At Peace

Every man is followed by a shadow which is his death—dark, featureless and mute. And for every man there is a place where his shadow is clarified and is made his reflection, where his face is mirrored in the ground. He sees his source and his destiny, and they are acceptable to him. He becomes the follower of what pursued him. What hounded his track becomes his companion.

That is the myth of my search and my return.


I have been walking in the woods and have lain down on the ground to rest. It is the middle of October and around me, all through the woods, the leaves are quietly sifting down. The newly fallen leaves make a dry comfortable bed, and I lie easy, coming to rest with myself as I seem to do nowadays only when I am in the woods.

And now a leaf, spiraling down in wild flight, lands on my shirt front at about the third button down below the collar. At first I am bemused and mystified by the coincidence—that the leaf should have been so hung, weighted and shaped, so ready to fall, so nudged loose and slanted by the breeze, as to fall where I, by the same delicacy of circumstance, happened to be lying. The event, among all its ramifying causes and considerations, and finally its mysteries, begins to take on the magnitude of history. Portent begins to dwell in it.

And suddenly I apprehend in it the dark proposal of the ground. Under the fallen leaf my breastbone burns with imminent decay. Other leaves fall. My body begins its long shudder into humus. I feel my substance escape me, carried into the mold by beetles and worms. Days, winds, seasons pass over me as I sink under the leaves. For a time only sight is left me, a passive awareness of the sky overhead, birds crossing, the mazed interreaching of the treetops, the leaves falling—and then that, too, sinks away. It is acceptable to me, and I am at peace.

When I move to go, it is as though I rise up out of the world.

Wendell Berry, A Native Hill, written in 1962 when he was 28 years old

Set to music by Gavin Bryars, sung by The Crossing under leadership of Donald Nally, part of a new album

Artless Artist

What appeals to me about Rilke’s writing is his mystical message stripped of any effort to “create art”. He seems to be reaching inside to find words to express his experience. His almost desperate need to connect with us buries any aspiation he might have to be a poet.

All the modern translations I’ve seen capture this artless sincerity, but they do it in blank verse. They make no effort to reproduce the rhytmic or rhyme structures that were in the original German. Contrast this with his contemporary translator, Jessie Lemont, who worked brilliantly original English rhymes into her translations.

In honor of Rilke’s birthday (1875), I have sought to continue in Lemont’s tradition, translating a poem that she never tackled.

That Which Has Never Been Spoken

My faith abides all that has not been said.
I set my yearnings free to overspill
Ideals for which men’s sacred blood was shed,
To germinate some day, outside my will.

For this immodesty, I beg my God excuse
These innocent ambitions that seem wild.
An energy that permeates my thews
Has rendered me an unselfconscious child,
Incapable of enmity or ruse.

This flowing in and out which I partake,
Like river rushing to the ocean’s shore
Sweeps through my breast to breathe my soul awake,
And testifies beforeThee from my core
What none has said before.

If this be hope, then let me hopeful be
I tend this prayer,
From best sincerity
Before Thy presence rare.

— JJM 4Dec20

On the Creation of Giant Voiceprint Databases | American Civil Liberties  Union

Alles noch nie Gesagte

Ich glaube an Alles noch nie Gesagte.
Ich will meine frömmsten Gefühle befrein.
Was noch keiner zu wollen wagte,
wird mir einmal unwillkürlich sein.

Ist das vermeßen, mein Gott, vergieb.
Aber ich will dir damit nur sagen:
Meine beste Kraft soll sein wie ein Trieb,
so ohne Zürnen und ohne Zagen;
so haben dich ja die Kinder lieb.

Mit diesem Hinfluten, mit diesem Münden
in breiten Armen ins offene Meer,
mit dieser wachsenden Wiederkehr
will ich dich bekennen, will ich dich verkünden
wie keiner vorher.

Und ist das Hoffahrt, so laß mich hoffährtig sein
für mein Gebet,
das so ernst und allein
vor deiner wolkigen Stirne steht.

— from the Book of Hours by Rainer Maria Rilke (1905)

A word of caution to those approaching the oracle

You’ve come because you want to learn what’s coming;
You hope to dodge a blow or cheat a blight.
You hear the drone of distant drummers drumming,
And wish to circumvent a nasty fight.

A fear has blurred your thought, you feel alone.
Like many gallant men, you’ve lost your mooring,
Forgotten things that once you’ve deeply known.
(From where you sit, they’re hardly reassuring.)

The sybil’s work is not to help you hide;
Your destiny, we know, is to be bold.
You’ll neither fight the future nor evade it;
You’ll co-create with allies far and wide.
The outcome in advance cannot be told—
You won’t know destiny until you’ve made it.

— JJM = #00 from the I Ching Sonnet Project


You are Waiting in Vain

I am an echo.
You are waiting for the voice blooming in heaven
and raining down
like fireworks.

You are waiting for the voice
to raise the birds from their nests,
to bear an avalanche
and to make the blue glass of heaven
split into a thousand cracks.

But remember
I am an echo
and you haven’t shouted yet.

— Mara Zalite, translated from Latvian by Inguna Jansone

boy listening


The leaders never want us to unite
Our squabbles leave them firmly in control.
Defending each his independent soul,
We miss the opportunity to fight
Collectively, each for the good of all.
We isolate, behind a private wall
And squander our consolidated might.
Then fear triumphs, we panic and take flight.

The dread of death is man’s Achilles heel.
Confused, we’re easy prey when we’re afraid.
The remedy needs discipline and grace.
Surrender to this truth: all flesh must fade;
But, seeking self within, we find a place
That knows it’s our collective soul that’s real.

— JJM = #8 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

Biting Through 噬嗑

It’s true that anger clouds your thought when most
You need the clarity to gauge a plan.
Those who have natural self-possession can
Effect the most appropriate riposte.

But anger has its place and it can teach us:
What is unacceptable in our sight?
For what cause are we energized to fight?
It’s through our passion, awareness may reach us.

Most useful is rage on behalf of others;
Most dangerous is umbrage at a slight.
You are the least unfortunate of men!
Your anger only finds its target when
Invoked in defense of less privileged brothers.
None can stop the warrior whose cause is right.

— JJM = #21 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

Painting inspired by Chinese character for hexagram 21.


I watch me until I disappear and we
Enter the danced dimension of the good
True beautiful, whose claims may be
Ignored but not withstood.

Join me because forever perfected
Love’s one moment emerges here
Forever alive. Time undermines us
But our made love stands clear.

Marie Perlot

The Mystery

If sunset clouds could grow on trees
It would but match the May in flower;
And skies be underneath the seas
No topsyturvier than a shower.

If mountains rose on wings to wander
They were no wilder than a cloud;
Yet all my praise is mean as slander,
Mean as these mean words spoken aloud.

And never more than now I know
That man’s first heaven is far behind;
Unless the blazing seraph’s blow
Has left him in the garden blind.

Witness, O Sun that blinds our eyes,
Unthinkable and unthankable King,
That though all other wonder dies
I wonder at not wondering.

— G. K. Chesterton

The relation of reason to wonder

At the beginning of this text, the moon enters the narrator’s body so as to become coextensive with his physical form. He asks,

Why are there dark areas on the moon?

She smiled a little, then she said: “If mortals’
opinion therein errs, where key of sense
unlocketh not, surely the shafts of wonder
ought not to pierce thee now; for thou perceivest
that short are Reason’s wings, when following sense.
But tell me what thou think’st thereof thyself.”

This from a time when scientific reasoning found a natural place in poetry.

And I: “What seems to us diverse up here,
is caused, I think, by bodies thin and dense.”
And she: “Thou ’lt surely see that thy belief
is sunk in error, if but well thou heed
the arguments I’ll now oppose to it.

Canto 2 from the Paradiso of Dante, trans. William Wordsworth
text explication

Moon - Wikipedia

Kuai = Breakthrough

Then, out of nowhere, sudden certainty;
A confident conviction fills the air.
You had been hanging back, but now you dare
To take decisive action; you feel free,
Though sensing you could do no differently.
Your gait embodies unselfconscious flare,
That naturally the others want to share,
They join in eager unanimity.

In time is metamorphosis compressed.
A line divides the future from the past,
As past the river’s rambling you can see
An occult energy there manifest;
And all the universe erupts in vast,
Uncontemplated possibility.

— JJM = #43 from the I Ching Sonnet Project