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Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe

out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled

to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind

the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way,

bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,

exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go

wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road

precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice

directed me:

“Live in the layers,

not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

 

                    ~ Stanley Kunitz, born on this day in 1905

 

"The Looking Glass" by Alexander Ignatius Roche (1861-1921)

“The Looking Glass” by Alexander Ignatius Roche (1861-1921)

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I wish I could remember that first day,

   First hour, first moment of your meeting me,

   If bright or dim the season, it might be

Summer or Winter for aught I can say;

So unrecorded did it slip away,

   So blind was I to see and to foresee,

   So dull to mark the budding of my tree

That would not blossom yet for many a May.

If only I could recollect it, such

   A day of days! I let it come and go

   As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;

It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;

If only now I could recall that touch,

   First touch of hand in hand – Did one but know!

 

                                    ~ Christina Rossetti

 

"Wandering Thoughts" by Frederick Alfred Slocombe (1847-1920)

“Wandering Thoughts” by Frederick Alfred Slocombe (1847-1920)

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I’m thankful that my life doth not deceive

Itself with a low loftiness, half height,

And think it soars when still it dip its way

Beneath the clouds on noiseless pinion

Like the crow or owl, but it doth know

The full extent of all its trivialness,

Compared with the splendid heights above.

   See how it waits to watch the mail come in

While ’hind its back the sun goes out perchance.

And yet their lumbering cart brings me no word,

Not one scrawled leaf such as my neighbors get

To cheer them with the slight events forsooth,

Faint ups and downs of their far distant friends –

And now ’tis passed.  What next?  See the long train

Of teams wreathed in dust, their atmosphere;

Shall I attend until the last is passed?

Else why these ears that hear the leader’s bells

Or eyes that link me in procession?

But hark!  the drowsy day has done its task,

Far in yon hazy field where stands a barn,

Unanxious hens improve the sultry hour

And with contented voice now brag their deed –

A new laid egg – Now let the day decline –

They’ll lay another by tomorrow’s sun.

 

~ Henry David Thoreau, born on this day in 1817

 

Hendrik Pieter Koekkoek, circa 1890

Hendrik Pieter Koekkoek, circa 1890

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Midsummer

The adolescent night, breath of the town,

Porchswings and whispers, maple leaves unseen

Deploying moonlight quieter than a man dead

After the locust’s song.  These homes were mine

And are not now forever, these on the steps

Children I think removed to many places,

Lost among hushed years, and so strangely known.

 

This business is well ended.  If in the dark

The firefly made his gleam and sank therefrom,

Yet someone’s hand would have him, the wet grass

Bed him no more.  From corners of the lawn

The dusk-white dresses flutter and are past.

Before our bed time there were things to say,

Remembering tree-bark, crickets, and the first star…

 

After, and as the sullenness of time

Went on from summer, here in a land alien

Made I my perfect fears and flower of thought:

Sleep being no longer swift in the arms of pain,

Revisitations are convenient with a cough,

And there is something I would say again

If I had not forever, if there were time.

 

                               ~ Robert Fitzgerald

 

Anders Zorn, 1886

Anders Zorn, 1886

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What makes a nation’s pillars high

And its foundation strong?

What makes it mighty to defy

The foes that round it throng?

 

It is not gold.  Its kingdoms grand

Go down in battle shock;

Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,

Not on abiding rock.

 

Is it the sword?  Ask the red dust

Of empires passed away;

The blood has turned their stones to rust,

Their glory to decay.

 

And is it pride?  Ah, that bright crown

Has seemed to nations sweet;

But God has struck its luster down

In ashes at his feet.

 

Not gold but only men can make

A people great and strong;

Men who for truth and honor’s sake

Stand fast and suffer long.

 

Brave men who work while others sleep,

Who dare while others fly…

They build a nation’s pillars deep

And lift them to the sky.

 

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1904

 

"Our Banner in the Sky" by Frederic Edwin Church, 1861

“Our Banner in the Sky” by Frederic Edwin Church, 1861

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An English Summer

An English summer – and a sense of form

Rides the five senses that dispute their claims.

Lawns leveled against nature, airs which warm

Each plant, perpetuate the hours and names.

We cannot see beyond the blue; no storm

Vies with the children ardent at their games.

 

Childhood returns with summer.  It is strange

That such a season brings one’s memories back.

Springs have their homesickness, autumns arrange

The sweet nostalgias that we long to lack.

But summer is itself; it’s we who change

And lay our childhoods on the golden stack.

 

My fingers rest and eyes concern their sight

Simply with what would live were I not here.

It is the concentration of the light

That shows the other side of pain and fear.

I watch, incredulous of such delight,

Wanting the meaning not the landscape clear.

 

Was it for this the breath once breathed upon

The waters that we rose from?  I can see

Only a summer with its shadows gone,

Skies that refuse an alien dignity.

But gardens, gardens echo.  What sun shone

To make this truce with pain and ecstasy?

 

~ “An English Summer” by Elizabeth Jennings, included in Robert Atwan’s anthology A Dream of Summer: Poems for the Sensuous Season (Beacon Press, 2004)

 

"Summertime" by Marcus Stone, circa 1900

“Summertime” by Marcus Stone, circa 1900

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Solstice

Each year, on this same date, the summer solstice comes.

Consummate light: we plan for it,

the day we tell ourselves

that time is very long indeed, nearly infinite.

And in our reading and writing, preference is given

to the celebratory, the ecstatic. 

 

There is in these rituals something apart from wonder:

there is also a kind of preening,

as though human genius had participated in these arrangements

and we found the results satisfying.

 

What follows the light is what precedes it:

the moment of balance, of dark equivalence.

 

But tonight we sit in the garden in our canvas chairs

so late into the evening –

why should we look either forward or backward?

Why should we be forced to remember:

it is in our blood, this knowledge.

Shortness of the days; darkness, coldness of winter.

It is in our blood and bones; it is in our history.

It takes genius to forget these things.

 

                                                        ~ Louise Gluck

 

"The Dreamer (Summer Evening)" by James Tissot, 1871

“The Dreamer (Summer Evening)” by James Tissot, 1871

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