The next twelve years, spent variously in street and field, in New York, Brooklyn, New Orleans, and other cities, with long intervals always of country life in the wide sweep of valley and plain and seashore, during which he sounded the teeming life of the fast-growing United States, may be deemed, say Dr.
Bucke, the special preparation-time for the writing of the Leaves of Grass. Although, accordingly, one would like to comment at length upon these years of young manhood, it is unnecessary. The reader will find its true history and illustrations in the poems themselves. In some respects, however, the more detailed accounts possible in prose, given in Specimen Days , casts valuable added light upon this probation-time, and his great zest for certain sides of life. His "passion for ferries," for instance, that finds final outcome in the well-known poem, "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," has a character- istic note.
Referring to the Fulton Ferry, curiously identified with his life in Brooklyn and New York, he writes:—"Almost daily I crossed in the boats, often up in the pilot-houses, where I could get a full sweep, absorbing shows, accompaniments, surround- ings. What oceanic currents, eddies, underneath; the great tides of humanity also, with ever shifting movements. Indeed, I have always had a passion for ferries; to me they afford inimitable, streaming, never-failing, living poems.
The river and bay scenery, all about New York island, any time of a fine day—the hurrying, splashing seat-tides—the changing panorama of steamers. To this tumultuous wealth of experience succeeds naturally the preparation, and then at last the publication, of the Leaves of Grass volume, which marks memorably the year A great deal of the matter found in the present volume has been added since the issue of this first edition—a thin royal octavo, generally described as a quarto, of ninety-four pages; but the significance of Whit- man's departure from the old routine of poetry was marked in it in a way that no further addition could make more striking.
It is not strange, therefore, that the book gained scant recogni- tion. It was not until Emerson sent to Walt Whitman what was really his first recognition from the literary world, the now famous letter of greeting, that the book became at all known. A characteristic passage or two from this letter may be given:—"I am not blind to the worth of the wonderful gift of Leaves of Grass. I find it the most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that America has yet contributed.
I give you joy of your free and brave thought. I have great joy in it. I find incomparable things,. But at the war's end it was not the same robust, virile man who came out of that hospital tent. Bucke, "from a young to an old man. Under the constant and intense moral strain to which he was subjected. The doctors called his complaint "hospital malaria,' and perhaps it was; but that splendid physique was sapped by labour, watching, and still more by the emotions, dreads, deaths, uncertainties of three.
There is no need perhaps to dwell here upon the story of his stupid dismissal from one office by a certain benighted official because of the alleged immorality of Leaves of Grass , though it was this that provoked W. O'Connor to his remarkable, if rather combative, manifesto on the poet's behalf, entitled "The Good Grey Poet. It must be kept in mind, however, that this was only an extreme instance of the social and literary persecution which was levelled at him from the first.
But there were critics who, instead of meeting with courtesy this poetic attempt to raise noble functions, long ignobly tainted with obscenity, to their true dignity and natural relation in the great scheme of earth and heaven, attacked him with incredible viciousness and rancour. As, however, considerations of Mrs.
Grundy have caused the omission of the poems objected to in the present volume, there is no need to dwell further upon the matter here.
There are many delightful glimpses to be got in John Burroughs's Notes , and in his capital little. In spite of light heart and cheery temper his ill-health increased upon him, and culminated at last in a parylitic seizure, in February , from which he had almost recovered when in May the same year his mother died somewhat suddenly in Camden, New Jersey, in his presence. He left Washington for good, and took up. A briefest backward glance through the history of letters teaches another conclusion; constantly, it will be found, the order of poetic expression is changing and developing.
But we do not need to make any far historical excursion for light on the subject: the experience of almost every poet will show us the simple rationale of the matter. The first literary instinct of the young writer is always to transcend the traditional means of utter- ance; the conventional forms have lost their vital response to the subject, he feels; they want re-adjusting, renewing.
As he goes on he reconciles in time the new need with the old equipment, bringing in as much fresh force and quality as his genius and energy can satisfactorily compass. This achievement of renovated modes of utterance is of course largely dependent upon the new condi- tions of life, and therefore of literary subject-matter, amid which he is placed. But what must be specially remarked, it is not usually from too ardent a renascence of words and their art forms that a writer fails in the translation of life, but usually from his being overawed by tradition. Convention is the curse of poetry, as it is the curse of every- thing else, in which at a second remove the outward show can be made to pass muster for the inward reality.
Now, the hastiest glimpse at the conditions under which a poet who has attempted to deal with the whole scope of the new civilisation, and with all that it implies of new science, new philosophy,. Poetry of the last few decades in England has occupied itself mainly with archaic or purely ideal subjects, with specialist experiments in psychology and morbid anatomy, or the familiar stock material of fantasy and sentiment. For these a certain art- glamour, so to speak,—a certain metrical remove, —is required as a rule, which can be best attained, perhaps, by the fine form and dainty colour of rhyming verse.
And there will always, let us hope, be those who will continue to supply this artistic poetry, bringing as it does so much inestimable enchantment to the everyday life. Up to the pre- sent it may be that this poetry has fairly satisfied the need of the time,—a time occupied too much with its processes of material civilisation and wealth-acquirement to attend very truly to the ideal. But standing now on the verge of a new era—an era of democratic ascendancy—it may be well to ask ourselves, even in conserva- tive England, whether, seeing the immense poetic need of a time dangerously possessed of new and tremendous forces, this poetry of archaic form and.
It may seem that a dangerous comparison has been invited in these instances, but it is one that must be faced straightforwardly. The name of Burns suggests a solution of the whole matter. He at any rate sang out of an abounding sympathy with, and knowledge of, the popular need of his day,—. Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,. But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater. I myself but write one or two indicative words for the. I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in. Thinking on this suggestion, first of all from its purely literary side, we are brought face to face at once with problems of extreme difficulty, which have been suggestively treated by William Sloane Kennedy and other American writers recently, but which it will be rather attempted to roughly state than to solve here.
The whole of Whitman's depart- ure in poetry is concerned with the vexed question of prose and verse, and the proper functions of the two modes of expression. Absolutely stated, prose is the equivalent of speech in all its range; verse, of song. But it is evident at once that the matter does not rest here. In a hundred ways needs arise which cannot be met by a strict adherence to this line of demarcation, as when, for instance, an elevation of utterance is required that yet does not, properly speaking, arise into pure song.
In the right adjustment then of the relations betwixt prose and verse lies the difficult secret of the art of words. Whitman noting in his literary work the restricting effect of exact rhyme measures, sought to attain a new poetic mode by a return to the rhythmic move- ment of prose, with what signal result may be seen by a sympathetic dive almost anywhere into. Thinking on Walt Whitman's initiative in the larger sense, and turning over the Leaves of Grass. The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of.
The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I. I will plant companionship thick as trees along all the. I will make inseparable cities with their arms about each. Nothing was greater there than the quality of robust. It was seen every hour in the actions of the men of that. It is not possible here to go much into detail in speaking of the great wealth of poetry to be found in Leaves of Grass.
Perhaps it is best for the uninitiated reader to begin with the "Inscriptions," then turn to the section called "Calamus," Calamus being a sort of American grass which is used here to typify comradeship and love! Proceeding then, turn to the more simply tuneful summons of "Pioneers! O Pioneers! Many of Whitman's most characteristic poems have necessarily been omitted from a volume like the present, intended for an average popular English audience—an audience which, be it confessed, from the actual experiment of the present editor, is apt to find much of Leaves of Grass as unintelli- gible as Sordello , not without a certain excuse haply in some instances.
The method of selection adopted in preparing the volume has certainly not been scientific or very profoundly critical. The limitations of the average run of readers have been, as far as they could be surmised, the limitations of the book, and upon the head of that unaccountable class, who have in the past been guilty of not a few poets' and prophets' maltreatment, rest any odium the thorough-paced disciple of Walt Whitman may attach to the present venture.
For those who wish to thoroughly apprehend the Leaves of Grass it will be necessary, let it be said at once, to study them in their complete forms, which is to be obtained in the edition of Messrs. Maurice Bucke, mentioned in these pages. The Specimen Days. At last, in thinking on all that might have been said to aid the true apprehension of one of the few true books that have appeared in the present generation, these jottings of comment and sug- gestion seem, on looking over them, more or less futile and beyond the mark.
But it would be im- possible for any writer, and especially for a young writer, to speak at all finally and absolutely in dealing with a nature so unprecedented and so powerful. All that he can hope to do is to suggest and facilitate the means of approach. Else there is a great temptation to dwell upon many matters left untouched, and specially to enlarge with enthusiasm on certain of the poetic qualities of the book. Of Whitman's felicitous power of words at his best; of his noble symphonic movement in such poems as the heroic funeral-song on President Lincoln,—.
Apart from any mere literary qualities or excel- lences, what needs lastly to have all stress laid upon it, is the urgent, intimate, personal influence that Walt Whitman exerts upon those who approach him with sympathy and healthy feeling. There are very few books that have this fine appeal and stimulus; but once the personal magnetism of Walt Whitman has reached the heart, it will be found that his is a stimulus unlike any other in its natural power.
His influence is peculiarly individual, and therefore, from his unique way of relating the individual to the universal, peculiarly organic and potent for moral elevation. Add to this, that he is passionately contemporary, dealing always with the ordinary surroundings, facing directly the apparently unbeautiful and unheroic phenomena of the everyday life, and not asking his readers away into some airy outer-where of pain- ful return, and it will be found that the new seeing he gives is of immediate and constant effect, making perpetually for love and manliness and natural life.
With this seeing, indeed, the com- monest things, the most trifling actions, become. It is the younger hearts who will thrill to this new incitement,—the younger natures, who are putting forth strenuously into the war of human liberation. Older men and women have established their mental and spiritual environment; they work according to their wont.
They, many of them, look with something of derision at this san- guine devotion to new ideals, and haply utter smiling protests against the deceptive charms of all things novel. But if the ideals informing Leaves of Grass. Demand the copious and close companionship of men. Your horizon rises, I see it parting away for more. I see not America only, not only, Liberty's nation but. I see tremendous entrances and exits, new combinations,. I see that force advancing with irresistible power on the. Your dreams, O years, how they penetrate through me!
The perform'd America and Europe grow dim, retiring. The unperform'd, more gigantic that ever, advance,. Around the idea of thee the war revolving, With all its angry and vehement play of causes, With vast results to come for thrice a thousand years, These recitatives for thee,—my book and the war are. And that is the theme of War, the fortune of battles, The making of perfect soldiers.
Bear forth to them folded my love, dear mariners, for. And so will some one when I am dead and gone write As if any man really knew aught of my life, Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing. The pennant is flying aloft as she speeds she speeds so. Nationality, I leave in him revolt, O latent right of insurrection! And why should I not speak to you? I will put in my poems that with.
States must be their religion, Otherwise there is just no real and permanent grandeur; Nor character nor life worthy the name without religion, Nor land nor man or woman without religion. These ostensible realities, politics, points? Your ambition or business whatever it may be? Land of wheat, beef, pork! Land of the pastoral plains, the grass-fields of the world! Land of the eastern Chesapeake! Land of Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan!
Land of the Old Thirteen! Massachusetts land! Vermont and Connecticut! Land of the ocean shores! Land of boatmen and sailors! Inextricable lands! The side by side! The great women's land! Far breath'd land! Arctic braced! Mexican breez'd! The Pennsylvanian! O I at any rate include you all with perfect love! I cannot be discharged from you! O death! O for all that, I am yet of you unseen this. Must not Nature be persuaded many times? I harbinge glad and sublime, And for the past I pronounce what the air holds of the.
See in arriere, the wigwam, the trail, the hunter's hut,. Presidents, emerge, drest in working dresses, See, lounging through the shops and fields of the States,. O a word to clear one's path ahead endlessly! O something ecstatic and undemonstrable! O music wild! O now I triumph—and you shall also; O hand in hand—O wholesome pleasure—O one more. O to haste firm holding—to haste, haste on with me. With the life-long love of comrades.
Infusion: The Spirit of the Soul: A Collection of Poetry
By the manly love of comrades. I reserve, I will give of it, but only to them that love as I myself. How often I think neither I know, nor any man knows,. I am silent, I require nothing further, I cannot answer the question of appearances or that of. Christ the divine I see, The dear love of man for his comrade, the attraction of. Do you think it so easy to have me become your lover? Do you think the friendship me would be unalloy'd.
Do you think I am trusty and faithful? Do you suppose yourself advancing on real ground. Have you no thought O dreamer that it may be all. Frost-mellow'd berries and Third-month twigs offer'd. Louisiana solitary in a wide in a wide flat space, Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover. Only I will establish in the Mannahatta and in every. The splendours of the past day? Or the vaunted glory and growth of the great city.
You friendly boatmen and mechanics! You twain! Then separate, as disembodied or another born, Ethereal, the last athletic reality, my consolation, I ascend, I float in the regions of your love O man, O sharer of my roving life. Be not too certain but I. You light that wraps me and all things in delicate.
You paths worn in the irregular hollows by the roadsides!
I believe you are latent with unseen existences, you are. You porches and entrances! You windows whose transparent shells might expose so. You doors and ascending steps! You gray stones of interminable pavements! Here is adhesiveness, it is not previously fashion'd, it is. Do you know what it is as you pass to be loved by Do you know the talk of those turning eye-balls? Why are there men and women that while they are nigh.
Why when they leave me do my pennants of joy sink. Why are there trees I never walk under but large and. I think they hang there winter and summer on those. What with some driver as I ride on the seat by his side? What with some fisherman drawing his seine by the. What gives me to be free to a woman's and man's good-. Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first, Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well.
I and mine do not convince by arguments, similes,. They too are on the road—they are the swift and majestic. Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the. Let the tools remain in the workshop! Let the school stand! Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross,. Nor is it you alone who know what it is to be evil, I am he who knew what it was to be evil,.
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous. River and sunset and scallop-edg'd waves of flood-tide? The sea-gulls oscillating their bodies, the hay-boat in the. What is more subtle than this which ties me to the. Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning. What the study could not teach—what the preaching. Frolic on, crested and scallop-edg'd waves!
Gorgeous clouds of the sunset! Cross from shore to shore, countless crowds of passengers! Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta! Throb baffled and curious brain! Sound out, voices of young men! Live, old life! Consider, you who peruse me, whether I may not in. Come on, ships from the lower bay! Flaunt away, flags of all nations! Appearances, now or henceforth, indicate what you are, You necessary film, continue to envelop the soul, About my body for me, and your body for you, be hung.
The words of true poems are the tuft and final applause. O for the dropping of raindrops in a song! O for the sunshine and motion of waves in a song! It is not enough to have this globe or a certain time, I will have thousands of globes and all time. To push with resistless way and speed off in the distance. I join the group of clam-diggers on the flats, I laugh and work with them, I joke at my work like a. I know the buoys, O the sweetness of the Fifth-month morning upon the.
O something pernicious and dread! Something far away from a puny and pious life! Something unproved! Something escaped from the anchorage and driving free. To behold his calmness—to be warm'd in the rays of his. To go to battle—to hear the bugles play and the drums To hear the crash of artillery—to see the glittering of. To see men fall and die and not complain! To taste the savage taste of blood—to be so devilish!
To gloat so over the wounds and deaths of the enemy! There—she blows! Again I spring up the rigging to look with the rest—we descend, wild with excitement,. What attractions are these beyond any before? What beauty is this that descends upon me and rises out. Iowan's, Kansian's, Missourian's, Oregonese' joys! To rise at peep of day and pass forth nimbly to work, To plough land in the fall for winter-sown crops, To plough land in the spring for maize, To train orchards, to graft the trees, to gather apples in.
Joy of the glad light-beaming day, joy of the wide-. Joy of sweet music, joy of the lighted ball-room and the. Joy of the plenteous dinner, strong carouse and drinking? Joys of the solitary walk, the spirit bow'd yet proud, the. The agonistic throes, the ecstasies, joys of the solemn. Joys of the thought of Death, the great spheres Time and. Joys all thine own undying one, joys worthy thee O. To look strife, torture, prison, popular odium, face to. To be a sailor of the world bound for all ports, A ship itself, see indeed these sails I spread to the sun.
Long varied train of an emblem, dabs of music, Fingers of the organist skipping staccato over the keys. Or hotels of granite and iron? Where are your jibes of being now? Where are your cavils about the soul now? Hindustanee, Served the mound-raiser on the Mississippi, served those. Whom have you slaughter'd lately European headsman?
Whose is that blood upon you so wet and sticky? Rivals, traitors, poisoners, disgraced chieftains and the. Lawrence, or north in Kanada, or. Nor yield we mournfully majestic brothers, We who have grandly fill'd our time; With Nature's calm content, with tacit huge delight, We welcome what we wrought for through the past, And leave the field for them. For them predicted long, For a superber race, they too to grandly fill their time, For them we abdicate, in them ourselves ye forest kings! In them these skies and airs, these mountain peaks,.
Shasta, Nevadas, These huge precipitous cliffs, this amplitude, these valleys,. Time and Space, You hidden national will lying in your abysms, conceal'd. Colorado south, Lands bathed in sweeter, rarer, healthier air, valleys and. For we cannot tarry here, We must march my darlings, we must bear the brunt of. O you youths, Western youths, So impatient, full of action, full of manly pride and.
In a much larger sense, those who enter into Merton's verse get a picture of a spirit of peace that is universal. The founding editor of the international literary journal The American Voice , he is the author of a dozen published or forthcoming collections of poetry and literary essays including his Broadstone titles available below. Much of this new collection is informed by Smock's immersion in the literature and culture of Scandinavia; but even if the setting is new, he reminds us again that the human heart is the same across climes and times, and that our common humanity will triumph over our divisions if we will give it the chance.
To read poetry, to write it, to teach it. And to have found long minutes in which to sit in meditation with poetry. What does this mean? And this a crag? Announce the joys of cosmic commonweal. The sermon murmurs on in me. Though I ask myself unceasingly what difference can it make, From this dream of Skellig Michael I shall nevermore awake.
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I imagine you gliding through the touch of teasing waters On your way to savour and sap the strength of two strong men, While in your mind revolves the litany of names Of all your lost but ever-present friends and lovers. I imagine you triangulating on a sounding strand, Giving and taking the crimson and gold of pleasuring flesh, While in your mind you ponder On the puzzle of your world, all worlds. I imagine you at end of day whispering to me of your excitements As I coax from your shining body one last sigh, While in your mind the glow of carnal knowledge Illuminates a towering hall, alive with opening doors.
And so each path of promise Loses itself in impenetrable briars Before the first milestone has been passed. Each beckoning shore Is fathoms deep in slime Before the pearl without price can be gathered. Meanwhile, what can we do But wander this rough-hewn world, Applying whatever consolamentum we can call upon. We have built the bodies of our lives By lifting and carrying the weight of knowledge, Stiffened our spines with the calcium of hard places, Steeled our hearts with iron from the soul.
Who would have thought that these tough sinews of understanding, These muscled frames of difficult cognition, Would yield to the feathered touch Of a soft stray smile? Impressively we wrestle on With conscience and with consequences , Displaying for all to see the vigour of our rigours; And all the while our backs are to the floor, Our gaze lost in a high magenta haze, The sublime, sweet mire of unquestioning desire. The loneliness unpicks my brain; Each tiny thought must fight to clothe itself.
Knowledge has descended to the resounding gut And to the quiet baylets of the lungs. Whatever process there is Reaches no conclusion … except this: My mask is now in shreds, The old persona dead; In the truth of suffering I can at least be true To all my other truths. In the banking cloud over the lake, Silent flashes of orange fire, Numinous intimations of a dangerous future. But shall we grieve? The parched grass now greens again; There is new growth in the fuchsia and the fern;.
And the unconquered sun, Though in the fury lost from sight, Will not for long deny its rescuing light. We are old companions, you and I, Lovers and sisters and brothers of a thousand lives, Co-dwellers of a thousand ages. If distance has held us separate, We have conjoined in dreams, Coming to each other with a kiss of ease In the blackest of nights after the greyest of days.
Wherever, whenever our paths cross, Our eyes open, Our hearts embrace, And we take the road together one more time. As for me, Try as I may to hold to calm, I am a chaotic cascade in your presence, An impossible maelstrom, My blood flooding crazily through valves and conduits In a mad, mystical, murderous succession of spring tides. You are the very moon to me, And everything that flows in me Flows for you, Rages for you, Reaches for you.
I stand bewitched by what is in this case, Bronze Age blazing gold in discs and whirls As intricate and fine as Breton lace, All interspersed with luscious amber pearls. These beads of petrous resin hold my gaze, Return it with impenetrable power; My world becomes a dreaming, russet daze My life an orange-red mesmeric hour. The canny Greeks, as ever, had a word; Elektron was their label for this stone; They knew of the attractions that occurred Within the currents of its nearmost zone.
This conversation has no easy end; We roam through dark recesses, strangely free, As if each were to each a long-held friend; As if that were the only way to be. We tell of troths to which we were untrue - Beseech us though our severed lovers might - Of lives that had to open to the new, Because too much arrangement quenched our light. We speak of how our still unruly minds Philosophize through racked and quartered nights, Of thoughts that long to loose the net that binds, Of pain that aches to put the world to rights. Between the rhododendra and the pines I walk with you in pleasurable trance; I taste each word, each step like perfect wines - Exquisite focus in a mystic dance.
The sun negotiates the leafy maze To fall upon and aureole your skin; My senses in this dappled, dazzling haze Are overcharged but too entranced to spin. Returning to your car beside the lake, Recalling other waters, other trees, I lose the moment, vexedly forsake Its power to the midges and the breeze. What comes of such enchantments?
Who can tell? Can you, who in the greenwood cast the spell? All night the mountain has been swathed in cloud Mysterious in murky hiddenness; Before me now she stands revealed and proud, As day unzips and lifts her misty dress. You were preoccupied … Looking for a restaurant? Wanted elsewhere? About to leave for Australia? In any case impatient of my veneration. I woke with your displeasure thudding in my heart, Feeling the immeasurable depth of your presence and your absence, Seeing in the night, Without a single star to guide me, The meaning of it all.
Though I hide myself in pleasure, Dark truth is not mocked. I have always been hopelessly in search of you, And, having found you, I hopelessly seek you still. I followed a siren song to the Vistula. Nothing is here Except roaring trams, An old factory, Rough-cut grass And the grey-brown, storm-swollen flow. She is not here. No one is here Except dusty children, Plump joggers, Disobedient dogs And an endless succession of listless lovers. I should never have come here. There was music enough in the chapel, Open-throated vespers from enclosed nuns; But the hidden, fervent voices, Could not ease me Nor exorcise that other voice I shall not visit the Vistula again.
The singing is too sharp in me here; It wakens every nerve, Inflames despair, Makes opaque the windows of my soul With an infinite tracery of cracks. A risky day for walking this — Heat to curl the brain and scorch the soul; Yet here I stroll, with almost English nonchalance, Past stiff white cliffs by a serious little river To the Cracovian Gate, The pillars, perhaps, of my doom.
As I pass through these great chalky thighs is it just the sun? Suddenly I face myself again with seeing eyes and mind and heart, Ready to ask of life impossible questions, Ready to deal with impossible answers, Ready to fight the Fates for impossible love. I seem once more to be the five-year-old, Who, sitting full of tears in an ancient oak, Knew that his grail was the bliss of dreams, His challenge, to find in light his dreamed companion of the night; Knew that, though this quest might bring him only to the gates of hell, He had no other course.
The vineyards stretch to the horizon On every side, The vines in their proud, straight rows Like cellar racks, Monuments to many vintages. Our lives ripen with the ripening fruit. Under the relentless sun There is little more to be done But to wait for the harvest. Only then, after the froth of fermentation, When judgment has been pronounced on the first tasting, Only then shall we begin to know How well we and nature have conspired. And if the liquor is found wanting, No matter; we have tried our all.
Next spring the vines will flower again. Breakfast raised my morale, and I descended.
In my childhood the first question would have been easily addressed, And even yesterday I might have had an answer for the second. But the world turns. The via dolorosa which I trod today Has led me to complexities never suspected, Complexities which fragment all preconceptions And unfocus the soul. I went from the basilica, full of untargeted resolve grace?
We sit under the cherry trees Finishing the last of the warm wine, Playing with our melted ice-cream. A distant roll of thunder briefly stops the chatter, But soon the talk goes on, languid but determined, No family tomb, no new birth, no weaning undiscussed. I fall asleep, dreaming of real conversation, But am woken by the proffered hand of an early departure, Return, alas, to life beneath the branches. Swiftly I drift away again, though - This time into a meditation on the torments of being in love, And how on earth to stop them!
I decide that I should again lay myself at her feet, Avow all, offer myself body and soul to her, And if she again refuses me, somehow die to her, put her from my heart. The cherry trees are unmoved by my emotion But ruffled by the approaching storm, Which soon will stain the lawn with sour fruit, Will litter the universe with my useless thoughts. I find myself saying goodbye to this place, Whose walls ring my heart, Whose churches ring to my silent prayers, Whose clocks ring the chimes of my transitions.
Miracles once happened here. You held me. How now can I bear a city of miracles When the age of miracles is past? Two weeks ago in a Sosnowiec park Lightning killed two young lovers embracing under a tree; As my mind sends you a farewell kiss, I wish briefly but ardently for a similar fate. In any case, whether I am dead or breathing still, Life is no longer on offer to me here. I return, my face awash, To the twisting stair and knife of my hotel; I pass a hooded figure in the street advertising the Museum of Torture, An attraction which somehow I feel no need to visit.
Our cup contains a tea from shapely hills, A tea whose fragrance soothes and yet excites, A tea to firm the flesh and soften wills, A tea to brighten days and deepen nights. So many times our shared delight is drained; So many times we wet the leaves anew. Is there no end to solace to be gained, No end to pleasures seeping from this brew?
Just before dawn My troubled sleep yields to troubled wakefulness; The water I drink tastes bitter; And the darkness in me and around me Becomes too dense to bear. At a fork in the way I take, as ever, the left-hand path. My legs ache, My mouth is dry, But still I push myself forward and upward Until my frantic advance is blocked by a closed gate Yet another! My determination flags But I refuse to be defeated. Ignoring the nervous, disapproving sheep, I pull back the bar and pass beyond, Blooding my clean shoes in sticky ooze And finally realizing where my road is taking me.
I am going to the high places, Carrying the blackness of my soul to Black Hill, Where night and its creatures rest easy, Where ancient tenebrous magic will soothe me, And where even the sharp fingers of daybreak Will leave me unmolested.
I clamber to the ridge, Reaching it as the crimson eye of the sun Peers through the murky curtains of the eastern horizon. Despite myself I greet it, Feeling the touch of minds Of those who once made their tribute Bedecked in discs of gold. With the rising of the light My steps lose their heaviness; I almost dance from stone to stone While radiance slowly fills the clouds, Sending shafts of benediction To the waking farms below.
When I reach the bluff The sky is clear; The heather and I Are bathed in unobstructed dazzle And in quickening warmth. Taking off my jacket, I sit, comforted by the heat on my face. I listen to the silence, Listen to the voice of God, Who may or may not be out there, in here, But who quietly brightens my breath, Refits me for diurnal integration, And gives me back the sense that all is one.
I am roused from sleep By the lightning of your lips The thunder of my heart And the pitter-patter of your fingers On my astonished body. When the storm is spent I sleep again. No sea-hawk this, Puttering so slowly through the water That the bow-wave is mere ripple, Barely scratching the looking-glass surface Of the solemn brine.
This is a journey close to Enlightenment, A haphazard delving into myriad bays and inlets, But true to a mysterious stillness, Without curiosity, Exempt — or almost - from desire. But desire - thankfully, inevitably - returns.
As the dream ends the boat is beached and empty, The entire crew absent without leave, Taking pleasure amidst the poppies and the dill, Finding their way back to near-perfect calm through near-perfect frenzy. Savours from a silvered spoon; Movement under a silent moon; Wantonness and tenderness collide, coalesce, Ride heavenwards like a dragoon.
Night is curtained by rain; Your image floods my brain. Though lightning blinds my eyes, Still I see you plain. Though day has barely begun, The web is already spun; Its threads await the illumining Of the new, unrisen sun. On this white, silky bed I lay an unbelieving head; And what sleep would give Must bide undreamed, unheard, unsaid.
Verse declaimed amidst mouldering books; Exchange of smiling, quizzical looks. Is beauty here? Or truth? Or are all rhymesters crooks?
The choir is like a surging tide tonight. Each cranny of my brain is washed and filled With sweetness, sadness, fantasy and fright, With memories of all I ever willed. The torrent breaks my every wall apart, Destroys each dyke, each dam, each towering dune; And I am inundated to the heart, My flooded realm a mirror to the moon.
Amidst the music, thoughts of you come clear, Slicing through my shining, deluged mind, Leaping from the surface they appear Like flying fish by joy alone defined. Night finds me Flailing at all my perceiving organs, Fighting to see beyond your beauty, Failing. Into the courtyard fitful sunlight falls in shards; Parades of tourists solemnly pace around its beauty; A man apart sips water under a tree.
Despite an all-surrounding air of things unfathomed, There is no secret to be revealed here, No mystery to penetrate for the salvation of the day. Under the grudging sun and the teasing cloud The tracery of love and hope and disappointment is clear on every face As it always has been, always will be. The crowds depart through the exquisite closing gate; The man apart knows no more and nothing more fully; And no amount of water can slake the dryness of his heart.
Dawn imposes itself everywhere From the greyly lit horizon To my tense, stirring innards. Such ministrations I had thought long banished From my open mind and life, But the walls close grimly in again. My early childhood years were full of power; The elements were at my beck and whim. I summoned earth and fire to warm the hour; From air and water framed a heathen hymn. I raise no shining staff, incant no spell, But I am charged with changing energy; The soreness of our love shall be made well, And it shall be what it was meant to be. I have always seemed to myself A man entirely of the earth, Closed as closed could be to sensing beyond the senses.
Suddenly I am full of knowing dreams, Counsel without provenance And difficult intuitions. There are times when the flux of life Has the quality of lava, Melting, reshaping every familiar feature, As its red fire runs from height to depth. What landscape will emerge, What accessibilities, inaccessibilities, What cultivability, After the ash settles and the rock cools, Lies nowhere in our power. Our only freedom Abides in choosing, or not choosing, To open ourselves to the changed terrain, To search for paths and passes amid the alien crags, To grow what vines we can, where we can, And to taste the new wine without regretting the old.
If I were of a settled disposition, Content with the settled daily round Of little worries, little pleasures, What, how much, my lioness, would I ever have to offer To your travelling spirit, Your vast, leonine heart, Your unvanquishable wantonness? You see in me confusion, weakness, love of self. All present; you know me through and through. But what of that great blaze of hope and courage, My love of you? If I were of a settled disposition, My predictable worries, predictable pleasures Would never touch you, Huntress of the wide horizons. In my unquiet manysidedness I am more companionable to you, body and soul, Than any prideful claimant to the state of being whole.
To your watchful eyes I am the kaleidoscope of sunset; To your tearing teeth, a full array of prey; To your fiery loins, ten thousand ways of wooing; To your inner needs, new attempts at answers every day. High in this storm-whipped pine I long to shutter my stinging, too far-seeing eyes. But cannot; Ache to loose my grip on thrashing, wrenching limbs, But cannot; Struggle to find a foothold Where nausea and cataclysmic descent do not constantly threaten, But cannot.
We glimpse the future As movements in a candlelit room Viewed through a curtained window From a darkened street. As I lay beside you last night A torrent of quietude entered me.