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