Poetry

POETRY: The Good Portion by Paul J. Willis

April 20, 2018

Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:42) Is it waking to this calm morning after a night of dry winds? Is it scrambled eggs, the ones with cheese, or the hot glaze of a cinnamon roll? Is it the way you laugh over breakfast, that generous gift, your laughter? Is it rinsing the plates and pans in the sink? Or leaving them in a cockeyed stack, these things of use, these things of beauty that will not be taken [...]

POETRY: Once by R. S. Thomas

April 18, 2018

God looked at space and I appeared, Rubbing my eyes at what I saw. The earth smoked, no birds sang; There were no footprints on the beaches Of the hot sea, no creatures in it. God spoke. I hid myself in the side Of the mountain. As though born again I stepped out into the cool dew, Trying to remember the fire sermon, Astonished at the mingled chorus Of weeds and flowers. In the brown bark Of the trees I saw the many faces Of life, forms hungry for birth, Mouthing at me. I held my way To the light, inspecting my shadow Boldly; and in the late morning You, rising towards me out of the depths Of myself. I took your hand, Remembering you, and together, Confederates of the natural day, We went forth to meet the [...]

HYMN: Loving Shepherd Of Thy Sheep by Jane Elizabeth Leeson

April 15, 2018

1 Loving Shepherd of Thy sheep, Keep Thy lamb, in safety keep; Nothing can Thy power withstand; None can pluck me from Thy hand. 2 Loving Savior, Thou didst give Thine own life that we might live; And the hands outstretched to bless Bear the cruel nails’ impress. 3 We would praise Thee every day, Gladly all Thy will obey, Like Thy blessed ones above Happy in Thy precious love. 4 Loving Shepherd, ever near, Teach Thy lambs Thy voice to hear; Suffer not our steps to stray From the strait and narrow way. 5 Where Thou leadest we would go, Walking in Thy steps below, Till before our Father’s throne We shall know as we are known. [...]

POETRY: In Church by R. S. Thomas

April 13, 2018

Often I try To analyse the quality Of its silences. Is this where God hides From my searching? I have stopped to listen, After the few people have gone, To the air recomposing itself For vigil. It has waited like this Since the stones grouped themselves about it. These are the hard ribs Of a body that our prayers have failed To animate. Shadows advance From their corners to take possession Of places the light held For an hour. The bats resume Their business. The uneasiness of the pews Ceases. There is no other sound In the darkness but the sound of a man Breathing, testing his faith On emptiness, nailing his questions One by one to an untenanted [...]

POETRY: Eastern River by Peter Huchel

April 11, 2018

Do not look for the stones in water above the mud, the boat is gone. No longer with nets and baskets the river is dotted. The sun wick, the marsh marigold flickered out in rain. Only the willow still bears witness, in its roots the secrets of tramps lie hidden, their paltry treasures, a rusty fishhook, a bottle full of sand, a tine with no bottom, in which to preserve conversations long forgotten. On the boughs, empty nests of the penduline titmice, shoes light as birds. No one slips them over children’s [...]

POETRY: First Sunday After Easter by John Keble

April 8, 2018

Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself? (Numbers 16:9) First Father of the holy seed, If yet, invok’d in hour of need, Thou count me for thine own, Not quite an outcast if I prove, (Thou joy’s in miracles of love) Hear, from thy mercy-throne! Upon thine altar’s horn of gold Help me to lay my trembling hold, Though stain’d with Christian gore;— The blood of souls by Thee redeem’d, But, while I rov’d or idly dream’d, Lost to be found no more. For oft, when summer leaves were bright, And every flower was bath’d in light, In sunshine moments past, My willful heart would burst away From where the holy shadow lay, Where [...]

POETRY: In A Country Church by R. S. Thomas

April 6, 2018

To one kneeling down no word came, Only the wind’s song, saddening the lips Of the grave saints, rigid in glass; Or the dry whisper of unseen wings, Bats not angels, in the high roof. Was he balked by silence? He kneeled long, And saw love in a dark crown Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree Golden with fruit of a man’s [...]

POETRY: John 21 by Katherine James

April 4, 2018

Poignant musht in a balm of fishy-charcoal, sand still cold from the night. The charred wood could write volumes on the hearts of 12, no, 11 men in tunics, veins busting from skin salty with ocean and sweat. The loved one cannot write the words, though try as he does. It’s the smell of morning and the peopled wooden boat that prevent him; anything white becomes radiant in early dawn. He hangs back and listens to words exchanged that will travel centuries, and even then settle uneven in the hearts of men. It’s all too wonderful to expect such things, but he must, so he chooses the third person as though he were someone [...]

POETRY: Swan by Mary Oliver

April 1, 2018

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river? Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air— An armful of white blossoms, A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies, Biting the air with its black beak? Did you hear it, fluting and whistling A shrill dark music—like the rain pelting the trees—like a waterfall Knifing down the black ledges? And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds— A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river? And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything? And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for? And have [...]

POETRY: Morning Poem by Mary Oliver

April 1, 2018

Every morning the world is created. Under the orange sticks of the sun the heaped ashes of the night turn into leaves again and fasten themselves to the high branches— and the ponds appear like black cloth on which are painted islands of summer lilies. If it is your nature to be happy you will swim away along the soft trails for hours, your imagination alighting everywhere. And if your spirit carries within it the thorn that is heavier than lead— if it’s all you can do to keep on trudging— there is still somewhere deep within you a beast shouting that the earth is exactly what it wanted— each pond with its blazing lilies is a prayer heard and answered lavishly, every morning, whether or not you have ever dared to be happy, [...]

POETRY: Lead by Mary Oliver

March 30, 2018

Here is a story to break your heart. Are you willing? This winter the loons came to our harbor and died, one by one, of nothing we could see. A friend told me of one on the shore that lifted its head and opened the elegant beak and cried out in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it, you know is a sacred thing, and for which, if you have not heard it, you had better hurry to where they still sing. And, believe me, tell no one just where that is. The next morning this loon, speckled and iridescent and with a plan to fly home to some hidden lake, was dead on the shore. I tell you this to break your heart, by which I mean only that it break open and never close again to the rest of the [...]

POETRY: Singapore by Mary Oliver

March 29, 2018

In Singapore, in the airport, a darkness was ripped from my eyes. In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open. A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl. Disgust argued in my stomach and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket. A poem should always have birds in it. Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings. Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees. A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling. A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem. When the woman turned I could not answer her face. Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and neither could win. She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this? Everybody needs a job. Yes, a person wants to stand in [...]

POETRY: The Poet Thinks Of The Donkey by Mary Oliver

March 25, 2018

On the outskirts of Jerusalem the donkey waited. Not especially brave, or filled with understanding, he stood and waited. How horses, turned out into the meadow, leap with delight! How doves, released from their cages, clatter away, splashed with sunlight. But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited. Then he let himself be led away. Then he let the stranger mount. Never had he seen such crowds! And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen. Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient. I hope, finally, he felt brave. I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him, as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, [...]

POETRY: Like A Brazier’s Bronze Cinders by Boris Pasternak

March 23, 2018

Like a brazier’s bronze cinders, the sleepy garden’s beetles flowing. Level with me, and my candle, a flowering world is hanging. As if into unprecedented faith, I cross into this night, where the poplar’s beaten grey veils the moon’s rim from sight. Where the pond’s an open secret, where apple-trees whisper of waves, where the garden hanging on piles, holds the sky before its [...]

POETRY: Mindful by Mary Oliver

March 21, 2018

Everyday I see or hear something that more or less kills me with delight, that leaves me like a needle in the haystack of light. It was what I was born for— to look, to listen, to lose myself inside this soft world— to instruct myself over and over in joy, and acclamation. Nor am I talking about the exceptional, the fearful, the dreadful, the very extravagant— but of the ordinary, the common, the very drab, the daily presentations. Oh, good scholar, I say to myself, how can you help but grow wise with such teachings as these— the untrimmable light of the world, the ocean’s shine, the prayers that are made out of [...]

POETRY: Fifth Sunday In Lent by Blessed John Keble

March 18, 2018

And Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” (Exodus 3:3) Th’ historic Muse, from age to age, Thro’ many a waste heart-sickening page Hath trac’d the works of Man: But a celestial call to-day Stays her, like Moses, on her way, The works of God to scan. Far seen across the sandy wild, Where, like a solitary child, He thoughtless roam’d and free, One towering thorn was wrapt in flame; Bright without blaze it went and came: Who would not turn and see? Along the mountain ledges green The scatter’d sheep at will may glean The Desert’s spicy stores: The while, with undivided heart, The shepherd talks with God apart, And, as he talks, adores. Ye too, [...]

POETRY: March by Boris Pasternak

March 16, 2018

The sun is hotter than the top ledge in a steam bath; The ravine, crazed, is rampaging below. Spring—that corn-fed, husky milkmaid— Is busy at her chores with never a letup. The snow is wasting (pernicious anemia— See those branching veinlets of impotent blue?) Yet in the cowbarn life is burbling, steaming, And the tines of pitchforks simply glow with health. These days—these days, and these nights also! With eavesdrop thrumming its tattoos at noon, With icicles (cachectic!) hanging on to gables, And with the chattering of rills that never sleep! All doors are flung open—in stable and in cowbarn; Pigeons peck at oats fallen in the snow; And the culprit of all this and its life-begetter— The pile of manure—is pungent with [...]

POETRY: Some Questions You Might Ask by Mary Oliver

March 14, 2018

Is the soul solid, like iron? Or is it tender and breakable, like the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl? Who has it, and who doesn’t? I keep looking around me. The face of the moose is as sad as the face of Jesus. The swan opens her white wings slowly. In the fall, the black bear carries leaves into the darkness. One question leads to another. Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg? Like the eye of a hummingbird? Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop? Why should I have it, and not the anteater who loves her children? Why should I have it, and not the camel? Come to think of it, what about the maple trees? What about the blue iris? What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight? What about roses, [...]

POETRY: The Definition Of Art by Boris Pasternak

March 9, 2018

It rips open its shirt, exposes Beethoven’s hirsute torso, places its palms, like checkers, over sleep and conscience, night and love. And with what dark longing, wild grief and havoc, it conjures the world’s end on horseback over pawns on foot. The root cellar’s ice is rife with the oohs and aahs of stars. Cool Tristan, full-throated, gasps, like a nightingale over Isolde’s vine. And gardens, and ponds, and fences, even the white heat of creation, are just eruptions of passion accumulated by the human [...]

POETRY: Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End? by Mary Oliver

March 7, 2018

There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long. The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God. And it can keep you as busy as anything else, and happier. The snake slides away; the fish jumps, like a little lily, out of the water and back in; the goldfinches sing from the unreachable top of the tree. I look; morning to night I am never done with looking. Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around as though with your arms open. And thinking: maybe something will come, some shining coil of wind, or a few leaves from any old tree– they are all in this too. And now I will tell you the truth. Everything in the world comes. At least, closer. And, cordially. Like the nibbling, tinsel-eyed [...]

POETRY: Third Sunday In Lent by Blessed John Keble

March 3, 2018

When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace. But when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils. (Luke 11:21-22) See Lucifer like lightning fall Dash’d from his throne of pride; While, answering Thy victorious call, The Saints his spoils divide, This world of thine, by him usurp’d too long, Now opening all her stores to heal thy servants’ wrong. So when the first-born of thy foes Dead in the darkness lay, When thy redeem’d at midnight rose And cast their bonds away, The orphan’d realm threw wide her gates, and told Into freed Israel’s lap her jewels and her gold. And when their wondrous march was o’er, And they [...]

POETRY: Diseases Of Earth by Boris Pasternak

March 2, 2018

More! When laughter erupts with mother of pearl, bacterial tides, wet rumblings and staphylococcus clouds, knives will flash like lightning. Then—enough! Immovable titans will choke in the black vaults of day. Then tetanus will retrieve the shadows, and snakes go into torpor. The flood is here! Glitter of watery fear, wind, shards of vicious spitting. Where? From clouds, from fields, from Kliazma, or from one sardonic pine? Are these poems fermented enough to stun the thunder? It must have been delirious to consent to be the [...]

POETRY: In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

February 28, 2018

Look, the trees are turning their own bodies into pillars of light, are giving off the rich fragrance of cinnamon and fulfillment, the long tapers of cattails are bursting and floating away over the blue shoulders of the ponds, and every pond, no matter what its name is, is nameless now. Every year everything I have ever learned in my lifetime leads back to this: the fires and the black river of loss whose other side is salvation, whose meaning none of us will ever know. To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it [...]

POETRY: The Definition Of Soul by Boris Pasternak

February 23, 2018

It falls like a ripe pear into the storm with a single clinging leaf. How faithful—it quits its branch— reckless—it chokes in the heat. It falls like a pear, more askew than the wind. How faithful— Look back: it thundered beautifully, bloomed, scattered—into ashes. The storm burned our country. Fledgling, will you know your nest? O my quivering goldfinch, my leaf, why do you flutter against my shy silk? Do not fear, my single clingng song. What should we strive for? O indivisible trembling—you don’t get that deadly phrase “stay [...]

POETRY: Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

February 21, 2018

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting— over and over announcing your place in the family of [...]

POETRY: The Definition Of Poetry by Boris Pasternak

February 16, 2018

It’s a tightly filled whistle, it’s the squeaking of jostled ice, it’s night, frosting the leaves, it’s two nightingales dueling. It’s the soundlessness of sweetpeas, the tears of the universe in a pod. It’s a Figaro from music-stands and flutes like hail on garden plots. And all that the night finds hard to find on the sunken floors of bathhouses is carried to the fish pond like a star on damp, trembling palms. It’s a mugginess flatter than sunken boards, alders banked over the horizon. The laughter of the stars is welcome in this universe—this soundless [...]

POETRY: Station Island XI by Seamus Heaney / John of the Cross

February 13, 2018

As if the prisms of the kaleidoscope I plunged once in a butt of muddied water Surfaced like a marvelous lightship And out of its silted crystals a monk’s face That had spoken years ago from behind a grille Spoke again about the need and chance To salvage everything, to re-envisage The zenith and glimpsed jewels of any gift Mistakenly abased …. What came to nothing could always be replenished. “Read poems as prayers,” he said, “and for your penance Translate me something by Juan de la Cruz.” Returned from Spain to our chapped wilderness, His consonants aspirate, his forehead shining, He had made me feel there was nothing to confess. Now his sandaled passage stirred me on to this: How well I know that fountain, filling, running, [...]

POETRY: Eleven Addresses To The Lord — 11 by John Berryman

February 9, 2018

Germanicus leapt upon the wild lion in Smyrna, wishing to pass quickly from a lawless life. The crowd shook the stadium. The proconsul marveled. “Eighty & six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no harm. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Polycarp, John’s pupil, facing the fire. Make too me acceptable at the end of time in my degree, which then Thou wilt award. Cancer, senility, mania, I pray I may be ready with my [...]

POETRY: Eleven Addresses To The Lord — 10 by John Berryman

February 7, 2018

Fearful I peer upon the mountain path where once Your shadow passed, Limner of the clouds up their phantastic guesses. I am afraid, I never until now confessed. I fell back in love with you, Father, for two reasons: You were good to me, & a delicious author, rational & passionate. Come on me again, as twice you came to Azarias & Misael. President of the brethren, our mild assemblies inspire, & bother the priest not to be dull; keep us week-long in order; love my children, my mother far & ill, far brother, my spouse. Oil all my turbulence as at Thy dictation I sweat out my wayward works. Father Hopkins said the only true literary critic is Christ. Let me lie down exhausted, content with [...]

POETRY: Matins by George Herbert

February 7, 2018

I cannot ope mine eyes, But thou art ready there to catch My morning-soul and sacrifice: Then we must needs for that day make a match. My God, what is a heart? Silver, or gold, or precious stone, Or star, or rainbow, or a part Of all these things, or all of them in one? My God, what is a heart, That thou shouldst it so eye, and woo, Pouring upon it all thy art, As if that thou hadst nothing else to do? Indeed man’s whole estate Amounts (and richly) to serve thee: He did not heav’n and earth create, Yet studies them, not him by whom they be. Teach me thy love to know; That this new light, which now I see, May both the work and workman show: Then by a sunbeam I will climb to [...]