poetry

POETRY: Pentecost by Malcolm Guite

May 19, 2018

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings. Today the hidden fountain flows and plays. Today the church draws breath at last and sings. As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise. This is the feast of fire, air, and water, Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth. The earth herself awakens to her maker And is translated out of death to birth. The right words come today in their right order And every word spells freedom and release. Today the gospel crosses every border. All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace. Today the lost are found in His translation. Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every [...]

POETRY: The Country Clergy by R. S. Thomas

May 18, 2018

I see them working in old rectories By the sun’s light, by candlelight, Venerable men, their black cloth A little dusty, a little green With holy mildew. And yet their skulls, Ripening over so many prayers, Toppled into the same grave With oafs and yokels. They left no books, Memorial to their lonely thought In grey parishes; rather they wrote On men’s hearts and in the minds Of young children sublime words Too soon forgotten. God in his time Or out of time will correct [...]

POETRY: Vesper Sparrows by Deborah Digges

May 17, 2018

I love to watch them sheathe themselves mid-air, shut wings and ride the light’s poor spine to earth, to touch down in gutters, in the rainbowed urine of suicides, just outside Bellevue’s walls. From in there the ransacked cadavers are carried up the East River to Potter’s Field as if they were an inheritance, gleaned of savable parts, their diseases jarred and labeled, or incinerated, the ashes of metastasized vision professing the virus that lives beyond the flesh, in air… The first time I saw the inside of anything alive, a downed bird opened cleanly under my heel. I knelt to watch the spectral innards shine and quicken, the heart-whir magnify. And though I can’t say now what kind of bird it was, nor the [...]

POETRY: How To Prepare For The Second Coming by Abigail Carroll

May 16, 2018

Start by recalling the absolute goodness of rain and repent for every grumble you have ever made about the weather (this will take approximately forever.) Next, you will want to commit a theft: with deft lock-picking and a shrewd hand, steal back the hours you fed to the hungry god of work, then squander them on hydrangeas, Wordsworth, voluntary sidewalk repair. Teach a child to lace a shoe (your child or another’s—any four-year old will do), and while you’re at it, set the alarm for three, and fumble through the dark to the pond to guard the salamanders as they cross the road. If, having accomplished these tasks, you wish to go on, sit at your desk and carefully design a few radical acts of grace, by which I mean murder (of a sort): [...]

POETRY: Threshold by R. S. Thomas

May 11, 2018

I emerge from the mind’s cave into the worse darkness outside, where things pass and the Lord is in none of them. I have heard the still, small voice and it was that of the bacteria demolishing my cosmos. I have lingered too long on this threshold, but where can I go? To look back is to lose the soul I was leading upwards towards the light. To look forward? Ah, what balance is needed at the edges of such an abyss. I am alone on the surface of a turning planet. What to do but, like Michelangelo’s Adam, put my hand out into unknown space, hoping for the reciprocating [...]

POETRY: Ascension by Kathleen Norris

May 10, 2018

Why do you stand looking up at the skies? (Acts 1:11) It wasn’t just wind, chasing thin gunmetal clouds across the loud sky; it wasn’t the feeling that one might ascend on that excited air, rising like a trumpet note. And it wasn’t just my sister’s water breaking, her crying out, the downward draw of blood and bone…. It was all of that, the mud and new grass pushing up through melting snow, the lilac in bud by my front door, bent low by last week’s ice storm. Now the new mother, that leaky vessel, begins to nurse her child, beginning the long [...]

POETRY: Easter Hymn by A. E. Housman

May 9, 2018

If in that Syrian garden, ages slain, You sleep, and know not you are dead in vain, Nor even in dreams behold how dark and bright Ascends in smoke and fire by day and night The hate you died to quench and could but fan, Sleep well and see no morning, son of man. But if, the grave rent and the stone rolled by, At the right hand of majesty on high You sit, and sitting so remember yet Your tears, your agony and bloody sweat, Your cross and passion and the life you gave, Bow hither out of Heaven and see and [...]

POETRY: Nuclear by R. S. Thomas

May 6, 2018

It’s not that he can’t speak; who created languages but God? Nor that he won’t; to say that is to imply malice. It is just that he doesn’t, or does so at times when we are not listening, in ways we have yet to recognize as [...]

POETRY: Past And Future by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

May 2, 2018

My future will not copy fair my past On any leaf but Heaven’s. Be fully done Supernal Will! I would not fain be one Who, satisfying thirst and breaking fast, Upon the fullness of the heart at last Says no grace after meat. My wine has run Indeed out of my cup, and there is none To gather up the bread of my repast Scattered and trampled; yet I find some good In earth’s green herbs, and streams that bubble up Clear from the darkling ground,—content until I sit with angels before better food:— Dear Christ! when thy new vintage fills my cup, This hand shall shake no more, nor that wine [...]

POETRY: A Night Visitor by Brother Paul Quenon

April 25, 2018

A grey cloud cover hides the moon blanketing light as night grows lonely. My ears are stifled by the crush of my own thoughts ’til silence says: Hush. These ears are windows Opening on quiet night where my soul can breathe. If I could reach out to touch this fragile silence she would shy away. She offers presence, not familiarity, to my calloused hand. Close as my own breath, though my mind be far away, precious as a prayer. Rare is the moment when, with nothing on my mind, I hear her passage, subtle as a [...]

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 [...]

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 [...]