Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Book of Hours

I only intended this blog site to be a place for me to keep poems that I love and to use it as a reference place for poems I'm quoting in other blogs, however, so much for plans.  It's seems that Jo, and Emma, and Oscar, and I, aren't the lovers of poems, so I'm going to post more of them and make sure I do all I can to get the word out.

So, enough talk, and on to the verse.

Working with Rilke's poem, last week, led me to purchase a copy of Book of Hours

There are more translations of Rilke's poems available than I care to count.  Here's the reason why I chose this one and included in the reason is today's poem.

(from Joanna's introduction to the volume)
The first poem I recall reading was as exhilarating to me as the fresh cold alpine wind off the slopes I loved to ski:

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I've been circling for thousands of years,
and I still don't know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

Rainer Maria Rilke


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Old Ships

I have no recollection of how I came to find this poem, but I do remember that I was instantly captivated by it.  I originally posted it on one of my first blog sites, in 2008.  

Five years have not dimmed my love for the poem, and now I share it with you.


Old Ships

There is a memory stays upon old ships,
A weightless cargo in the musty hold, 
Of bright lagoons and prow-caressing lips,
Of stormy midnights, - and a tale untold.
They have remembered islands in the dawn,
And windy capes that tried their slender spars,
And tortuous channels where their keels have gone,
And calm blue nights of stillness and the stars.
Oh, never think that ships forget a shore,
Or bitter seas, or winds that made them wise;
There is a dream upon them, evermore;
And there be some who say that sunk ships rise
To seek familiar harbors in the night,
Blowing in mists, their spectral sails like light.

                                          David Morton

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Church in the East

Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,
stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.

a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke 

Note - 

  • the poem was not titled by the poet - the title of the post is mine
  • the poem was written in German.  
  • this version (my favorite) was translated by Robert Bly

Three Poems

Sometimes a man stands up during supper
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

I mean it’s not like my damned soul
and walks outdoors,
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star.

waved farewell with a lace hanky
and keeps on walking,
Trailing clouds of glory do we come

from the base of a bonsai plant
because of a church
From God, who is our home:

in a Tu Do Street floral shop
that stands somewhere in the East.
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!

while I dreamt too soundly
And his children
Shades of the prison-house begin to close

on Ba Muy Ba Beer and woke next morning
say blessings on him as if he were dead.
Upon the growing boy,

to discover
And another man,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,

I couldn’t cry anymore
who remains inside his own house,
He sees it in his joy;

or laugh like before
dies there,
The Youth, who daily further from the east

or give a shit period-
inside the dishes and in the glasses,
Must travel, still is nature’s priest,

so that his children
And by the vision splendid

My soul just did
have to go far out into the world
Is on his way attended;

what most souls did.
Toward that same church
At length the man perceives it die away,

Just disappeared one afternoon
which he forgot.
And fade into the light of common day.

When I was in a firefight.

Selected lines from poems by Wordsworth, Mason, and Rilke

Wordsworth - Ode 536

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more. (lines 1–9)
To me alone there came a thought of grief:
A timely utterance gave that thought relief,
And I again am strong:
The cataracts blow their trumpets from the steep;
No more shall grief of mine the season wrong; (lines 22–26)
A single Field which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
The Pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream? (lines 52–57)
Thou, whose exterior semblance doth belie
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy; (lines 58–70)
Thy Soul's immensity;
Thou best Philosopher, who yet dost keep
Thy heritage, thou Eye among the blind,
That, deaf and silent, read'st the eternal deep,
Haunted for ever by the eternal mind, —
Mighty Prophet! Seer blest!
On whom those truths do rest,
Which we are toiling all our lives to find,
In darkness lost, the darkness of the grave; (lines 108–117)
Full soon thy Soul shall have her earthly freight,
And custom lie upon thee with a weight,
Heavy as frost, and deep almost as life! (lines 129–131)
Hence in a season of calm weather
Though inland far we be,
Our Souls have sight of that immortal sea
Which brought us hither,
Can in a moment travel thither,
And see the Children sport upon the shore,
And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore. (lines 164–170)
The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
Do take a sober colouring from an eye
That hath kept watch o'er man's mortality;
Another race hath been, and other palms are won. (lines 199–202)
Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears. (lines 203–206)

DEROS: My Soul


At times when I am calm
I remember
that even if you waited for it
nothing came as suddenly
as gunfire
and nothing (not even the Lieutenant)
seemed as stupid
as the silence that followed-

At such times I know also
that each of us
who fought in Vietnam
was spiritually captured by it
and that each remains
a prisoner
of his own war-

It is, therefore, not surprising
that for some (like for me)
the AfterNam emptiness
published no DEROS
for the soul…

Yet, in moments better known to me
when reason drifts
and whole worlds are illuminated with Platonic images
dancing against the cave-walls
of my mind
lit by a single candle
borrowed from a twilight wish,
I take the stairs two at a time
and wait in the second-floor window
of my days
hoping that Someday will come next morning
and that I’ll recognize the soul
of a much younger me
come diddily-bopping up the street
eating a Sky Bar
and hefting a duffle bag
filled with new and more believable myths
that I might live by
(not to mention back pay)
while humming something (in a nasal sort of way)
about going to San Francisco
and something else I can’t make out
about a flower in somebody’s hair-

Frankly, I don’t know if I’d throw flowers
or run down stairs, meet him at the curb
and beat Hell out of him-
leaving me the way he did!

You know, there never was any great debate
(between my soul and me)
ending in a mutually agreed upon
existential parting of the ways.

I mean it’s not like my damned soul
dressed up like a teensy-weensy
Jennifer Jones in drag
and waved farewell with a lace hanky
from the base of a bonsai plant
in a Tu do Street floral shop
while I dreamt too soundly
on Ba Muy Ba beer and woke next morning
to discover I couldn’t cry anymore
or laugh like before
or give a shit period-

And my soul didn’t just go berserk
under the too bright light
of a Government Moon
and go roaring down Highway 1
doing a wheely on a cycilo
like James Dean in a steel pot
and flak jacket
laughing a Red Baron kind of laugh
and quoting Kipling’s Barrack-Room Ballads-


My soul just did
what most souls did.
Just disappeared one afternoon
when I was in a firefight.
Just “walked away” in the scuffle
like a Dunhill lighter
off the deck of a redneck bar…


A man can lose his money
his woman
(even his mind)
and still he can come back,
but if he loses his courage
or his pride
it is over…

And what of a lost soul?
(I ask myself)
when madness invades
scattering today’s headlines
like March Hares
leaving nothing at the table
of my reason
beyond one crumb of truth
and the enormous bloodstain
on the white cloth of my youth-
(if you come ‘round this side
of the table & cock your head
just so)
like a distorted lunar projection
of Vietnam-
And careful!  Don’t strike your knee
against that table leg!
‘Cause then it jumps alive-
like somebody flunked
the inkblot test
and knocking over the candelabra
dives out the window of my sanity
to run naked down the street
lined on both sides by
Vietnam Vets
who couldn’t sleep either
and just followed the blood trail
like mute somnambulist
in a black and white foreign film
because they heard that tonight
their shared nightmare
(with Vietnamese subtitles)
had called a muster of lost souls
to be followed by Nam,
Blood Nam,
leading a one-man parade
and twirling a baton
that looked like nobody’s penis
I ever saw
and probably belonged
to the guy in back of me
(poor bastard)-

Geez, it gets scary in here sometimes,
do not Brutha?
And oooh, Sister!  Do you have songs to sing?!
About war without glory
and love beyond reward…

Maybe someday God will mint a medal
so beautiful, no words are printed on it
and all of our sisters
who were there with us
would get one
and everyone, everywhere, who saw it
would know just what it was
and would find a “thoughtful place”
to go sit down in for a week-

And then maybe God would let us have
a picnic (bigger than the moon)
and all the boys and girls
of daddies whose lives they saved
could hold hands
to make a daisy chain for the sun.
And when it was all done
the big people
would make God a prayer-promise
never, never to do anything like Nam
And when the cheers died down
the sun would bow his head
(ever so slightly)
so the children might wish their necklace
‘round his head
and when it was in place,
all of a sudden-
faster, even than gunfire,
everybody’s lost soul
would just come floating down
like a bright balloon
on a string
and mine
(the smart-assed red one)
would wink at yours
and pretend not to see me
and when everyone got his,
All the children would sing
Happy Birthday!  Happy Birthday!
over and over and over again
until all the ice melted
and all
our hearts…

By Steve Mason - from Johnny's Song
Steve was the Poet Laureate of Vietnam Veterans of America
He served as a Captain in the U.S. Army (Infantry) in The Republic of South Vietnam 
He died in 2005, at age 65, of lung cancer attributed to exposure to Agent Orange