Edward Estlin (E E) Cummings |
a total stranger one black day
knocked living the hell out of me--
who found forgiveness hard because
my(as it happened)self he was
-but now that fiend and i are such
Edgar Allan Poe |
ONCE upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,¡ª
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'T is some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door; 5
Only this and nothing more.
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;¡ªvainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow¡ªsorrow for the lost Lenore, 10
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore:
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me¡ªfilled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating 15
"'T is some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door,
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door:
This it is and nothing more.
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
"Sir," said I, "or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore; 20
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you"¡ªhere I opened wide the door:¡ª
Darkness there and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, 25
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortals ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, "Lenore?"
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, "Lenore:"
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
"Surely," said I, "surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore;
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore: 35
'T is the wind and nothing more.
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door, 40
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door:
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,¡ª
"Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou," I said, "art sure no craven, 45
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore:
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore.
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning¡ªlittle relevancy bore; 50
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door,
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as "Nevermore.
But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only 55
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered, not a feather then he fluttered,
Till I scarcely more than muttered,¡ª"Other friends have flown before;
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.
Then the bird said, "Nevermore.
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
"Doubtless," said I, "what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore:
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore 65
But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore, 70
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking "Nevermore.
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining 75
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamplight gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
"Wretch," I cried, "thy God hath lent thee¡ªby these angels he hath sent thee
Respite¡ªrespite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!"
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore.
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore.
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil! prophet still, if bird or devil! 85
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted¡ª
On this home by Horror haunted¡ªtell me truly, I implore:
Is there¡ªis there balm in Gilead?¡ªtell me¡ªtell me, I implore!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore.
"Prophet!" said I, "thing of evil¡ªprophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us, by that God we both adore,
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore:
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore!" 95
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore.
"Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!" I shrieked, upstarting:
"Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! quit the bust above my door! 100
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!"
Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore.
And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming, 105
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor:
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted¡ªnevermore!
Wendell Berry |
You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one.
And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
"I am not ashamed.
" A sure horizon
will come around you.
The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.
Jonathan Swift |
To the Priest, on Observing how most Men mistake their own Talents
When beasts could speak (the learned say,
They still can do so ev'ry day),
It seems, they had religion then,
As much as now we find in men.
It happen'd, when a plague broke out
(Which therefore made them more devout),
The king of brutes (to make it plain,
Of quadrupeds I only mean)
By proclamation gave command,
That ev'ry subject in the land
Should to the priest confess their sins;
And thus the pious wolf begins:
"Good father, I must own with shame,
That often I have been to blame:
I must confess, on Friday last,
Wretch that I was! I broke my fast:
But I defy the basest tongue
To prove I did my neighbour wrong;
Or ever went to seek my food
By rapine, theft, or thirst of blood.
The ass, approaching next, confess'd
That in his heart he lov'd a jest:
A wag he was, he needs must own,
And could not let a dunce alone:
Sometimes his friend he would not spare,
And might perhaps be too severe:
But yet, the worst that could be said,
He was a wit both born and bred;
And, if it be a sin or shame,
Nature alone must bear the blame:
One fault he hath, is sorry for't,
His ears are half a foot too short;
Which could he to the standard bring,
He'd show his face before the King:
Then for his voice, there's none disputes
That he's the nightingale of brutes.
The swine with contrite heart allow'd,
His shape and beauty made him proud:
In diet was perhaps too nice,
But gluttony was ne'er his vice:
In ev'ry turn of life content,
And meekly took what fortune sent:
Inquire through all the parish round,
A better neighbour ne'er was found:
His vigilance might some displease;
'Tis true he hated sloth like peas.
The mimic ape began his chatter,
How evil tongues his life bespatter:
Much of the cens'ring world complain'd,
Who said, his gravity was feign'd:
Indeed, the strictness of his morals
Engag'd him in a hundred quarrels:
He saw, and he was griev'd to see't,
His zeal was sometimes indiscreet:
He found his virtues too severe
For our corrupted times to bear:
Yet, such a lewd licentious age
Might well excuse a Stoic's rage.
The goat advanc'd with decent pace;
And first excus'd his youthful face;
Forgiveness begg'd that he appear'd
('Twas nature's fault) without a beard.
'Tis true, he was not much inclin'd
To fondness for the female kind;
Not, as his enemies object,
From chance, or natural defect;
Not by his frigid constitution,
But through a pious resolution;
For he had made a holy vow
Of chastity as monks do now;
Which he resolv'd to keep for ever hence,
As strictly too, as doth his Reverence.
Apply the tale, and you shall find,
How just it suits with human kind.
Some faults we own: but, can you guess?
Why?--virtues carried to excess,
Wherewith our vanity endows us,
Though neither foe nor friend allows us.
The lawyer swears, you may rely on't,
He never squeez'd a needy client;
And this he makes his constant rule,
For which his brethren call him fool:
His conscience always was so nice,
He freely gave the poor advice;
By which he lost, he may affirm,
A hundred fees last Easter term.
While others of the learned robe
Would break the patience of a Job;
No pleader at the bar could match
His diligence and quick dispatch;
Ne'er kept a cause, he well may boast,
Above a term or two at most.
The cringing knave, who seeks a place
Without success, thus tells his case:
Why should he longer mince the matter?
He fail'd because he could not flatter;
He had not learn'd to turn his coat,
Nor for a party give his vote:
His crime he quickly understood;
Too zealous for the nation's good:
He found the ministers resent it,
Yet could not for his heart repent it.
The chaplain vows he cannot fawn,
Though it would raise him to the lawn:
He pass'd his hours among his books;
You find it in his meagre looks:
He might, if he were worldly wise,
Preferment get and spare his eyes:
But own'd he had a stubborn spirit,
That made him trust alone in merit:
Would rise by merit to promotion;
Alas! a mere chimeric notion.
The doctor, if you will believe him,
Confess'd a sin; and God forgive him!
Call'd up at midnight, ran to save
A blind old beggar from the grave:
But see how Satan spreads his snares;
He quite forgot to say his prayers.
He cannot help it for his heart
Sometimes to act the parson's part:
Quotes from the Bible many a sentence,
That moves his patients to repentance:
And, when his med'cines do no good,
Supports their minds with heav'nly food,
At which, however well intended,
He hears the clergy are offended;
And grown so bold behind his back,
To call him hypocrite and quack.
In his own church he keeps a seat;
Says grace before and after meat;
And calls, without affecting airs,
His household twice a day to prayers.
He shuns apothecaries' shops;
And hates to cram the sick with slops:
He scorns to make his art a trade;
Nor bribes my lady's fav'rite maid.
Old nurse-keepers would never hire
To recommend him to the squire;
Which others, whom he will not name,
Have often practis'd to their shame.
The statesman tells you with a sneer,
His fault is to be too sincere;
And, having no sinister ends,
Is apt to disoblige his friends.
The nation's good, his master's glory,
Without regard to Whig or Tory,
Were all the schemes he had in view;
Yet he was seconded by few:
Though some had spread a hundred lies,
'Twas he defeated the Excise.
'Twas known, though he had borne aspersion,
That standing troops were his aversion:
His practice was, in ev'ry station,
To serve the King, and please the nation.
Though hard to find in ev'ry case
The fittest man to fill a place:
His promises he ne'er forgot,
But took memorials on the spot:
His enemies, for want of charity,
Said he affected popularity:
'Tis true, the people understood,
That all he did was for their good;
Their kind affections he has tried;
No love is lost on either side.
He came to Court with fortune clear,
Which now he runs out ev'ry year:
Must, at the rate that he goes on,
Inevitably be undone:
Oh! if his Majesty would please
To give him but a writ of ease,
Would grant him licence to retire,
As it hath long been his desire,
By fair accounts it would be found,
He's poorer by ten thousand pound.
He owns, and hopes it is no sin,
He ne'er was partial to his kin;
He thought it base for men in stations
To crowd the Court with their relations;
His country was his dearest mother,
And ev'ry virtuous man his brother;
Through modesty or awkward shame
(For which he owns himself to blame),
He found the wisest man he could,
Without respect to friends or blood;
Nor ever acts on private views,
When he hath liberty to choose.
The sharper swore he hated play,
Except to pass an hour away:
And well he might; for, to his cost,
By want of skill he always lost;
He heard there was a club of cheats,
Who had contriv'd a thousand feats;
Could change the stock, or cog a die,
And thus deceive the sharpest eye:
Nor wonder how his fortune sunk,
His brothers fleece him when he's drunk.
I own the moral not exact;
Besides, the tale is false in fact;
And so absurd, that could I raise up
From fields Elysian fabling Aesop;
I would accuse him to his face
For libelling the four-foot race.
Creatures of ev'ry kind but ours
Well comprehend their natural pow'rs;
While we, whom reason ought to sway,
Mistake our talents ev'ry day.
The ass was never known so stupid
To act the part of Tray or Cupid;
Nor leaps upon his master's lap,
There to be strok'd, and fed with pap,
As Aesop would the world persuade;
He better understands his trade:
Nor comes, whene'er his lady whistles;
But carries loads, and feeds on thistles.
Our author's meaning, I presume, is
A creature bipes et implumis;
Wherein the moralist design'd
A compliment on human kind:
For here he owns, that now and then
Beasts may degenerate into men.
William Topaz McGonagall |
There lived in Munich a poor, weakly youth,
But for the exact date, I cannot vouch for the truth,
And of seven of a family he was the elder,
Who was named, by his parents, Alois Senefelder.
But, poor fellow, at home his father was lying dead,
And his little brothers and sisters were depending upon him for bread,
And one evening he was dismissed from his employment,
Which put an end to all his peace and enjoyment.
The poor lad was almost mad, and the next day
His parent's remains to the cemetery were taken away;
And when his father was buried, distracted like he grew,
And he strolled through the streets crying, What shall I do!
And all night he wandered on sad and alone,
Until he began to think of returning home,
But, to his surprise, on raising his head to look around,
He was in a part of the country which to him was unknown ground.
And when night came on the poor lad stood aghast,
For all was hushed save the murmuring of a river which flowed past;
And the loneliness around seemed to fill his heart with awe,
And, with fatigue, he sat down on the first stone he saw.
And there resting his elbows and head on his knees,
He sat gazing at the running water, which did him please;
And by the light of the stars which shone on the water blue,
He cried, I will drown myself, and bid this harsh world adieu.
Besides, I'm good for nothing, to himself he said,
And will only become a burden to my mother, I'm afraid
And there, at the bottom of that water, said he,
From all my misfortunes death will set me free.
But, happily for Alois, more pious thoughts rushed into his mind,
And courage enough to drown himself he couldn't find,
So he resolved to go home again whatever did betide,
And he asked forgiveness of his Creator by the river side.
And as he knelt, a few incoherent words escaped him,
And the thought of drowning himself he considered a great sin,
And the more he thought of it, he felt his flesh creep,
But in a few minutes he fell fast asleep.
And he slept soundly, for the stillness wasn't broke,
And the day was beginning to dawn before he awoke;
Then suddenly he started up as if in a fright,
And he saw very near him a little stone smooth and white,
Upon which was traced the delicate design of a Sprig of Moss
But to understand such a design he was at a loss,
Then he recollected the Sprig of Moss lying on the stone,
And with his tears he'd moistened it, but it was gone.
But its imprint was delicately imprinted on the stone;
Then, taking the stone under his arm, he resolved to go home,
Saying, God has reserved me for some other thing,
And with joy he couldn't tell how he began to sing.
And on drawing near the city he met his little brother,
Who told him his uncle had visited his mother,
And on beholding their misery had left them money to buy food,
Then Alois cried, Thank God, the news is good!
Then 'twas on the first day after Alois came home,
He began the printing of the Sprig of Moss on the stone;
And by taking the impressions of watch-cases he discovered, one day,
What is now called the art of Lithography.
So Alois plodded on making known his great discovery,
Until he obtained the notice of the Royal Academy,
Besides, he obtained a gold Medal, and what was more dear to his heart,
He lived to see the wide extension of his art.
And when life's prospects may at times appear dreary to ye,
Remember Alois Senefelder, the discoverer of Lithography,
How God saved him from drowning himself in adversity,
And I hope ye all will learn what the Sprig of Moss teaches ye.
And God that made a way through the Red Sea,
If ye only put your trust in Him, He will protect ye,
And light up your path, and strew it with flowers,
And be your own Comforter in all your lonely hours.
Gary Fincke |
When magpies die, each of the living swoops down
and pecks, one by one, in an accepted order.
He coaxed my car to start, the boy who’s killed himself.
He twisted a cable, performed CPR on
The carburetor while my three children shivered
Through the unanswerable questions about stalled.
He chose shotgun, full in the face, so no one stepped
Into the cold, blowing on his hands, to fix him.
Let him rest now, the minister says.
Let this be,
Repeating himself to four brothers, five sisters,
All of them my neighbors until they grew and left.
Let us pray.
Let us manage what we need to say.
Let this house with its three hand-made additions be
Large enough for the one day of necessity.
Let evening empty each room to ceremony
Chosen by the remaining nine.
Let the awful,
Forecasted weather hold off in east Ohio
Until each of them, oldest to youngest, has passed.
Let their thirty-seven children scatter into
The squabbling of the everyday, and let them break
This creeping chain of cars into the fanning out
Toward anger and selfishness and the need to eat
At any of the thousand tables they will pass.
Let them wait.
Let them correctly choose the right turn
Or the left, this entrance ramp, that exit, the last
Confusing fork before the familiar driveway
Three hundred miles and more from these bleak thunderheads.
Let them regather into the chairs exactly
Matched to their numbers, blessing the bountiful or
The meager with voices that soar toward renewal.
Let them have mercy on themselves.
Let my children,
Grown now, be repairing my faults with forgiveness.
© Gary Fincke
Walt Whitman |
MANHATTAN’S streets I saunter’d, pondering,
On time, space, reality—on such as these, and abreast with them, prudence.
After all, the last explanation remains to be made about prudence;
Little and large alike drop quietly aside from the prudence that suits immortality.
The Soul is of itself;
All verges to it—all has reference to what ensues;
All that a person does, says, thinks, is of consequence;
Not a move can a man or woman make, that affects him or her in a day, month, any part of
life-time, or the hour of death, but the same affects him or her onward afterward through
The indirect is just as much as the direct,
The spirit receives from the body just as much as it gives to the body, if not more.
Not one word or deed—not venereal sore, discoloration, privacy of the onanist,
gluttons or rum-drinkers, peculation, cunning, betrayal, murder, seduction, prostitution,
results beyond death, as really as before death.
Charity and personal force are the only investments worth anything.
No specification is necessary—all that a male or female does, that is vigorous,
clean, is so much profit to him or her, in the unshakable order of the universe, and
whole scope of it forever.
Who has been wise, receives interest,
Savage, felon, President, judge, farmer, sailor, mechanic, literat, young, old, it is the
The interest will come round—all will come round.
Singly, wholly, to affect now, affected their time, will forever affect all of the past,
the present, and all of the future,
All the brave actions of war and peace,
All help given to relatives, strangers, the poor, old, sorrowful, young children, widows,
and to shunn’d persons,
All furtherance of fugitives, and of the escape of slaves,
All self-denial that stood steady and aloof on wrecks, and saw others fill the seats of
All offering of substance or life for the good old cause, or for a friend’s sake, or
All pains of enthusiasts, scoff’d at by their neighbors,
All the limitless sweet love and precious suffering of mothers,
All honest men baffled in strifes recorded or unrecorded,
All the grandeur and good of ancient nations whose fragments we inherit,
All the good of the dozens of ancient nations unknown to us by name, date, location,
All that was ever manfully begun, whether it succeeded or no,
All suggestions of the divine mind of man, or the divinity of his mouth, or the shaping of
All that is well thought or said this day on any part of the globe—or on any of the
stars, or on any of the fix’d stars, by those there as we are here;
All that is henceforth to be thought or done by you, whoever you are, or by any one;
These inure, have inured, shall inure, to the identities from which they sprang, or shall
Did you guess anything lived only its moment?
The world does not so exist—no parts palpable or impalpable so exist;
No consummation exists without being from some long previous consummation—and that
Without the farthest conceivable one coming a bit nearer the beginning than any.
Whatever satisfies Souls is true;
Prudence entirely satisfies the craving and glut of Souls;
Itself only finally satisfies the Soul;
The Soul has that measureless pride which revolts from every lesson but its own.
Now I give you an inkling;
Now I breathe the word of the prudence that walks abreast with time, space, reality,
That answers the pride which refuses every lesson but its own.
What is prudence, is indivisible,
Declines to separate one part of life from every part,
Divides not the righteous from the unrighteous, or the living from the dead,
Matches every thought or act by its correlative,
Knows no possible forgiveness, or deputed atonement,
Knows that the young man who composedly peril’d his life and lost it, has done
for himself without doubt,
That he who never peril’d his life, but retains it to old age in riches and ease, has
achiev’d nothing for himself worth mentioning;
Knows that only that person has really learn’d, who has learn’d to prefer
Who favors Body and Soul the same,
Who perceives the indirect assuredly following the direct,
Who in his spirit in any emergency whatever neither hurries or, avoids death.
The Bible |
Bless the Lord, O my soul
And all that is within me
Forgetting not His benefits
Nor forgiveness of iniquity
Bless Him, who brings healing
And redemption to our lives
Crowning us with loving kindness
And with blessings, satisfies.
Scripture Poem © Copyright Of M.
Sidney Lanier |
At midnight, death's and truth's unlocking time,
When far within the spirit's hearing rolls
The great soft rumble of the course of things --
A bulk of silence in a mask of sound, --
When darkness clears our vision that by day
Is sun-blind, and the soul's a ravening owl
For truth and flitteth here and there about
Low-lying woody tracts of time and oft
Is minded for to sit upon a bough,
Dry-dead and sharp, of some long-stricken tree
And muse in that gaunt place, -- 'twas then my heart,
Deep in the meditative dark, cried out:
"Ye companies of governor-spirits grave,
Bards, and old bringers-down of flaming news
From steep-wall'd heavens, holy malcontents,
Sweet seers, and stellar visionaries, all
That brood about the skies of poesy,
Full bright ye shine, insuperable stars;
Yet, if a man look hard upon you, none
With total lustre blazeth, no, not one
But hath some heinous freckle of the flesh
Upon his shining cheek, not one but winks
His ray, opaqued with intermittent mist
Of defect; yea, you masters all must ask
Some sweet forgiveness, which we leap to give,
We lovers of you, heavenly-glad to meet
Your largesse so with love, and interplight
Your geniuses with our mortalities.
Thus unto thee, O sweetest Shakespeare sole,
A hundred hurts a day I do forgive
('Tis little, but, enchantment! 'tis for thee):
Small curious quibble; Juliet's prurient pun
In the poor, pale face of Romeo's fancied death;
Cold rant of Richard; Henry's fustian roar
Which frights away that sleep he invocates;
Wronged Valentine's unnatural haste to yield;
Too-silly shifts of maids that mask as men
In faint disguises that could ne'er disguise --
Viola, Julia, Portia, Rosalind;
Fatigues most drear, and needless overtax
Of speech obscure that had as lief be plain;
Last I forgive (with more delight, because
'Tis more to do) the labored-lewd discourse
That e'en thy young invention's youngest heir
Besmirched the world with.
Father Homer, thee,
Thee also I forgive thy sandy wastes
Of prose and catalogue, thy drear harangues
That tease the patience of the centuries,
Thy sleazy scrap of story, -- but a rogue's
Rape of a light-o'-love, -- too soiled a patch
To broider with the gods.
Thou dear and very strong one, I forgive
Thy year-worn cloak, thine iron stringencies
That were but dandy upside-down, thy words
Of truth that, mildlier spoke, had mainlier wrought.
So, Buddha, beautiful! I pardon thee
That all the All thou hadst for needy man
Was Nothing, and thy Best of being was
But not to be.
Worn Dante, I forgive
The implacable hates that in thy horrid hells
Or burn or freeze thy fellows, never loosed
By death, nor time, nor love.
And I forgive
Thee, Milton, those thy comic-dreadful wars
Where, armed with gross and inconclusive steel,
Immortals smite immortals mortalwise
And fill all heaven with folly.
Brave Aeschylus, thee I forgive, for that
Thine eye, by bare bright justice basilisked,
Turned not, nor ever learned to look where Love
So, unto thee, Lucretius mine
(For oh, what heart hath loved thee like to this
That's now complaining?), freely I forgive
Thy logic poor, thine error rich, thine earth
Whose graves eat souls and all.
Yea, all you hearts
Of beauty, and sweet righteous lovers large:
Aurelius fine, oft superfine; mild Saint
A Kempis, overmild; Epictetus,
Whiles low in thought, still with old slavery tinct;
Rapt Behmen, rapt too far; high Swedenborg,
O'ertoppling; Langley, that with but a touch
Of art hadst sung Piers Plowman to the top
Of English songs, whereof 'tis dearest, now,
And most adorable; Caedmon, in the morn
A-calling angels with the cow-herd's call
That late brought up the cattle; Emerson,
Most wise, that yet, in finding Wisdom, lost
Thy Self, sometimes; tense Keats, with angels' nerves
Where men's were better; Tennyson, largest voice
Since Milton, yet some register of wit
Wanting; -- all, all, I pardon, ere 'tis asked,
Your more or less, your little mole that marks
You brother and your kinship seals to man.
But Thee, but Thee, O sovereign Seer of time,
But Thee, O poets' Poet, Wisdom's Tongue,
But Thee, O man's best Man, O love's best Love,
O perfect life in perfect labor writ,
O all men's Comrade, Servant, King, or Priest, --
What `if' or `yet', what mole, what flaw, what lapse,
What least defect or shadow of defect,
What rumor, tattled by an enemy,
Of inference loose, what lack of grace
Even in torture's grasp, or sleep's, or death's, --
Oh, what amiss may I forgive in Thee,
Jesus, good Paragon, thou Crystal Christ?"
George William Russell |
My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
The green mounds of the village burial-place;
Where, pondering how all human love and hate
Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
And cold hands folded over a still heart,
Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!
Margaret Atwood |
The rest of us watch from beyond the fence
as the woman moves with her jagged stride
into her pain as if into a slow race.
We see her body in motion
but hear no sounds, or we hear
sounds but no language; or we know
it is not a language we know
We can see her clearly
but for her it is running in black smoke.
The cluster of cells in her swelling
like porridge boiling, and bursting,
like grapes, we think.
Or we think of
explosions in mud; but we know nothing.
All around us the trees
and the grasses light up with forgiveness,
so green and at this time
of the year healthy.
We would like to call something
out to her.
Some form of cheering.
There is pain but no arrival at anything.
A S J Tessimond |
We being so hidden from those who
Have quietly borne and fed us,
How can we answer civilly
Their innocent invitations?
How can we say "we see you
As but-for-God's-grace-ourselves, as
Our caricatures (we yours), with
Time's telescope between us"?
How can we say "you presumed on
The accident of kinship,
Assumed our friendship coatlike,
Not as a badge one fights for"?
How say "and you remembered
The sins of our outlived selves and
Your own forgiveness, buried
The hatchet to slow music;
Shared money but not your secrets;
Will leave as your final legacy
A box double-locked by the spider
Packed with your unsolved problems"?
How say all this without capitals,
Italics, anger or pathos,
To those who have seen from the womb come
Enemies? How not say it?
Elizabeth Bishop |
At four o'clock
in the gun-metal blue dark
we hear the first crow of the first cock
the gun-metal blue window
and immediately there is an echo
off in the distance,
then one from the backyard fence,
then one, with horrible insistence,
grates like a wet match
from the broccoli patch,
flares,and all over town begins to catch.
come from the water-closet door,
from the dropping-plastered henhouse floor,
where in the blue blur
their rusting wives admire,
the roosters brace their cruel feet and glare
with stupid eyes
while from their beaks there rise
the uncontrolled, traditional cries.
Deep from protruding chests
in green-gold medals dressed,
planned to command and terrorize the rest,
the many wives
who lead hens' lives
of being courted and despised;
deep from raw throats
a senseless order floats
all over town.
A rooster gloats
over our beds
from rusty irons sheds
and fences made from old bedsteads,
over our churches
where the tin rooster perches,
over our little wooden northern houses,
from all the muddy alleys,
marking out maps like Rand McNally's:
oil-golds and copper greens,
anthracite blues, alizarins,
each one an active
displacement in perspective;
each screaming, "This is where I live!"
"Get up! Stop dreaming!"
Roosters, what are you projecting?
You, whom the Greeks elected
to shoot at on a post, who struggled
when sacrificed, you whom they labeled
what right have you to give
commands and tell us how to live,
cry "Here!" and "Here!"
and wake us here where are
unwanted love, conceit and war?
The crown of red
set on your little head
is charged with all your fighting blood
Yes, that excrescence
makes a most virile presence,
plus all that vulgar beauty of iridescence
Now in mid-air
by two they fight each other.
Down comes a first flame-feather,
and one is flying,
with raging heroism defying
even the sensation of dying.
And one has fallen
but still above the town
his torn-out, bloodied feathers drift down;
and what he sung
He is flung
on the gray ash-heap, lies in dung
with his dead wives
with open, bloody eyes,
while those metallic feathers oxidize.
was worse than that of Magdalen
whose sin was of the flesh alone;
of spirit, Peter's,
falling, beneath the flares,
among the "servants and officers.
Old holy sculpture
could set it all together
in one small scene, past and future:
Christ stands amazed,
Peter, two fingers raised
to surprised lips, both as if dazed.
But in between
a little cock is seen
carved on a dim column in the travertine,
explained by gallus canit;
flet Petrus underneath it,
There is inescapable hope, the pivot;
yes, and there Peter's tears
run down our chanticleer's
sides and gem his spurs.
as a medieval relic
Poor Peter, heart-sick,
still cannot guess
those cock-a-doodles yet might bless,
his dreadful rooster come to mean forgiveness,
a new weathervane
on basilica and barn,
and that outside the Lateran
there would always be
a bronze cock on a porphyry
pillar so the people and the Pope might see
that event the Prince
of the Apostles long since
had been forgiven, and to convince
all the assembly
that "Deny deny deny"
is not all the roosters cry.
In the morning
a low light is floating
in the backyard, and gilding
the broccoli, leaf by leaf;
how could the night have come to grief?
gilding the tiny
floating swallow's belly
and lines of pink cloud in the sky,
the day's preamble
like wandering lines in marble,
The cocks are now almost inaudible.
The sun climbs in,
following "to see the end,"
faithful as enemy, or friend.
Victor Hugo |
Take heed of this small child of earth;
He is great; he hath in him God most high.
Children before their fleshly birth
Are lights alive in the blue sky.
In our light bitter world of wrong
They come; God gives us them awhile.
His speech is in their stammering tongue,
And his forgiveness in their smile.
Their sweet light rests upon our eyes.
Alas! their right to joy is plain.
If they are hungry Paradise
Weeps, and, if cold, Heaven thrills with pain.
The want that saps their sinless flower
Speaks judgment on sin's ministers.
Man holds an angel in his power.
Ah! deep in Heaven what thunder stirs,
When God seeks out these tender things
Whom in the shadow where we sleep
He sends us clothed about with wings,
And finds them ragged babes that weep!
David Lehman |
I like walking on streets as black and wet as this one
now, at two in the solemnly musical morning, when everyone else
in this town emptied of Lestrygonians and Lotus-eaters
is asleep or trying or worrying why
they aren't asleep, while unknown to them Ulysses walks
into the shabby apartment I live in, humming and feeling
happy with the avant-garde weather we're having,
the winds (a fugue for flute and oboe) pouring
into the windows which I left open although
I live on the ground floor and there have been
two burglaries on my block already this week,
do I quickly take a look to see
if the valuables are missing? No, that is I can't,
it's an epistemological quandary: what I consider
valuable, would they? Who are they, anyway? I'd answer that
with speculations based on newspaper accounts if I were
Westlake, whose novels I'm hooked on, but
this first cigarette after twenty-four hours
of abstinence tastes so good it makes me want
to include it in my catalogue of pleasures
designed to hide the ugliness or sweep it away
the way the violent overflow of rain over cliffs
cleans the sewers and drains of Ithaca
whose waterfalls head my list, followed by
crudites of carrots and beets, roots and all,
with rained-on radishes, too beautiful to eat,
and the pure pleasure of talking, talking and not knowing
where the talk will lead, but willing to take my chances.
Furthermore I shall enumerate some varieties of tulips
(Bacchus, Tantalus, Dardanelles) and other flowers
with names that have a life of their own (Love Lies Bleeding,
Dwarf Blue Bedding, Burning Bush, Torch Lily, Narcissus).
Mostly, as I've implied, it's the names of things
that count; still, sometimes I wonder and, wondering, find
the path of least resistance, the earth's orbit
around the sun's delirious clarity.
Once you sniff
the aphrodisiac of disaster, you know: there's no reason
for the anxiety--or for expecting to be free of it;
try telling Franz Kafka he has no reason to feel guilty;
or so I say to well-meaning mongers of common sense.
They way I figure, you start with the names
which are keys and then you throw them away
and learn to love the locked rooms, with or without
corpses inside, riddles to unravel, emptiness to possess,
a woman to wake up with a kiss (who is she?
no one knows) who begs your forgiveness (for what?
you cannot know) and then, in the authoritative tone
of one who has weathered the storm of his exile, orders you
to put up your hands and beg the rain to continue
as if it were in your power.
And it is,
I feel it with each drop.
I am standing
outside at the window, looking in on myself
writing these words, feeling what wretches feel, just
as the doctor ordered.
And that's what I plan to do,
what the storm I was caught in reminded me to do,
to shake the superflux, distribute my appetite, fast
without so much as a glass of water, and love
each bite I haven't taken.
I shall become the romantic poet
whose coat of many colors smeared
with blood, like a butcher's apron, left
in the sacred pit or brought back to my father
to confirm my death, confirms my new life
instead, an alien prince of dungeons and dreams
who sheds the disguise people recognize him by
to reveal himself to his true brothers at last
in the silence that stuns before joy descends, like rain.