Saturday, September 27, 2014

autumn poem

birch leaves softly fall/
from another world/
and sleep opens my eyes


Basho

Welcome, traveler, to a long ago time in a far away place. The time is the 1600s, before America became a nation; and the place is Japan. Our story is about Basho, a gentle poet who was a master of a style of poetry called "haiku". Today he is much revered in Japan, and around the world. The Gentlest and Greatest Friend of Moon and Winds Basho (1644 - 1694) Many years ago there went wandering through Japan, sometimes on the back of a horse,sometimes afoot, in poor pilgrim's clothes, the kindest, most simple hearted of men...Basho, friend of moon and winds. Though Basho was born of one of the noblest classes in Japan, and might have been welcome in palaces, he chose to wander, and to be comrade and teacher of men and women, boys and girls in all different stations of life,from the lowest to the highest. Basho bathed in the running brooks, rested in shady valleys, sought shelter from sudden rains under some tree on the moor, and sighed with the country folk as he watched the cherry blossoms in their last pink shower, fluttering down from the trees. Now he slept at some country inn, stumbling in at its door at nightfall, wearied from long hours of travelling, yet never too tired to note the lovely wisteria vine, drooping its delicate lavender blossoms over the veranda. Sometimes he slept in the poor hut of a peasant, but most often his bed was out-of-doors, and his pillow a stone. When Basho came upon a little violet hiding shyly in the grass on a mountain pathway, it whispered its secret to him. "Modesty, gentleness, and simplicity!" it said. "These are the truly beautiful things." Glistening drops of dew on the petal of a flower had voice and a song for him likewise. "Purity," they sang, "is the loveliest thing in life." The pine tree, fresh and ever green amid winter's harshest storms, spoke staunchly of hardy manhood; the mountains had their message of patience, the moon its song of glory! Rivers, forests, waterfalls, all told their secrets to Basho, and these secrets that Nature revealed to him, he loved to show to others, for the whole of living of life was to him one great poem, as of some holy service in the shadow of a temple. "Real poetry," said Basho, "is to lead a beautiful life. To live poetry is better than to write it." And whenever he saw one of his young students being rude, in a fit of anger, or otherwise acting unworthily, he would gently lay his hand on the arm of the youth and say; "But this is not poetry! This is not poetry." Note: This story is from a children's book titled Little Pictures of Japan, edited by author Olive Beaupré Miller and beautifully illustrated by Katharine Sturges. It was originally published in 1925.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Rilke's Roots.

In dreams things happen to you but this time I was in control




A mountain hostel somewhere in Eastern Europe, the weather calm and sunny. I'd climbed a little way up to a rise in the ground where I could see snowy peaks all round but the place wasn't suitable. Yellow earth moving machines were there and a notice saying, Keep Out. Returning I'd dug myself a grave not far from the door and was planning to be buried alive. Being somewhat wimpish I'd bought a couple of pills from the doctor to calm me down. They cost £1.50 and I dropped the rest of my unneeded change into a charity box.

There was no hurry. No one took any interest. My grave was homely with a candle holder on one wall, but the dry soil seemed sterile and all too neat and constructed.

I awake now, but the grave was waiting. There was no hurry. I'd been reading Rilke:

"But when I lean over the chasm of myself- it seems my God is dark and like a web: a hundred roots silently drinking.

Mien Gott ist dunkel und wie ein Gewebe von hundert Wurzeln, welche schweigsam trinken."

More I don't know, because my roots rest in deep silence, stirred only by the wind. They are in a dark ferment. They explore blindly, clinging to the rock. There is much to explore, lots of other roots, fungal hypha, wiggling nematodes and insect grubs. I am a neural network growing and sensing. Chemicals surge down from above. Some clinging roots have grown so large they see the sky.

"Whom should I turn to, if not the one whose darkness is darker than the night, the only one who keeps vigil with no candle, and is not afraid - the deep one, whose being I trust, for it breaks through the earth into trees, and rises, when I bow my head, faint as a fragrance from the soil."

I feel the wind. It is tearing me out of darkness to another dawn.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Sea Buckthorn



Sauté an' cruel winds tae shear it, [salt]
Nichts o' haar an' rain - [nights of cold mist]
Ye micht think the sallow buckthorn [might]
Ne'er a hairst could hain; [never a harvest could harbour]
But amang the sea-bleached branches [among]
Ashen-grey as pain,
Thornset orange berries cluster
Flamin', beauty-fain.

Daith an' dule will stab ye surely, [death and dolour / grief]
Be ye man or wife,
Mony trauchles an' mischances [many struggles / troubles]
In ilk weird are rife; [in everyone's fate]
Bide the storm ye canna hinder,[cannot]
Mindin' through the strife, [remembering]
Hoo the luntin' lowe o' beauty [how the blazing fire of beauty]
Lichts the grey o' life. [lights]

Helen Cruickshank

Copyright is held by A C Hunter, Ashgrove House, Loanhead, Midlothian, Scotland EH20 9NG
http://herbology-101.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/weekend-rambles.html Photo at North Berwick golf club, Scotland.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Lucy, Fresco and Masaccio



Here is the first Lucy poem, written in 1798 when William Wordsworth and sister Dorothy were spending a miserable winter in Germany.

Strange fits of passion have I known: And I will dare to tell,
But in the Lover's ear alone,
What once to me befell.
When she I loved looked every day Fresh as a rose in June,

I to her cottage bent my way, Beneath an evening-moon.
Upon the moon I fixed my eye,
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh Those paths so dear to me.

And now we reached the orchard-plot; And, as we climbed the hill,
The sinking moon to Lucy's cot
Came near, and nearer still.
In one of those sweet dreams I slept, Kind Nature's gentlest boon!

And all the while my eyes I kept
On the descending moon.
My horse moved on; hoof after hoof He raised, and never stopped:
When down behind the cottage roof, At once, the bright moon dropped.

What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a Lover's head!
"O mercy!" to myself I cried,
"If Lucy should be dead!"

I remember such a cottage in Germany where 'Lucy' meant 'Light' and Rilke was my poet.

'Light' radiates from Masaccio's frescos in Florence. The texture of fresco can't be reproduced on a screen and if touched the chalky pigments would slowly rub away. Such is my vision, bright and verging on overexposed. I remember the frescoed feet, soft, larger than life. If we washed these feet they would vanish away but Lucy's delicate feet flex in the water, are warm to my soft soapy touch and walk away leaving memories on the stone floor.

The reproduction is of a fresco by Masaccio showing the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rilke Poem, God speaks to each of us as he makes us


 
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 you longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like 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.
 

from Rilke’s, ‘Book of Hours’ translated by A Barrows and J Macy.
and photo of Thich Quang Duc a buddhist monk.

 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rilke Poem, 'Du, gestern Knabe, dem die Wirrnis kam'


 

































(To the younger brother)

You, yesterday’s boy,
to whom confusion came:
Listen, lest you forget who you are.

It was not pleasure you fell into. It was joy.
You were called to be the bridegroom,
though the bride coming toward you is your shame.

What chose you is the great desire.
Now all flesh bares itself to you.

On pious images pale cheeks
blush with a strange fire.
Your senses uncoil like snakes
Awakened by the beat of the tambourine.

Then suddenly you’re left all alone
with your body that can’t love you
and your will that can’t save you.

But now, like a whispering in dark streets,
rumors  of God run through your dark blood.

From Rilke’s, ‘Book of Hours’ translated by A Barrows and J Macy.

These poems are love poems to God but Italian Renaissance religious art had showed Rilke that, ‘the holy can be rooted in the body and in human relationship’. The poems were written in 1899 after a magical trip to Russia with his lover Lou Andreas-Salome, a beautiful 36 year old Russian woman.

Painting is by Klimpt, ‘Die Tanzerine’ 1916

 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Cain and Abel


 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 

Cain and Abel Genesis 4

New International Version (NIV)

 Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.”
2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.
Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil.
3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.
4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering,
5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast?
7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.
11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.
12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

I have always been more interested in working the soil than animal husbandry and felt, along with Cain, that G-d was unfair in not accepting his offering. Perhaps this biblical myth also refers to the rise of agriculture, the ability to store crops giving rise to early civilisations and making possible todays national and ideological wars (The Curse of Cain) 

I notice from the next part of Genesis that although Adam and Eve were in a sense the first man and woman in a generation or two there are whole tribes and cities.

I was led to this biblical story by one of Rilke's many brilliant poems.
 
(Abel speaks)

I am not. The brother did something to me
that  my eyes didn’t see.
He veiled the light.
He hid my face with his face.
Now he is alone.
I think he must still exist,
for no one does to him what he did to me.
All have gone the same way:
all are met with his rage,
beside him all are lost.

I sense my older brother lies awake
As if accused.
Night offers itself to me,
not to him.
 
Rilke’s Book of Hours translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy.
 


Der blasse Abelknabe spricht:

Ich bin nicht. Der Bruder hat mir was getan,
was meine Augen nicht sahn.
Er hat mir das Licht verhängt.
Er hat mein Gesicht verdrängt
mit seinem Gesicht.
Er ist jetzt allein.
Ich denke, er muss noch sein.
Denn ihm tut niemand, wie er mir getan.
Es gingen alle meine Bahn,
kommen alle vor seinen Zorn,
gehen alle an ihm verloren.

Ich glaube, mein großer Bruder wacht
wie ein Gericht.
An mich hat die Nacht gedacht;
an ihn nicht.

Rainer Maria Rilke, 22.9.1899, Berlin-Schmargendorf

picture by James Tissot
 

Down by the Salley Gardens


Down by the Salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the Salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree.
But I being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.

In a field by a river
 my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
 she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
 as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish
 and now am full of tears. 

by W.B.Yeats