January 31, 2012

She Tells Her Love While Half Asleep

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

– Robert Graves

January 30, 2012

"Life is not permanent. Like the leaves that fall from a tree, all things are impermanent, nothing endures; there is always change and death. Have you ever noticed a tree standing naked against a sky, how beautiful it is? All its branches are outlined, and in its nakedness there is a poem, there is a song. Every leaf is gone and it is waiting for the spring. When the spring comes it again fills the tree with the music of many leaves, which in due season fall and are blown away; and that is the way of life."

– Jiddu Krishnamurti, Think on These Things
"The simplicity of winter has a deep moral. The return of nature, after such a career of splendor and prodigality, to habits so simple and austere, is not lost either upon the head or the heart. It is the philosopher coming back from the banquet and the wine to a cup of water and a crust of bread."

– John Burroughs, Winter Sunshine: The Writings of John Burroughs
Photo by John Purchase

January 29, 2012

"Let us go forth, the tellers of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet."

– W. B. Yeats, The Celtic Twilight
In My Craft or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Not for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages, 
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.

– Dylan Thomas
"I too, if I may mention myself, have always known that my destiny was, above all, a literary destiny – that bad things and some good things would happen to me, but that, in the long run, all of it would be converted into words. Particularly the bad things, since happiness does not need to be transformed: happiness is its own end."

– Jorge Luis Borges, Seven Nights (trans. Eliot Weinberger)
The Choice

The intellect of man is forced to choose
perfection of the life, or of the work,
And if it take the second must refuse
A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.
When all that story's finished, what's the news?
In luck or out the toil has left its mark:
That old perplexity an empty purse,
Or the day's vanity, the night's remorse.

– W. B. Yeats
Photo by Aaron Miller
"Praise to the mind
That moves toward meaning,
Kindness; mixes keenness
With routine of
Grace, has space,
And finds its place."

– Weldon Kees, from "Praise to the Mind"

January 28, 2012


Etched on the moth's wings
the story of a man's life
powder to the touch.

– Nicholas Christopher
O Little Root of a Dream

O little root of a dream 
you hold me here 
undermined by blood, 
no longer visible to anyone, 
property of death.

Curve a face
that there may be speech, of earth, 
of ardor, of
things with eyes, even
here, where you read me blind,

where you 
refute me, 
to the letter.

Paul Celan
"Ah, it's my longing for whom I might have been that distracts and torments me!"

– Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet
Photo by Julia S
"One day when I was twenty-three or twenty-four this sentence seemed to form in my head, without my willing it, much as sentences form when we are half-asleep: 'Hammer your thoughts into unity.' For days I could think of nothing else, and for years I tested all I did by that sentence."

– W. B. Yeats, "If I Were Four-and-Twenty"

January 27, 2012

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face among a crowd of stars.

– W. B. Yeats
"The world will thank me for not marrying you. Our children were your poems of which I was the father sowing the unrest and storm which made them possible and you the mother who brought them forth in suffering and in the highest beauty, and our children had wings...."

– Maud Gonne, from a letter to W. B. Yeats, found in The Gonne-Yeats Letters: 1893-1938
". . . to read, we need a certain kind of silence, an ability to filter out the noise. That seems increasingly elusive in our overnetworked society, where every buzz and rumor is instantly blogged and tweeted, and it is not contemplation we desire but an odd sort of distraction, distraction masquerading as being in the know. In such a landscape, knowledge can’t help but fall prey to illusion, albeit an illusion that is deeply seductive, with its promise that speed can lead us to more illumination, that it is more important to react than to think deeply, that something must be attached to every bit of time. Here, we have my reading problem in a nutshell, for books insist we take the opposite position, that we immerse, slow down."

– David L. Ulin, The Lost Art of Reading
Photo by Marina Demchenko

January 26, 2012

"I have woven a parachute out of everything broken."

– William Stafford, speaking of his poetical works (via)

The longer we are together
the larger death grows around us.
How many we know by now
who are dead! We, who were young,
now count the cost of having been.
And yet as we know the dead
we grow familiar with the world.
We, who were young and loved each other
ignorantly, now come to know
each other in love, married
by what we have done, as much
as by what we intend. Our hair
turns white with our ripening
as though to fly away in some
coming wind, bearing the seed
of what we know. It was bitter to learn
that we come to death as we come
to love, bitter to face
the just and solving welcome
that death prepares. But that is bitter
only to the ignorant, who pray
it will not happen. Having come
the bitter way to better prayer, we have
the sweetness of ripening. How sweet
to know you by the signs of this world!
– Wendell Berry

January 25, 2012

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like a flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (trans. Anita Barrows & Joanna Macy)
Photo by Ruthanne Annaloro

January 24, 2012

There Was Earth Inside Them

There was earth inside them, and
they dug.

They dug and dug, and so
their day went past, their night. And they did not praise God,
who, so they heard, wanted all this,
who, so they heard, witnessed all this.

They dug and heard nothing more;
they did not grow wise, invented no song,
devised for themselves no sort of language.
They dug.

There came a stillness then, came also storm,
all of the oceans came.
I dig, you dig, and it, the worm, digs too,
and the singing there says: They dig.

O one, O none, O no one, O you:
Where did it go, then, making for nowhere?
O you dig and I dig, and I dig through to you,
and the ring on our finger awakens.

– Paul Celan (trans. from the German by John Felstiner)
"You speak 
As one who fed on poetry."

– Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu, Act I, Scene VI
[Rhymes mean nothing to me. Only rarely]

Rhymes mean nothing to me. Only rarely
Are two trees identical, standing side by side.
My thinking and writing are like flowers having color
But the way I express myself is less perfect
Because I lack the divine simplicity 
Of being only what I appear to be.

I look and I am moved,
Moved as water flows when the ground slopes,
And my poetry is natural, like the rising of the wind . . .

– Fernando Pessoa
"The true test of poetry is sincerity and vitality. It is not rhyme, or metre, or subject. It is nothing in the world but the soul of man as it really is."

– Amy Lowell, "Why We Should Read Poetry"
Photo by piet flour

"Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure pleasure of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author's words reverberating in your head."

– Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies

January 22, 2012

"But I hope I will never have a life that is not surrounded by books, by books that are bound in paper and cloth and glue, such perishable things for ideas that have lasted thousands of years, or just since the most recent Harry Potter. I hope I am always walled in by the very weight and breadth and clumsy, inefficient, antiquated bulk of them, hope that I spend my last days on this Earth arranging and rearranging them on thrones of good, honest pine, oak, and mahogany, because they just feel good in my hands, because I just like to look at their covers, and dream of the promise of the great stories inside."
– Rick Bragg, Southern Living, Southern Journal: "Words on Paper

(with thanks to the picky girl)
In The Library

You are reading a book, and think you know
the end, but others can't wait—they crowd
on the shelves, breathing. You stop and look around.
It is the best time: evening is coming,
a bronze haze has captured the sun,
lights down the street come on.

You turn the page carefully. Over your shoulder
another day has watched what you do
and written it down in that book
you can't read till all the pages are done.

– William Stafford
"We possess the books we read, animating the waiting stillness of their language, but they possess us also, filling us with thoughts and observations, asking us to make them part of ourselves."

– David L. Ulin, The Lost Art of Reading (with thanks to Booklover)
Photo by Gary Dixon
"The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life. It may remain brave, dignified and unselfish. Or in the bitter fight for self-preservation he may forget his human dignity and become no more than an animal. Here lies the chance for a man either to make use of or to forgo the opportunities of attaining the moral values that a difficult situation may afford him. And this decides whether he is worthy of his sufferings or not."

– Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

January 21, 2012

"....may our child grow and be well.
Let him be happy from time to time
and leap over abysses.
Let his heart have strength to endure
and his mind be awake and reach far.

But not so far 
that it sees into the future.
Spare him
that one gift,
O heavenly powers."

– Wislawa Szymborska, from "A Tale Begun" (trans. Stanislaw Baranczak)
The Way It Is

There's a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn't change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can't get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time's unfolding.
You don't ever let go of the thread.

– William Stafford
"I don't believe that grief passes away. It has its time and place forever. More time is added to it; it becomes a story within a story. But grief and griever alike endure."

– Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
Photo by Rob
"You've seen the sun flatten and take strange shapes just before it sinks in the ocean. Do you have to tell yourself every time that it's an illusion caused by atmospheric dust and light distorted by the sea, or do you simply enjoy the beauty of it?"

– John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday

January 20, 2012

"Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer."

– E. M. Forster, Howards End

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could you know. That's why we wake
and look out – no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

– William Stafford (with thanks to Growing Orbits and risky wiver)
from March '79

Being tired of people who come with words, but no speech,
I made my way to the snow-covered island.
The wild does not have words.
The pages free of handwriting stretched out on all sides!
I came upon the tracks of reindeer in the snow.
Speech but no words.

– Tomas Tranströmer, trans. Robert Bly (with thanks to The Beauty We Love)
Photo by Simon Plenderleith
"Language is a darkness pulled out of us."

– Stanley Plumly, from "Infidelity"
"...tell us how the soul is bound and bent
into these knots, and whether any ever
frees itself from such imprisonment."

– Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, The Inferno, Canto XII (trans. John Ciardi)

January 19, 2012

"You have slept for millions and millions of years.
Why not wake up this morning?"

– Kabir (with thanks to whiskey river)
"The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred million to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?"

– Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Photo by Daniela Duncan
"Poetry and history are the textbooks to the heart of man, and poetry is at once the most intimate and the most enduring."

– Amy Lowell, "Why We Should Read Poetry" from Poetry and Poets: Essays

January 17, 2012


You must take up the world’s whole weight
and make it easier to bear.
Toss it like a knapsack
on your shoulders and set out.
The best time is evening, in spring, when
trees breathe calmly and the night promises
to be fine, elm twigs crackle in the garden.
The whole weight? Blood and ugliness? Can’t be done.
A trace of bitterness will linger on your lips,
and the contagious despair of the old woman
you spotted in the tram.
Why lie? After all rapture
exists only in imagination and leaves quickly.
Improvisation – always just improvisation,
great or small, that’s all we know,
in music, as a jazz trumpet weeps happily
or when you stare at the blank page
or try to outwit
sorrow by opening a favorite book of poems;
just then the phone usually rings,
someone asking, would you like to try
the latest model? No thank you.
I prefer the proven brands.
Grayness and monotony remain; grief
the finest elegy can’t heal.
But perhaps there are things hidden from us,
in which sorrow and enthusiasm mix
non-stop, on a daily basis, like the dawn’s birth
above the seashore, no, wait,
like the laughter of those little altar boys
in white vestments, on the corner of St. John and Mark,

– Adam Zagajewski
"Such a small, pure object a poem could be, made of nothing but air, a tiny string of letters, maybe small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. But it could blow everybody's head off."

– Mary Karr, Lit: A Memoir
Photo by Agnieszka Dargiel
Small Prayer

Change, move, dead clock, that this fresh day
May break with dazzling light to these sick eyes.
Burn, glare, old sun, so long unseen,
That time may find its sound again, and cleanse
Whatever it is that a wound remembers
After the healing ends.

– Weldon Kees
"I want to be able to be alone, to find it nourishing – not just a waiting."

– Susan Sontag, Reborn: Journals & Notebooks, 1947-1963

January 16, 2012

"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our own feet, and learn to be at home. It is a journey we can make only by the acceptance of mystery and of mystification – by yielding to the condition that what we have expected is not there."

– Wendell Berry, The Unforeseen Wilderness
"What harbor can receive you more securely than a great library?"

– Italo Calvino, If on a Winter's Night a Traveler (trans. William Weaver)
Photo by Päivi Kaarina

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,   
which knew it would inherit the earth   
before anybody said so.   

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
watching him from the birdhouse.   

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

The idea you carry close to your bosom   
is famous to your bosom.   

The boot is famous to the earth,   
more famous than the dress shoe,   
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

I want to be famous to shuffling men   
who smile while crossing streets,   
sticky children in grocery lines,   
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
but because it never forgot what it could do.   

Naomi Shihab Nye


They tell how it was, and how time
came along, and how it happened
again and again. They tell
the slant life takes when it turns
and slashes your face as a friend.

Any wound is real. In church
a woman lets the sun find
her cheek, and we see the lesson:
there are years in that book; there are sorrows
a choir can't reach when they sing.

Rows of children lift their faces of promise,
places where the scars will be.

– William Stafford
"The last stroke of midnight dies.
All day in the one chair
From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged
In rambling talk with an image of air:
Vague memories, nothing but memories."

– W. B. Yeats, from "Broken Dreams"
"Even grace is sullied by ancient angers."

– Linda Pastan, from "A Rainy Country"
Photo by Matt Hart

January 15, 2012

"And throughout all Eternity
I forgive you, you forgive me."

– William Blake, from "Broken Love" (with thanks to Proustitute)
"Ask the questions that have no answers."

– Wendell Berry, from "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front"
When I point
out to you that

the flat face of the lake’s water in
stillness is made suddenly
more striking for how a wind

just now, coming, spoils it,
I have in mind
only how even a least

disturbance, strangely
heightening a thing’s
beauty, can at last

define it.

– Carl Phillips, from "Words of Love" (with thanks to GrowingOrbits and lifeframebyframe)

“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.”

– John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra (with thanks to Bards and Sages)
Photo by Lorenzo Signorelli

January 14, 2012

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

– Emily Dickinson, from "After great pain, a formal feeling comes"

“If there were no eternal consciousness in a man, if at the bottom of everything there were only a wild ferment, a power that twisting in dark passions produced everything great or inconsequential; if an unfathomable, insatiable emptiness lay hid beneath everything, what would life be but despair?"

– Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
A Friend's Illness

Sickness brought me this
Thought, in that scale of his:
Why should I be dismayed
Though flame had burned the whole
World, as it were a coal,
Now I have seen it weighed
Against a soul?

– W. B. Yeats
"Never are voices so beautiful as on a winter's evening, when dusk almost hides the body, and they seem to issue from nothingness with a note of intimacy seldom heard by day."

– Virginia Woolf, Night and Day
Photo by Agnieszka Dargiel
"In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable."

– John Steinbeck, New York Times, June 2, 1969

January 13, 2012

"Reality is not an inspiration for literature. At its best, literature is an inspiration for reality."

– Romain Gary, New York Herald Tribune, January 13, 1960

January 12, 2012

"I have done, this year, what I said I would: overcome my fear of facing a blank page day after day, acknowledging myself, in my deepest emotions, a writer, come what may.” 

– Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962