terribly

Dec 132018
 

BYZANTINE COIN

How many hands, vicissitudes,
Have worn this gold to the thin ghost
That gleams in the shopkeeper’s palm?
A millennium flickers, eludes
Us, is gone, as we bend engrossed
In blurred words and a surface charm.

SERVICE

Mismanaged love, at large, made vagrant,
Uncontained seeking the enormous land

Seen fleetingly, once manifest, now lost:
Seeking the defining rite, the service

That the heart could bend to – of rosary,
Or gun, or patient domesticity.

THE EPIC SCHOLAR

What is his life? the library,
  Worn books minutely scanned,
The evening and the single meal.
  He dreams of the vast land.

He sees behind the urtext loom
  The dedicated band
Who, barbarous, inhabit him:
  He dreams of the vast land.

A scholar’s indolence: the shelves
  Dissolve to endless sand;
Horizons touched, lost enmities:
  He dreams of the vast land.

His patience thins: minutiae:
  His predecessors planned
The complex text impeccably:
  He dreams of the vast land,

His solitary action there:
  O he can understand
His love’s futility: but look,
  He dreams of the vast land.

Dec 062018
 

In Ecclesiastes I read,
“That which is far off and exceeding deep,
Who can find it out?”
Who can tell the earth’s tale of wearing down,
building up, erosion, creation,
a swirl of embers breathing amethyst and tourmaline,
a suffering bounded by the four baleful rivers of Hell
and a sun that will one day collapse,
engulfing it in one long dragon breath of dying out?
The ancients said earth was immovable—
that every daffodil and sequoia
was fixed in its own sky-blue mirror.
Now we know this planet is like others,
restless, driven, continually torn apart
and reassembled by a shifting of plates
grinding beneath the surface like nervous molars.
The globe itself a work in progress
with its iced poles wandering
and its fires bubbling below the seas.
Even its path through space
is an egg-shaped, elliptical orbit, hardly circular.
It is here on what used to be called solid ground
that we live—fragile, torn by our need
for love, food and mercy.
Most of us worried there will be too little time
to light the lamps of our fingers
and walk the narrow path in the rain.
But what of the earth? Who can find it out—
embrace its drifting continents,
who can love it as it is—unfinished,
smudged with the dust of rare constellations,
flickering on and off like a rain-drenched fire in the woods?

Dec 042018
 

Not because of victories
I sing,
having none,
but for the common sunshine,
the breeze,
the largess of the spring.

Not for victory
but for the day’s work done
as well as I was able;
not for a seat upon the dais
but at the common table.

 

 Comments Off on Charles Reznikoff: Te Deum
Dec 032018
 

Why should I have returned?
My knowledge would not fit into theirs.
I found untouched the desert of the unknown,
Big enough for my feet. It is my home.
It is always beyond them. The future
Splits the present with the echo of my voice.
Hoarse with fulfillment, I never made promises.

 Comments Off on W. S. Merwin: Noah’s Raven
Nov 112018
 

Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by.

But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose’s cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.

There’s a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at last and coldly die
In brininess and volubility.

But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children’s day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad no doubt and die that way.

 Comments Off on Robert Graves: The Cool Web