
The simple title of this poem gives no hint of the drama about to be revealed.
BOY AT THE WINDOW
Seeing the snowman standing all alone
In dusk and cold is more than he can bear.
The small boy weeps to hear the wind prepare
A night of gnashings and enormous moan.
His tearful sight can hardly reach to where
The pale-faced figure with bitumen eyes
Returns him such a God-forsaken stare
As outcast Adam gave to paradise.
The man of snow is, nonetheless, content,
Having no wish to go inside and die.
Still, he is moved to see the youngster cry.
Though frozen water is his element,
He melts enough to drop from one soft eye
A trickle of the purest rain, a tear
For the child at the bright pane surrounded by
Such warmth, such light, such love, and so much fear.
~ Richard Wilbur, born 1921, American poet and translator
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Saturday, January 15, 2011
(Oxen Team, Winter by Maud Lewis,
1903-1970, Canadian painter)
Maud Lewis was a folk artist much like Grandma Moses (for her work, see the “index of the authors and artists” in the column to the right). She was a true amateur, a painter with a great joy in her art but no formal training and no connection to the artistic community. She and her husband, an itinerant fish peddler, were quite poor. Their home was a tiny house, barely 13 by 13 feet, in rural Nova Scotia, with a sleeping loft upstairs and no modern amenities like electricity. But it was very colorful, for she painted almost every surface, inside and out, with pictures of birds and flowers, including the door and windows and stove and walls.
She was born with many physical handicaps. “When I first met Maud Lewis, I was a child. When I first met Maud Lewis, I thought she was a witch. Maud was then a little old woman, as little as I was and her hands were twisted and her back was bent like a hunchback’s. Her shoulders were tilted and her bright eyes glittered,” wrote a neighbor of hers years later.
She was a prolific painter of the life outdoors she saw from her perch by a window. Maud Lewis was also popular, as were her paintings.
My woods belong to woodcock and to deer;
For them, it is an accident I am here.
If, for the plump raccoon, I represent
An ash can that was surely heaven-sent,
The bright-eyed mask, the clever little paws
Obey not mine, but someone else’s laws.
The young buck takes me in with a long glance
That says that I, not he, am here by chance.
And they all go their ways, as I must do,
Up through the green and down again to snow,
No one of us responsible or near,
But each himself and in the singular.
When we do meet, I am the one to stare
As if an angel had me by the hair,
As I am flooded by some ancient bliss
Before all I possess and can’t possess.
So when a stranger knocks hard at the door,
He cannot know what I am startled for —
To see before me an unfurry face,
A creature like myself in this wild place.
Our wilderness gets wilder every day
And we intend to keep the tamed at bay.
~ May Sarton (1912-1995), American poet, and writer of novels and memoirs
Friday, January 14, 2011
(Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters, circa 1608, by
Hendrick Avercamp, 1585-1634, Dutch painter)
Every poem benefits from being read out loud, the melodious poems of Dylan Thomas especially.
from A WINTER’S TALE
It is a winter’s tale
That the snow blind twilight ferries over the lakes
And floating fields from the farm in the cup of the vales,
Gliding windless through the hand folded flakes,
The pale breath of cattle at the stealthy sail,
And the stars falling cold,
And the smell of hay in the snow, and the far owl
Warning among the folds, and the frozen hold
Flocked with the sheep white smoke of the farm house cowl
In the river wended vales where the tale was told.
~ Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), the great Welsh poet and writer
Thursday, January 13, 2011
(Vertical by Ben Nicholson, 1894-1982, American painter)
Winter has its own illusions.
On a clear winter’s evening
The crescent moon
And the round squirrels’ nest
In the bare oak
Are equal planets.
~ Anne Porter, born 1911, American poet
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
(The Summer Gardens in Winter, St. Petersburg, woodcut
by Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva, 1871-1955, Russian artist)
“As they drove through Kamerger Street Yura [Zhivago] noticed that a candle had melted a patch in the icy crust on one of the windows. The light seemed to look into the street almost consciously, as if it were watching the passing carriages and waiting for someone.
“‘A candle burned on the table, a candle burned . . . ,’ he whispered to himself — the beginning of something confused, formless; he hoped that it would take shape of itself.”
It snowed and snowed, the whole world over,
Snow swept the world from end to end.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.
As during summer, midges swarm
To beat their wings against a flame.
Out in the yard the snowflakes swarmed
To beat against the window pane.
The blizzard sculptured on the glass
Designs of arrows and of whorls.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.
Distorted shadows fell
Upon the lighted ceiling:
Shadows of crossed arms, of crossed legs —
Of crossed destiny.
Two tiny shoes fell to the floor
A candle on a nightstand shed wax tears
Upon a dress.
All things vanished within
The snowy murk-white, hoary.
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.
A corner draft fluttered the flame
And the white fever of temptation
Upswept its angel wings that cast
A cruciform shadow.
It snowed hard throughout the month
Of February, and almost constantly
A candle burned on the table;
A candle burned.
~ Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), Russian poet and novelist; the above prose and poem are from his novel Doctor Zhivago
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
(Winter Morning by Tom Thomson, 1877-1917, Canadian
“And the sunlight clasps the earth . . .” ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), English Romantic poet
WINTER: WOMAN LOOKING FROM THE WINDOW AT A SPRUCE TREE
The sunlight catches in the heart
as if to steer a deeper self to memory
of a time gone, another life of
knowing the self as sunlight.
Not a small shy animal,
not a mystic saint or an
uncounted peasant hoeing corn,
but sunlight, playing alone in winter,
along a branch, moving lightly,
settling lightly on crystallized snow
held gently there, not especially warm,
but light, being right, and not thinking.
The earth was younger then,
in the deep green shine of spruce.
Though not still, self was silent then
and is that now, ineffably held.
~ Maryann Whalen, from Wild Songs: Poems of the Natural World
Monday, January 10, 2011
(Pine Trees, ink-on-paper screen by Hasegawa Tohaku,
1539-1610, Japanese artist)
This luminous example of an ink painting is a designated National Treasure of Japan. It is one of a pair of six-fold screens, each approximately 5 by 11 feet in size. As you walk through the thick mist, the description provided by the Tokyo National Museum tells us, black shadows appear and you are “surrounded by pine trees and can just detect the tops of mountains. The quiet scene, a momentary experience captured for eternity, evokes the rustic and refined realm” of wabi or elegant simplicity.
PINE TREE TOPS
in the blue night
frost haze, the sky glows
with the moon
pine tree tops
bend snow-blue, fade
into sky, frost, starlight.
the creak of boots.
rabbit tracks, deer tracks,
what do we know.
~ Gary Snyder, born 1930, American poet
Sunday, January 9, 2011
(Balsam Avenue, Toronto, After a Heavy Snowfall by
William Kurelek, 1927-1977, Canadian artist and writer)
I have a wonderful memory of sliding down a snowdrift from a second-storey window during one of the great blizzards of Winnipeg.
Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,
the landscape vanished,
not a single mouse to punctuate the blankness,
and beyond these windows
the government buildings smothered,
schools and libraries buried, the post office lost
under the noiseless drift,
the paths of trains softly blocked,
the world fallen under this falling.
In a while, I will put on some boots
and step out like someone walking in water,
and the dog will porpoise through the drifts,
and I will shake a laden branch
sending a cold shower down on us both.
But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news
that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with — some will be delighted to hear —
the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School,
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and — clap your hands — the Peanuts Play School.
So this is where the children hide all day,
These are the nests where they letter and draw,
where they put on their bright miniature jackets,
all darting and climbing and sliding,
all but the few girls whispering by the fence.
And now I am listening hard
in the grandiose silence of the snow,
trying to hear what those three girls are plotting,
what riot is afoot,
which small queen is about to be brought down.
~ Billy Collins, born 1941, American poet
Saturday, January 8, 2011
(Winter in Maine by John Haapanen, 1891-1968, American
As we listen in the snow, a haiku.
the summer chair
rocking by itself
in the blizzard
~ Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), American of French-Canadian descent, a poet and novelist who wrote in both French and English and was one of the original members of the Beat Generation
Friday, January 7, 2011
(Travels of the Three Kings by Salvador Dali, 1904-1989,
Spanish Surrealist painter)
“Three Kings came riding from far away, / Melchior and Gaspar and Baltasar.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
THE FOURTH WISE MAN
The fourth wise man
disliked travel. If
you walk, there’s the
gravel. If you ride,
there’s the camel’s attitude.
He far preferred
to be inside in solitude
to contemplate the star
that had been getting
so much larger
and more prolate* lately —
(like the souls of martyrs)
toward the poles
(or like the yawns of babies).
~ Kay Ryan, born 1945, American poet
* prolate - in geometry: having a polar diameter which is longer than the equatorial diameter
Thursday, January 6, 2011
(Adoration of the Magi by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1606-1669,
Dutch painter, printmaker, and draughtsman)
Today is the feast of Epiphany.
“The star they had seen in the East went before them, until it came and stood over the place where the child was. And when they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly. And they entered the house, and they found the child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped him. And when they had opened their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.” ~ Matthew 2:10-11
As the wise men of old brought gifts
guided by a star
to the humble birthplace
of the god of love,
as an old print shows
retreated in confusion.
What could a baby know
of gold ornaments
or frankincense and myrrh,
of priestly robes
and devout genuflections?
But the imagination
knows all stories
before they are told
and knows the truth of this one
past all defection.
The rich gifts
so unsuitable for a child
though devoutly proffered,
stood for all that love can bring.
The men were old
how could they know
of a mother’s needs
or a child’s
But as they kneeled
the child was fed.
They saw it
had taken place,
hard gold to love,
a mother’s milk!
their wondering eyes.
The ass brayed
the cattle lowed.
It was their nature.
All men by their nature give praise.
It is all
they can do.
The very devils
by their flight give praise.
What is death,
Nothing. The wise men
came with gifts
and bowed down
~ William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), American poet and practicing physician
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
(Lower Fifth Avenue, 1948 by André Kertész,
1894-1985, Hungarian-born photographer)
Are you having problems keeping to your New Year’s resolutions?
How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you quit a thing that you like a lot?
You may talk of pluck; it’s an easy word,
And where’er you go it is often heard;
But can you tell to a jot or guess
Just how much courage you now possess?
You may stand to trouble and keep your grin,
But have you tackled self-discipline?
Have you ever issued commands to you
To quit the things that you like to do,
And then, when tempted and sorely swayed,
Those rigid orders have you obeyed?
Don’t boast of your grit till you’ve tried it out,
Nor prate to men of your courage stout,
For it’s easy enough to retain a grin
In the face of a fight there’s a chance to win,
But the sort of grit that is good to own
Is the stuff you need when you’re all alone.
How much grit do you think you’ve got?
Can you turn from joys that you like a lot?
Have you ever tested yourself to know
How far with yourself your will can go?
If you want to know if you have grit,
Just pick out a joy that you like, and quit.
It’s bully sport and it’s open fight;
It will keep you busy both day and night;
For the toughest kind of a game you’ll find
Is to make your body obey your mind.
And you never will know what is meant by grit
Unless there’s something you’ve tried to quit.
~ Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1951), American poet
Tuesday, January 4, 2011
(Doc Snyder’s House by Lionel Fitzgerald, 1890-1956,
How do I measure time?
In years that start at midnight
On a wintry day?
In stages of development
From early childhood
To the senior years?
In cups of tears
Shed by a wounded heart?
In buckets of happiness
That still brings smiles
To a wrinkly face?
In baskets filled
With sweet memories
Of warm embraces?
How do I measure life?
Whatever I can measure
Is no more life
But just the memory of it.
Life is now
A precious gift
A time to love
And savor grace.
~ Lothar Schwabe, born 1928, Canadian poet and writer
Monday, January 3, 2011
(Spoonbridge and Cherry, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden,
by Claes Oldenburg, Swedish-American sculptor, born
1929, and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen, Dutch-American
TREATS DISCOVERED AFTER NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
Each shape in its custom case,
fourteen dark chocolates, a red satin box.
Pick one now, create new space.
Choosing is hard when you face
fourteen dark chocolates, a red satin bow.
~ Don Feliz, American poet
Sunday, January 2, 2011
(Young Girl Peeling Apples by Nicolaes Maes,
1634-1693, Dutch painter)
“Silence does not exist in our lives merely for its own sake. It is ordered to something else. Silence is the mother of speech. A lifetime of silence is ordered to an ultimate declaration, which can be put into words, a declaration of all we have lived for. . . .
“Silence is the strength of our interior life. Silence enters into the very core of our moral being, so that if we have no silence we have no morality. Silence enters mysteriously into the composition of all the virtues, and silence preserves them from corruption.” ~ Thomas Merton (1915-1968), American Trappist monk, poet, and writer of many essays and books
HOW TO BE A POET
(to remind myself)
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
~ Wendell Berry, born 1934, American poet, writer, and farmer
Saturday, January 1, 2011
(Abstracto, 1935 by Joan Miró, 1893-1983,
Spanish painter, ceramist, and sculptor)
Today it’s out with the old habits, in with the new resolutions.
“[I]n the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. Accumulate all the possible circumstances which shall reinforce the right motives; put yourself assiduously in conditions that encourage the new way; make engagements incompatible with the old; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelope your resolution with every aid you know. This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all.” ~ William James (1842-1910), American psychologist and philosopher
BURNING THE OLD YEAR
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.
~ Naomi Shihab Nye, born 1952, American poet