Dungeon Grates

So piteously the lonely soul of man
Shudders before this universal plan,
So grievous is the burden and the pain,
So heavy weighs the long, material chain
From cause to cause, too merciless for hate,
The nightmare march of unrelenting fate,
I think that he must die thereof unless
Ever and again across the dreariness
There came a sudden glimpse of spirit faces,
A fragrant breath to tell of flowery places
And wider oceans, breaking on the shore
From which the hearts of men are always sore.
It lies beyond endeavour; neither prayer
Nor fasting, nor much wisdom winneth there,
Seeing how many prophets and wise men
Have sought for it and still returned again
With hope undone. But only the strange power
Of unsought Beauty in some casual hour
Can build a bridge of light or sound or form
To lead you out of all this strife and storm;
When of some beauty we are grown a part
Till from its very glory’s midmost heart
Out leaps a sudden beam of larger light
Into our souls. All things are seen aright
Amid the blinding pillar of its gold,
Seven times more true than what for truth we hold
In vulgar hours. The miracle is done
And for one little moment we are one
With the eternal stream of loveliness
That flows so calm, aloft from all distress
Yet leaps and lives around us as a fire
Making us faint with overstrong desire
To sport and swim for ever in its deep—
Only a moment.
—————————O! but we shall keep
Our vision still. One moment was enough,
We know we are not made of mortal stuff.
And we can bear all trials that come after,
The hate of men and the fool’s loud bestial laughter
And Nature’s rule and cruelties unclean,
For we have seen the Glory we have seen.

Published under the pseudonym, Clive Hamilton, Spirits in Bondage (1919) was C. S. Lewis’s first book. Lewis was an undergraduate, then a soldier in the trenches. Some of the poems reflect the horrors and senseless suffering of of The Great War, some are lyrical paeans to natural beauty, and some foreshadow the thoughtful spirituality of the mature Lewis.

Denying the Fount of our Being

‘O lost so long in exile, you disclaim
The very Fount of Being whence you came,
Cannot be parted from, and, will or no,
Whether for Good or Evil must re-flow!
For look—the Shadows into which the Light
Of his pure Essence down by infinite
Gradation dwindles, which at random play
Through Space in Shape indefinite—one Ray
Of his Creative Will into defined
Creation quickens: We that swim the Wind,
And they the Flood below, and Man and Beast
That walk between, from Lion to the least…

The baser Forms, to whatsoever Change
Subject, still vary through their lower Range:
To which the higher even shall decay,
That, letting ooze their better Part away
For Things of Sense and Matter, in the End
Shall merge into the Clay to which they tend.
Unlike to him, who straining through the Bond
Of outward Being for a Life beyond,
While the gross Worldling to his Centre clings,
That draws him deeper in, exulting springs
To merge him in the central Soul of Things.
— Attar / Fitzgerald, Bird Parliament

 

 

Hawks

Surely, you too have longed for this —
to pour yourself out
on the rising circles of the air
to ride, unthinking,
on the flesh of emptiness.

Can you claim, in your civilized life,
that you have never leaned toward
the headlong dive, the snap of bones,
the chance to be so terrible,
so free from evil, beyond choice?

The air that they are riding
is the same breath as your own.
How could you not remember?
That same swift stillness binds
your cells in balance, rushes
through the pulsing circles of your blood.

Each breath proclaims it —
the flash of feathers, the chance to rest
on such a muscled quietness,
to be in that fierce presence,
wholly wind, wholly wild.

~ Lynn Ungar ~

Lemonade

Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

— Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

The Great Taming

Adrenaline and glucocortisol
We’re drugged with strength of purpose from inside
Our primal terror takes us for a ride
Why can’t we see we’re riding for a fall?

From urgency to urgency we pass
One crisis bleeds into the next
No time for recognition of context
We gradually drown in blind morass

That inner witness who looks out on all
Has fled the premises, gone AWOL
Unconscious actors on a global stage
Recite their lines before an empty hall
The drama’s author is an evil mage
Whose goal is to confine us in his cage

— JJM = #26 in the I Ching Sonnet Project

iching26-taming

 

The Spectrum

How many colors here do we see set,
Like rings upon God’s finger? Some say three,
Some four, some six, some seven. All agree
To left of red, to right of violet,
Waits darkness deep as night and black as jet.

And so we know what Noah saw we see,
Nor less nor more—of God’s emblazonry
A shred—a sign of glory known not yet.
If red can glide to yellow, green to blue,
What joys may yet await our wider eyes
When we rewake upon a wider shore!
What deep pulsations, exquisite and new!
What keener, swifter raptures may surprise
Men born to see the rainbow and no more!

 

When We are All Asleep

When He returns, and finds the world so drear,
All sleeping, young and old, unfair and fair,
Will he stoop down and whisper in each ear,
“Awaken!” or for pity’s sake forbear,
Saying, “How shall I meet their frozen stare
Of wonder, and their eyes so full of fear?
How shall I comfort them in their despair,
If they cry out, ‘Too late! let us sleep here’?”
Perchance He will not wake us up, but when
He sees us look so happy in our rest,
Will murmur, “Poor dead women and dead men!
Dire was their doom, and weary was their quest.
Wherefore awake them into life again?
Let them sleep on untroubled—it is best.”

William Cosmo Monkhouse, born this day in 1840

Looking for Differences

I am struck by the otherness of things rather than their sameness.
The way a tiny pile of snow perches in the crook of a branch in the
tall pine, away by itself, high enough not to be noticed by people,
out of reach of stray dogs. It leans against the scaly pine bark, busy
at some existence that does not need me.

It is the differences of objects that I love, that lift me toward the rest
of the universe, that amaze me. That each thing on earth has its own
soul, its own life, that each tree, each clod is filled with the mud of
its own star. I watch where I step and see that the fallen leaf, old
broken grass, an icy stone are placed in exactly the right spot on the
earth, carefully, royalty in their own country.

by Tom Hennen
from
 Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems