Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Audacity—reverence. These must mate..."

In placid hours well-pleased we dream
Of many a brave unbodied scheme.
But form to lend, pulsed life create,
What unlike things must meet and mate:
A flame to melt—a wind to freeze;
Sad patience—joyous energies;
Humility—yet pride and scorn;
Instinct and study; love and hate;
Audacity—reverence. These must mate,
And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart,
To wrestle with the angel—Art.

~ "Art" by Herman Melville

Fantasia, Antonio Parreiras, 1909

Sunday, May 13, 2012

"An owl moans on the roof"

Travelers in Erewhon
by Kenneth Rexroth

You open your
Dress on the dusty
Bed where no one
Has slept for years
An owl moans on the roof
You say
My dear my
In the smoky light of the old
Oil lamp your shoulders
Belly breasts buttocks
Are all like peach blossoms
Huge stars far away far apart
Outside the cracked window pane
Immense immortal animals
Each one only an eye
You open your body
No end to the night
No end to the forest
House abandoned for a lifetime
In the forest in the night
No one will ever come
To the house
In the black world
In the country of eyes

From The Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

Missionnaires, Gustav Klimt, 1914

Saturday, May 12, 2012

"This timeless blood..."

This timeless blood was here before begat.
     Infinity runs in your veins—
        Not mine, nor yours,
             Nor Eve’s, not Adam’s—
                  Gat of God,
                       And spinning like taffy Godwards back again.
Sapped through the centuries to us—
     Grafting a limb there for the Jesse tree—
        Remultiplied infinitely,
             From heart to heart tick-pulsed,
                  Ill clad, ill fed, ill fit—
                       Here, child, do what you can with it.

"Mother's Blessing" by Eleanor Ross Taylor. Text from Poetry Foundation

Mother and Child, 1959. (Image uncredited at NARA, but possibly the work of Gerard Sekoto)

Friday, May 11, 2012

"Like the flowing dust, the river deepening in its bed"

Deep in me you go on growing, unfathomable
In your origin, I cannot touch your eyes
Without burning my fingernails on their petals,
The flames of your form which burn in my thirst,
The leaves of your face which build your absence.
I ask, “Who is there? Who is there?” as if very late,
Very late, somebody knocked
On my door, and then in the middle
Of emptiness there was nothing but air,
Water, trees, the dying daily fire,
As if there was nothing there but everything which exists,
Nothing but all the earth which had rapped on my door.
So, nameless, vague as life, turbid
As the burgeoning mud and vegetation,
You awake in my breast whenever I shut my eyes.
When I lie on the earth you come into being
Like the flowing dust, the river deepening its bed,
Guarding a tangle of naked roots
Which grows as grows your presence in me,
Which accompanies their darkness as you accompany me.
So, here, blood or wheat, earth or fire, we live
Like a single plant which cannot explain its leaves.

From "Serenade" by Pablo Neruda, translated by Kenneth Rexroth

Femme nue, assise de dos, Albert Dagnaux (1861-1933)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

"It is discreet, and light it is"

Give ear unto the gentle lay
That's only sad that it may please;
It is discreet, and light it is:
A whiff of wind o'er buds in May.

The voice was known to you (and dear?),
But it is muffled latterly
As is a widow--still as she
It doth its sorrow proudly bear,

And through the sweeping mourning veil
That in the gusts of Autumn blows,
Unto the heart that wonders, shows
Truth like a star now flash, now fail.

It says--the voice you knew again!--
That kindness, goodness is our life,
And that of envy, hatred, strife,
When death is come, shall naught remain.

It says how glorious to be
Like children, without more delay,
The tender gladness it doth say
Of peace not bought with victory.

Accept the voice--ah, hear the whole
Of its persistent, artless strain:
Naught so can soothe a soul's own pain,
As making glad another soul!

It pines in bonds but for a day,
The soul that without murmur bears...
How unperplexed, how free it fares!
Oh, listen to the gentle lay!

~ Paul Verlaine, translated by Gertrude Hall

Female nude, Lovis Corinth, 1885

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"The best reason for fire"

Easy and beautiful under
your eyelids
As the meeting of pleasure
Dance and the rest

I spoke the fever

The best reason for fire
That you might be pale and luminous
A thousand fruitful poses
A thousand ravaged embraces
Repeated move to erase themselves
You grow dark you unveil yourself
A mask you
control it

It deeply resembles you
And you seem nothing but lovelier naked
Naked in shadow and dazzlingly naked
Like a sky shivering with flashes of lightning
You reveal yourself to you
To reveal yourself to others

~ Paul Éluard, trans. by A.S. Kline

Kneeling female nude, Anton Ažbe, (1862-1905)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"May no fate willfully misunderstand me"

by Robert Frost

When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boys bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from the earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

To see the poem as it appeared in Mountain Interval (1916) go here.

Birches, Alexander Golovin, 1908-1911

"What darkness makes distinctions?"

White ash,
you wait for me

as I will wait
for someone.

What but skin
feels the wind,

what darkness
makes distinctions?

~ from "Thin Place" by Devin Johnston

The lonely tree, Leo Gestel, c.1909

Sunday, April 29, 2012

"I said it to you for the clouds"

I said it to you for the clouds
I said it to you for the tree of the sea
For each wave for the birds in the leaves
For the pebbles of sound
For familiar hands
For the eye that becomes landscape or face
And sleep returns it the heaven of its colour
For all that night drank
For the network of roads
For the open window for a bare forehead
I said it to you for your thoughts for your words
Every caress every trust survives.

~ Paul Éluard, translated by A.S. Kline

Sunbathing in the Dunes, Paul Gustave Fischer, 1916

Friday, April 27, 2012

"That night was to decide..."

That night was to decide
if she and I
were to be lovers.
Under cover
of darkness
no one would see, you see.
I bent over her, it’s the truth,
and as I did,
it’s the truth, I swear it,
I said
like a kindly parent:
“Passion’s a precipice –
so won’t you please
move away?
Move away,

~ Vladimir Mayakovsky, "Attitude to a Miss"

Zwei Mädchenakte, Egon Schiele, 1911

Thursday, April 26, 2012

"ghostly exhilarations in the thought of her"

[...]I’d been

in the course of a letter—I am still
in the course of a letter—to a friend,
who comes close in to my thought so that
the day is hers. My hand writing here
there shakes in the currents of . . . of air?
of an inner anticipation of . . . ?   reaching to touch
ghostly exhilarations in the thought of her.

               At the extremity of this
“there is a connexion working in both directions, as in
               the bow and the lyre”—
only in that swift fulfillment of the wish
                  that sleep
               can illustrate my hand
                  sweeps the string.

You stand behind where-I-am.
The deep tones and shadows I will call a woman.
The quick high notes . . . You are a girl there too,
   having something of sister and of wife,
and I would play Orpheus for you again,

                  recall the arrow or song,
                  to the trembling daylight
                  from which it sprang.

~From "Bending the Bow" by Robert Duncan. The complete poem is here. 
Bather, Francesco Hayez, 1859

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"Trust love, even if it brings sorrow"

"Trust love even if it brings sorrow. Do not close up your heart."
Ah no, my friend, your words are dark, I cannot understand them.

"The heart is only for giving away with a tear and a song, my love."
Ah no, my friend, your words are dark, I cannot understand them.

"Pleasure is frail like a dewdrop, while it laughs it dies. But sorrow is strong and abiding. Let sorrowful love wake in your eyes."
Ah no, my friend, your words are dark, I cannot understand them.

"The lotus blooms in the sight of the sun, and loses all that it has. It would not remain in bud in the eternal winter mist."
Ah no, my friend, your words are dark, I cannot understand them.

~ From The Gardener by Rabindranath Tagore

Lotus flower, Seitei Watanabe (1851-1918)

Monday, April 23, 2012

"If the dull substance of my flesh were thought..."

If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way;
For then, despite of space, I would be brought,
From limits far remote where thou dost stay.
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee;
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land
As soon as think the place where he would be.
But ah, thought kills me that I am not thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that, so much of earth and water wrought,
I must attend time's leisure with my moan,
Receiving naught by elements so slow
But heavy tears, badges of either's woe.

~ Shakespeare, Sonnet 44

Yeux clos, Odilon Redon, c.1890

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"I hate my verses, every line, every word"

Love the Wild Swan
Robinson Jeffers

“I hate my verses, every line, every word.   
Oh pale and brittle pencils ever to try
One grass-blade’s curve, or the throat of one bird
That clings to twig, ruffled against white sky.
Oh cracked and twilight mirrors ever to catch
One color, one glinting flash, of the splendor of things.
Unlucky hunter, Oh bullets of wax,
The lion beauty, the wild-swan wings, the storm of the wings.”
—This wild swan of a world is no hunter’s game.
Better bullets than yours would miss the white breast,
Better mirrors than yours would crack in the flame.
Does it matter whether you hate your...self? At least
Love your eyes that can see, your mind that can
Hear the music, the thunder of the wings. Love the wild swan.

Sunset at Sea, Thomas Moran c.1906

Friday, April 20, 2012

"My dear, your eyes are weary"

My dear, your eyes are weary;
Rest them a little while.
Assume the languid posture
Of pleasure mixed with guile.
Outside the talkative fountain
Continues night and day
Repeating my warm passion
In whatever it has to say.

             The sheer luminous gown
                           The fountain wears
             Where Phoebe’s very own
                           Color appears
             Falls like a summer rain
                           Or shawl of tears.

~ From "The Fountain" by Charles Baudelaire, trans. by Anthony Hecht. The complete poem is here.

RestWojciech Gerson, 1895

Thursday, April 19, 2012

"A something to be loved"

... Juan seem'd
To her, as 'twere, the kind of being sent,
Of whom these two years she had nightly dream'd,
A something to be loved, a creature meant
To be her happiness, and whom she deem'd
To render happy; all who joy would win
Must share it,—Happiness was born a twin.

It was such pleasure to behold him, such
Enlargement of existence to partake
Nature with him, to thrill beneath his touch,
To watch him slumbering, and to see him wake:
To live with him forever were too much;
But then the thought of parting made her quake;
He was her own, her ocean-treasure, cast
Like a rich wreck—her first love, and her last.

~ From Don Juan by Lord Byron

Byron died this day in 1824. More about him at Neurotic Poets

The Finding of Don Juan by Haidee, Ford Madox Brown, 1878

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Ring-mistress of the circus of the stars"

No terrors lurking in her depths, like those
Bound in that buzzing strongbox of the atom,
Terrors that, loosened, turn the hills vesuvian,
Trace in cremation where the cities were.

No, she’s our quiet mother, sensible.
But therefore down-to-earth, not suffering
Fools who play fast and loose among the mountains,
Who fly in her face, or, drunken, clown on cornices.

She taught our ways of walking. Her affection
Adjusted the morning grass, the sands of summer
Until our soles fit snug in each, walk easy.
Holding her hand, we’re safe. Should that hand fail,
The atmosphere we breathe would turn hysterical,
Hiss with tornadoes, spinning us from earth
Into the cold unbreathable desolations.

Yet there—in fields of space—is where she shines,
Ring-mistress of the circus of the stars,
Their prancing carousels, their ferris wheels
Lit brilliant in celebration. Thanks to her
All’s gala in the galaxy.

~ From "Gravity" by John Frederick Nims. The complete poem is at the Poetry Foundation.

Illus. from Memoirs of Sir Isaac Newton's life by William Stukeley, 1752.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Out of the heavy-hanging sea"

by Thomas Merton

(From Crossportion’s Pastoral)

The bottom of the sea has come
And builded in my noiseless room
The fishes’ and the mermaids’ home,

Whose it is most, most hell to be
Out of the heavy-hanging sea
And in the thin, thin changeable air

Or unroom sleep some other where;
But play their coral violins
Where waters most lock music in:

The bottom of my room, the sea.
Full of voiceless curtaindeep
There mermaid somnambules come sleep
Where fluted half-lights show the way,

And there, there lost orchestras play
And down the many quarterlights come
To the dim mirth of my aquadrome:
The bottom of my sea, the room.

Meerjungfrau (Mermaid), Koloman Moser, 1914

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Me myself in the summer heaven godlike"

For Once, Then, Something
Robert Frost

Others taunt me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths—and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness?
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

The Crow and the Pitcher, Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1677)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"The words of the thing twang and twitter..."

The words of the thing twang and twitter to the gentle rocking of a high-laced boot and the silk above that. The trick of the dance is in following now the words, allegro, now the contrary beat of the glossy leg: Reaching far over as if—But always she draws back and comes down upon the word flat footed. For a moment we—but the boot’s costly and the play’s not mine. The pace leads off anew. Again the words break it and we both come down flatfooted. Then—near the knee, jumps to the eyes, catching in the hair’s shadow. But the lips take the rhythm again and again we come down flatfooted. By this time boredom takes a hand and the play’s ended.

~ From Kora in Hell: Improvisations by William Carlos Williams

Full text of Kora in Hell can be found here.

Im Boudoir, Károly Teuchert, 1922

Thursday, April 12, 2012

"On city bridges steep as hills I change countries"

Beginning Of The Plains
by W.S. Merwin

On city bridges steep as hills I change countries
and this according to the promise
is the way home

where the cold has come from
with its secret baggage

in the white sky the light flickering
like the flight of a wing

nothing to be bought in the last
dim shops
before the plain begins
few shelves kept only by children
and relatives there for the holiday
who know nothing

wind without flags
marching into the city
to the rear

I recognize the first hunger
as the plains start
under my feet

~ From The Carrier of Ladders

The old oak, Karl Konrad Simonsson (1843-1901)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"the beautiful bright veil through which her sorrow shines"

Many have painted her. But there was one
Who drew his radiant colours from the sun.
Mysteriously glowing through a background dim
When he was suffering she came to him,
And all the heavy pain within his heart
Rose in his hands and stole into his art.
His canvas is the beautiful bright veil
Through which her sorrow shines. There where the
Texture o'er her sad lips is closely drawn
A trembling smile softly begins to dawn ...
Though angels with seven candles light the place
You cannot read the secret of her face.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours, trans. by Jessie Lemont

Reclining nude, Lovis Corinth, 1910

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"Since I have touched my lips to your brimming cup..."

Since I have touched my lips to your brimming cup,
Since I have bowed my pale brow in your hands,
Since I have sometime breathed the sweet breath
Of your soul, a perfume buried in shadow lands;

Since it was granted to me to hear you utter
Words in which the mysterious heart sighs,
Since I have seen smiles, since I have seen tears
Your mouth on my mouth, your eyes on my eyes;

Since I have seen over my enraptured head
A light from your star shine, ah, ever veiled!
Since I have seen falling to my life’s flood
The leaf of a rose snatched from out your days,

Now at last I can say to the fleeting years:
– Pass by! Pass by, forever! No more age!
Away with you and all your withered flowers,
I have a flower in my soul no one can take!

Your wings, brushing it, spill never a drop
From the glass I fill, from which my thirst I quench.
My soul possesses more fire than you have ashes!
My heart more love than your forgetfulness!

~ Victor Hugo, trans. by A.S. Kline

Liebespaar, Egon Schiele, 1913

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"You hold each other. Where is your proof?"

Lovers, gratified in each other, I am asking you
about us. You hold each other. Where is your proof?
Look, sometimes I find that my hands have come aware
of each other, or that my time-worn face
shelters itself inside them. That gives me a slight
sensation. But who would dare to exist, just for that?
You, though, who in the other's passion
grow until, overwhelmed, he begs you:
"No more..."; you who beneath his hands
swell with abundance, like autumn grapes;
you who may disappear because the other has wholly
emerged: I am asking you about us. I know,
you touch so blissfully because the caress preserves,
because the place you so tenderly cover
does not vanish; because underneath it
you feel pure duration. So you promise eternity, almost,
from the embrace. And yet, when you have survived
the terror of the first glances, the longing at the window,
and the first walk together, once only, through the garden:
lovers, are you the same? When you lift yourselves up
to each other's mouth and your lips join, drink against drink:
oh how strangely each drinker seeps away from his action.

~ From The Second Elegy (The Duino Elegies), Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. by Stephen Mitchell

Stehenedes Liebespaar
, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

"And all her face was honey to my mouth"

Love and Sleep

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

Lying asleep between the strokes of night
I saw my love lean over my sad bed,
Pale as the duskiest lily’s leaf or head,
Smooth-skinned and dark, with bare throat made to bite,
Too wan for blushing and too warm for white,
But perfect-coloured without white or red.
And her lips opened amorously, and said –
I wist not what, saving one word – Delight.

And all her face was honey to my mouth,
And all her body pasture to mine eyes;
The long lithe arms and hotter hands than fire,
The quivering flanks, hair smelling of the south,
The bright light feet, the splendid supple thighs
And glittering eyelids of my soul’s desire.

Sleeping Nymph and Shepherd, Jan Gerritsz van Bronckhorst, c.1645

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

"The soul of sweet delight, can never be defil'd."

As the catterpiller chooses the fairest leaves to layer her eggs on, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, with plates.

Lais in Hades, Gustave-Claude-Etienne Courtois, c.1902.

Lais of Hyccara in the Deipnosophists

Saturday, March 31, 2012

"let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love"

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love, and count all the mumblings of sour age at a penny's fee. Suns set can rise again: we when once our brief light has set must sleep through a perpetual night. Give me of kisses a thousand, and then a hundred, then another thousand, then a second hundred, then another thousand without resting, then a hundred. Then, when we have made many thousands, we will confuse the count lest we know the numbering, so that no wretch may be able to envy us through knowledge of our kisses' number.

Poem 5 from The Carmina of Caius Valerius Catullus

The Kiss, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892-93

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

"Cries of birds are everywhere confused"

The solitary goose does not drink or eat,
It flies about and calls, missing the flock.
No-one now remembers this one shadow,
They've lost each other in the myriad layers of cloud.
It looks into the distance: seems to see,
It's so distressed, it thinks that it can hear.
Unconsciously, the wild ducks start to call,
Cries of birds are everywhere confused.

~ Du Fu (712-770)

Melancholy, Constance Charpentier, 1801

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"The birds have less to say for themselves..."

A Line-storm Song
by Robert Frost

The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift,
The road is forlorn all day,
Where a myriad snowy quartz stones lift,
And the hoof-prints vanish away.
The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
Expend their bloom in vain.
Come over the hills and far with me,
And be my love in the rain.

The birds have less to say for themselves
In the wood-world’s torn despair
Than now these numberless years the elves,
Although they are no less there:
All song of the woods is crushed like some
Wild, easily shattered rose.
Come, be my love in the wet woods; come,
Where the boughs rain when it blows.

There is the gale to urge behind
And bruit our singing down,
And the shallow waters aflutter with wind
From which to gather your gown.
What matter if we go clear to the west,
And come not through dry-shod?
For wilding brooch shall wet your breast
The rain-fresh goldenrod.

Oh, never this whelming east wind swells
But it seems like the sea’s return
To the ancient lands where it left the shells
Before the age of the fern;
And it seems like the time when after doubt
Our love came back amain.
Oh, come forth into the storm and rout
And be my love in the rain.

In the Rain, Franz Marc, 1912

Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Bees and wasps suck the heavy rose."

Heaviness and tenderness—sisters: the same features.
Bees and wasps suck the heavy rose.
Man dies, heat leaves the sand, the sun
of yesterday is borne on a black stretcher.

Oh the heavy honeycomb, the tender webs—easier
to hoist a stone than to say your name!
Only one purpose is left me, but it is golden:
to free myself of the burden, time.

I drink the roiled air like a dark water.
Time has been plowed; the rose was earth. In a slow
whirlpool the heavy tender roses,
rose heaviness, rose tenderness, are plaited in double wreaths.

~ Osip Mandelstam, from Selected Poems

Mutter und Sohn, Otto Mueller, 1919

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"See, blossoms, branches, fruit, leaves I have brought..."

by Paul Verlaine

See, blossoms, branches, fruit, leaves I have brought,
And then my heart that for you only sighs;
With those white hands of yours, oh, tear it not,
But let the poor gift prosper in your eyes.

The dew upon my hair is still undried,--
The morning wind strikes chilly where it fell.
Suffer my weariness here at your side
To dream the hour that shall it quite dispel.

Allow my head, that rings and echoes still
With your last kiss, to lie upon your breast,
Till it recover from the stormy thrill,--
And let me sleep a little, since you rest.

Study for the figure of "Spring" at l'Opéra-Comique, Paris, Luc Olivier-Merson (1846-1920)

Monday, March 19, 2012

A second introduction

I'm finally getting around to another installment of the series featuring work from emerging writers who probably aren't (yet) on your radar. I wish I hadn't dawdled so long before sending you to Sonja Livingston's beautiful essay, "Dare: A Parenthetical Aside." This meditation on Virginia Dare (remember her?) rediscovers the emotional power in a familiar story. I've returned to the piece several times and it loses none of its effect in rereading.

Sonja has published a terrific memoir, Ghostbread, and you can find more of her short pieces at her website. She talks a bit about how she came to writing in a video interview here. She teaches at the University of Memphis.

Dancing Secotan Indians in North Carolina. Watercolour painted by John White, the grandfather of Virginia Dare, 1585

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"I don't love you as if you were a rose of salt..."

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

From One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda.

July Sun, Henry Scott Tuke, 1913

Friday, March 16, 2012

"Yesterday I wanted to speak of it..."

For Love
by Robert Creeley

for Bobbie

Yesterday I wanted to
speak of it, that sense above
the others to me
important because all

that I know derives
from what it teaches me.
Today, what is it that
is finally so helpless,

different, despairs of its own
statement, wants to
turn away, endlessly
to turn away.

If the moon did not ...
no, if you did not
I wouldn’t either, but
what would I not

do, what prevention, what
thing so quickly stopped.
That is love yesterday
or tomorrow, not

now. Can I eat
what you give me. I
have not earned it. Must
I think of everything

as earned. Now love also
becomes a reward so
remote from me I have
only made it with my mind.

Here is tedium,
despair, a painful
sense of isolation and
whimsical if pompous

self-regard. But that image
is only of the mind’s
vague structure, vague to me
because it is my own.

Love, what do I think
to say. I cannot say it.
What have you become to ask,
what have I made you into,

companion, good company,
crossed legs with skirt, or
soft body under
the bones of the bed.

Nothing says anything
but that which it wishes
would come true, fears
what else might happen in

some other place, some
other time not this one.
A voice in my place, an
echo of that only in yours.

Let me stumble into
not the confession but
the obsession I begin with
now. For you

also (also)
some time beyond place, or
place beyond time, no
mind left to

say anything at all,
that face gone, now.
Into the company of love
it all returns.

Liebespaar (Der Kuss), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1930

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Like a bird that strikes against the wind"

Like concentric ripples
over the water,
so in my heart
your words.

Like a bird that strikes
against the wind,
so on my lips
your kisses.

Like exposed fountains
opposing the evening,
so my dark eyes
over your flesh.

From "Madrigals" by Federico García Lorca, trans. by A.S. Kline

Siesta, Otto Schoff, c.1920s

Monday, February 27, 2012

"His lily was white and he had a foolish smile..."

In Beauty Bright
By Gerald Stern

In beauty-bright and such it was like Blake’s
lily and though an angel he looked absurd
dragging a lily out of a beauty-bright store
wrapped in tissue with a petal drooping,
nor was it useless—you who know it know
how useful it is—and how he would be dead
in a minute if he were to lose it though
how do you lose a lily? His lily was white
and he had a foolish smile there holding it up like
a candelabrum in his right hand facing the
mirror in the hall nor had the endless
centuries started yet nor was there one thorn
between his small house and the beauty-bright store.

Text from the Poetry Foundation

Still Life with Lilies, François Barraud, 1934

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"The heart, catalectic though it be, does glow"

The heart, catalectic though it be, does glow,
responds to every midnight bell within you.
This is a discourse on reading heat,
the flushed char of burned moments one sees
after the sexton's lamp flows
over the body's dark book.
There is suspicion
here that violet
traces of

From "Desire's Persistence" by Jay Wright

Phryne, Artur Grottger, 1867

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Hair has been on my mind"

If you undo your do you would
be strange. Hair has been on my mind.
I used to lean in the doorway
and watch my stony woman wind
the copper through the black, and play
with my understanding, show me she cóuld
take a cup of river water,
and watch it shimmy, watch it change,
turn around and become ash bone.

From "The Healing Improvisation of Hair" by Jay Wright

Nude with a Coral Necklace, August Macke, 1910

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Worthy, and yet mere playthings..."

'Thinketh, He made thereat the sun, this isle,
Trees and the fowls here, beast and creeping thing.
Yon otter, sleek-wet, black, lithe as a leech;
Yon auk, one fire-eye in a ball of foam,
That floats and feeds; a certain badger brown
He hath watched hunt with that slant white-wedge eye
By moonlight; and the pie with the long tongue
That pricks deep into oak warts for a worm,
And says a plain word when she finds her prize,
But will not eat the ants; the ants themselves
That build a wall of seeds and settled stalks
About their hole—He made all these and more,
Made all we see, and us, in spite: how else?
He could not, Himself, make a second self
To be His mate; as well have made Himself:
He would not make what He mislikes or slights,
An eyesore to Him, or not worth His pains:
But did, in envy, listlessness or sport,
Make what Himself would fain, in a manner, be—
Weaker in most points, stronger in a few,
Worthy, and yet mere playthings all the while,
Things He admires and mocks too,—that is it.
Because, so brave, so better though they be,
It nothing skills if He begin to plague.
Look, now, I melt a gourd-fruit into mash,
Add honeycomb and pods, I have perceived,
Which bite like finches when they bill and kiss,—
Then, when froth rises bladdery, drink up all,
Quick, quick, till maggots scamper through my brain;
Last, throw me on my back i' the seeded thyme,
And wanton, wishing I were born a bird.
Put case, unable to be what I wish,
I yet could make a live bird out of clay:
Would not I take clay, pinch my Caliban
Able to fly?—for, there, see, he hath wings,
And great comb like the hoopoe's to admire,
And there, a sting to do his foes offence,
There, and I will that he begin to live,
Fly to yon rock-top, nip me off the horns
Of grigs high up that make the merry din,
Saucy through their veined wings, and mind me not.
In which feat, if his leg snapped, brittle clay,
And he lay stupid-like,—why, I should laugh;
And if he, spying me, should fall to weep,
Beseech me to be good, repair his wrong,
Bid his poor leg smart less or grow again,—
Well, as the chance were, this might take or else
Not take my fancy: I might hear his cry,
And give the mankin three sound legs for one,
Or pluck the other off, leave him like an egg
And lessoned he was mine and merely clay.
Were this no pleasure, lying in the thyme,
Drinking the mash, with brain become alive,
Making and marring clay at will? So He.

From "Caliban upon Setebos" by Robert Browning

Caliban, Franz Marc, 1914

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dedicated to Rick Santorum

Law Like Love
W.H. Auden

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.
Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I've told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,
No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.

Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don't know where or why,
Like love we can't compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.

Illus. by Édouard-Henri Avril for De figuris Veneris, 1906

Sunday, February 19, 2012

"Beauty beckons."

"The judgment of beauty is not the result of a mysterious inference on the basis of features of a work which we already know. It is a guess, a suspicion, a dim awareness that there is more in the work that it would be valuable to learn. To find something beautiful is to believe that making it a larger part of our life is worthwhile, that our life will be better if we spend part of it with that work. But a guess is just that: unlike a conclusion, it obeys no principles; it is not governed by concepts. It goes beyond all the evidence, which cannot therefore justify it, and points to the future. Beauty, just as Stendhal said, is a promise of happiness. We love, as Plato saw, what we do not possess. Aesthetic pleasure is the pleasure of anticipation, and therefore of imagination, not of accomplishment. The judgment of taste is prospective, not retrospective; the beginning, the middle, but never the end of criticism. If you really feel you have exhausted a work, you are bound to be disappointed. A piece that has no more surprises left—a piece you really feel you know “inside and out”—has no more claim on you. You may still call it beautiful because it once gave you the pleasure of its promise or because you think that it may have something to give to someone else. But it will have lost its hold on you. Beauty beckons."

Alexander Nehamas, from "An Essay on Beauty and Judgment"

You can read an excellent interview with Nehamas here.

Nude Sitting on a Divan (The Beautiful Roman Woman), Amedeo Modigliani, c.1918

Saturday, February 18, 2012


"And great and numerous as are the blessings of friendship, this certainly is the sovereign one, that it gives us bright hopes for the future and forbids weakness and despair. In the face of a true friend a man sees as it were a second self. So that where his friend is he is; if his friend be rich, he is not poor; though he be weak, his friend's strength is his; and in his friend's life he enjoys a second life after his own is finished."

Cicero, from On Friendship, or Laelius

Children in Naples, 1944. Image from the National Archives and Records Administration, via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Take them to the other side..."

With only his dim lantern
To tell him where he is
And every time a mountain
Of fresh corpses to load up

Take them to the other side
Where there are plenty more
I’d say by now he must be confused
As to which side is which

From "Charon's Cosmology" by Charles Simic. The complete poem is here.

Read Simic's latest post at the NYRB blog here. It's lovely.

Caron passant les ombres, Pierre Subleyras, 1735

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In honor of Saint Valentine

When most I wink, then do mine eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And, darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.
Then thou, whose shadow shadows doth make bright,
How would thy shadow's form form happy show
To the clear day with thy much clearer light,
When to unseeing eyes thy shade shines so!
How would, I say, mine eyes be blessed made
By looking on thee in the living day,
When in dead night thy fair imperfect shade
Through heavy sleep on sightless eyes doth stay!
All days are nights to see till I see thee,
And nights bright days when dreams do show thee me.

Shakespeare, Sonnet 43

1. Liebespaar, Otto Mueller, c.1920
2. Bathers at San Niccolò (detail), Passignano, 1600
3. [Title unknown], Koloman Moser, c.1915
4. Femme nu, Ernest Laurent, 1915
5. Pompeiian fresco
6. Two girls - Lovers, Egon Schiele, 1911
7. Sketch, Carl Olof Larsson, 1914
8. Study for Kneeling Leda, Leonardo da Vinci, c.1505
9. Male nude reclining, Maurycy Trębacz, 1887
10. Male nude, William Etty, c.1820-1830
11. Male couple, Suzuki Harunobu, c.1750
12. Satyr mason, after Agostino Carracci, 16th century
13. Mujeres indolentes, Alfredo Guttero, 1927