for whom poetry was invented

Rainer Maria Rilke distilled his feelings and his revelations into words with a painful, half-embarrassed sincerity, and ever-probing honesty. He wrote of his compulsion,

“Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write?”

And now the hour bows down, it touches me, throbs
metallic, lucid and bold:
my senses are trembling. I feel my own power–
on this pliable day I lay hold.

Until I perceived it, no thing was complete,
but waited, hushed, unfulfilled.
My vision is ripe, to each glance like a bride
comes softly the thing that was willed.

There is nothing too small, but my tenderness paints
it large on a background of gold,
and I prize it, not knowing whose soul at the sight,
released, may unfold…

— Rainer Maria Rilke was born this day in 1875

“I love all beginnings, despite their anxiousness, their uncertainty, which belong to every commencement. If I have earned a pleasure or a reward, or if I wish that something had not happened; if I doubt the worth of an experience and remain in my past—then I choose to begin at this very second.

“Begin what? I begin. I have already thus begun a thousand lives.”
— tr. Joanna Macy & Anita Barrows


If we surrendered
to earth’s intelligence
we could rise up rooted, like trees.

Instead we entangle ourselves
in knots of our own making
and struggle, lonely and confused.

So, like children, we begin again
to learn from the things
that are in God’s heart,
that have never left him.

This is what the things can teach us:

to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.


Apologia pro scientia sua

Were I, like Adam, choiced by evil snake
That fruit of knowledge I might free partake
Or, spurning insight, might forever be,
And dwell in vast, obscure eternity…

By two such options I’d be sorely torn—
’Twas not for blind submission I was born.
Infinity sans knowledge is no prize,
While light that fades to black before mine eyes
Is destiny no man would freely choose,
For what we have is all we have to lose.

Posed thus, ’tis plain: rebellion is my path—
I’ll risk the flaming ire of God’s own wrath,
His knowledge, freely giv’n is not so dear
As what by our own efforts we make clear.

With tools of science I’ll investigate
The logic of this world and mine own fate;
While passions I will equally devote
To quest for health, and death’s own antidote.

— Josh Mitteldorf



Impatient of the tardy axe and oar,
Life clothes her tender flesh in toiling steel,
And like a broken mist the years reveal
The unascended heights that wait before.

Matter that was the king is king no more,
And we, released from that despotic heel,
Go up against the sun on slanting keel,
As men that crawled like ants like falcons soar.

How great those altitudes they do not know
Who see far upward their eternal snow,
And dream to join the eagles of their dome.
O valiant hearts, O you that take such wings
Above the humble heritage of things
Remember that the earth at last is home!

— George Sterling was a California transcendental poet, born this day in 1869.tumblr_static_8dj3sk32lw0s84g8okgss480g_640_v2


moon-waterfall-mabThe wings of Time are black and white,
Pied with morning and with night.
Mountain tall and ocean deep
Trembling balance duly keep.
In changing moon, in tidal wave,
Glows the feud of Want and Have.
Gauge of more and less through space
Electric star and pencil plays.
The lonely Earth amid the balls
That hurry through the eternal halls,
A makeweight flying to the void,
Supplemental asteroid,
Or compensatory spark,
Shoots across the neutral Dark.
Man’s the elm, and Wealth the vine;
Stanch and strong the tendrils twine:
Though the frail ringlets thee deceive,
None from its stock that vine can reave.
Fear not, then, thou child infirm,
There’s no god dare wrong a worm.
Laurel crowns cleave to deserts,
And power to him who power exerts;
Hast not thy share? On winged feet,
Lo! it rushes thee to meet;
And all that Nature made thy own,
Floating in air or pent in stone,
Will rive the hills and swim the sea,
And, like thy shadow, follow thee.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Master Speed

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still—
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.

240_f_124561794_mmz8nrbbqb7r9pfs0r4gf8ugmrazpjysRobert Frost

Paradise in a Landscape

A single step, that freed me from the skirts
Of the blind vapour, opened to my view
Glory beyond all glory ever seen
By waking sense or by the dreaming soul!
The appearance, instantaneously disclosed,
Was of a mighty city—boldly say
A wilderness of building, sinking far
And self-withdrawn into a boundless depth,
Far sinking into splendour—without end!
Fabric it seemed of diamond and of gold,
With alabaster domes, and silver spires,
And blazing terrace upon terrace, high
Uplifted; here, serene pavilions bright,
In avenues disposed; there, towers begirt
With battlements that on their restless fronts
Bore stars—illumination of all gems!
By earthly nature had the effect been wrought
Upon the dark materials of the storm
Now pacified; on them, and on the coves
And mountain-steeps and summits, whereunto
The vapours had receded, taking there
Their station under a cerulean sky.
Oh, ’twas an unimaginable sight!
Clouds, mists, streams, watery rocks and emerald turf,
Clouds of all tincture, rocks and sapphire sky,
Confused, commingled, mutually inflamed,
Molten together, and composing thus,
Each lost in each, that marvellous array
Of temple, palace, citadel, and huge
Fantastic pomp of structure without name,
In fleecy folds voluminous, enwrapped.

— Wordsworth,  The Excursion

CALIFORNIA - Sunrise on rock spires and ribs in High Peaks and Balconies areas from High Peaks Trail in Pinnacles National Park.

Poem within a Poem

A jaded man of the world follows the Ancient Sage up the mountain path to his cave, carrying a poem that embodies (beautifully) the materialist philosophy that was already taking root in 19th Century Britain, and which has since become the default world-view of Western secular society: All that we do to build a brighter future is destined to end in the grave.  Those of us fortunate enough to live into old age must look forward to losing our wits and our strength, moving with difficulty, living in chronic pain.  Therefore, the best we can do is to put our wretched future from our minds and seek pleasures in the present.

The Sage reads the poem aloud, and comments as he goes.  He perceives that the crux of the man’s despair is his belief in the finality of death.  He offers a glimpse of escape from narrow fatalism: Science tells us nothing about the provenance of our core awareness or the relationship between body and soul.  In the absence of material evidence, it is healthy to adopt a positive, hopeful disposition.

The Sage intuits the temperament of his interlocutor sufficiently to shy away from any mystical or spiritual declaration.  But as the poem sinks deeper into nihilism, he offers an epiphany from his childhood which parallels an experience that Tennyson elsewhere describes in plain prose:

A kind of waking trance I have frequently had quite up from boyhood when I have been all alone.  This has generally come upon me through repeating my own name to myself silently, till all at once, as it were out of the intensity of the consciousness of individuality, the individuality itself seemed to dissolve and fade away into boundless being, and this is not a confused state but the clearest of the clearest, the surest of the surest, the weirdest of the weirdest.  Utterly beyond words, where death was an almost laughable impossibility, the loss of personality (if so it were) seeming no extinction but the only true life.
— Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Sri Yukteswar (1855-1936)

Sri Yukteswar (1855-1936)


Read The Ancient Sage, by Alfred Lord Tennyson,

or listen to a reading of the poem,

or listen while reading.