On Beauty

Beauty, by Elinor Wylie

Say not of Beauty she is good,
Or aught but beautiful,
Or sleek to doves’ wings of the wood
Her wild wings of a gull.

Call her not wicked; that word’s touch
Consumes her like a curse;
But love her not too much, too much,
For that is even worse.

O, she is neither good nor bad,
But innocent and wild!
Enshrine her and she dies, who had
The hard heart of a child.

Advertisements

On the Danger of Safety

The Sheltered Garden, by H.D.

I have had enough.
I gasp for breath.

Every way ends, every road,
every foot-path leads at last
to the hill-crest—
then you retrace your steps,
or find the same slope on the other side,
precipitate.

I have had enough—
border-pinks, clove-pinks, wax-lilies,
herbs, sweet-cress.

O for some sharp swish of a branch—
there is no scent of resin
in this place,
no taste of bark, of coarse weeds,
aromatic, astringent—
only border on border of scented pinks.

Have you seen fruit under cover
that wanted light—
pears wadded in cloth,
protected from the frost,
melons, almost ripe,
smothered in straw?

Why not let the pears cling
to the empty branch?
All your coaxing will only make
a bitter fruit—
let them cling, ripen of themselves,
test their own worth,
nipped, shrivelled by the frost,
to fall at last but fair
With a russet coat.

Or the melon—
let it bleach yellow
in the winter light,
even tart to the taste—
it is better to taste of frost—
the exquisite frost—
than of wadding and of dead grass.

For this beauty,
beauty without strength,
chokes out life.
I want wind to break,
scatter these pink-stalks,
snap off their spiced heads,
fling them about with dead leaves—
spread the paths with twigs,
limbs broken off,
trail great pine branches,
hurled from some far wood
right across the melon-patch,
break pear and quince—
leave half-trees, torn, twisted
but showing the fight was valiant.

O to blot out this garden
to forget, to find a new beauty
in some terrible
wind-tortured place.

On the Beauty of Forgiving Even Yourself

Wild Geese, by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

On the Science of Daily Life

Darwinist Logic, by Katie Willingham

To begin with the end, what the rain
did not uncover. A teacup overflows,
we call it a spill; a riverbed overflows, we
call it a flood, what it is to be

swept away. Great is the power of steady
misrepresentation
, writes Darwin. I like
things that light up on their own—
the headlights on my new car when we

drive under a bridge. I like how
it doesn’t distinguish between different types
of darkness. Darwin again: I am not
the least afraid to die.
Well,

I burned my thumb last night
on the kettle, distracted
by the buzzing of my phone—
my mother again. There is still some pleasure

in dissection—what admirably
well-adapted movements
the tip of a root possesses
. I like things
that come apart easily

in my hands—dried leaves, clumps of sugar—
Do you remember, before wireless,
when to unplug meant getting
on your knees to jerk the cord from the wall? Now

if you want to disconnect,
you have to ask nicely. Off/on;
let go/resurrect—the game your mind plays
in dreams, holding him up—no, a simulacrum

slipping its cage in my consciousness. Daytime
calls me to wakefulness, its dog home
from the walk, from the bewildering folly
of weather. Turns out these purple statices

on the dresser stand for
remembrance but I don’t need
any help remembering. They are right
in front of me—they have fully loaded.

On the Perseverance of Beauty

A Lot, by Scott Cairns

 

A vacant lot, maybe, but even such lit vacancy
as interstate motels announce can look, well, pretty
damned inviting after a long day’s drive, especially
if the day has been oppressed by manic truckers, detours,
endless road construction. And this poorly measured, semi-
rectangle, projected and plotted with the familiar
little flags upon a spread of neglected terra firma
also offers brief apprehension, which—let’s face it,
whether pleasing or encumbered by anxiety—dwells
luxuriously in potential. Me? Well, I like
a little space between shopping malls, and while this one may
never come to be much of a garden, once we rip
the old tires from the brambles and bag the trash, we might
just glimpse the lot we meant, the lot we hoped to find.

On Escaping Emotion’s Noise

Going back, by D.H. Lawrence

The night turns slowly round,
Swift trains go by in a rush of light;
Slow trains steal past.
This train beats anxiously, outward bound.

But I am not here.
I am away, beyond the scope of this turning;
There, where the pivot is, the axis
Of all this gear.

I, who sit in tears,
I, whose heart is torn with parting;
Who cannot bear to think back to the departure platform;
My spirit hears

Voices of men
Sound of artillery, aeroplanes, presences,
And more than all, the dead-sure silence,
The pivot again.

There, at the axis
Pain, or love, or grief
Sleep on speed; in dead certainty;
Pure relief.

There, at the pivot
Time sleeps again.
No has-been, no here-after; only the perfected
Silence of men.

On Philosophers (Taking Action Against Placid Thought)

Foreclosing on That Peril, by Julie Carr

I’ll keep explaining—because maybe you still don’t get it
Those children in California (substitute any state), dead from gunfire—
Let me begin again in a little roof garden with my friend
A perverse reader, he listens to my stories as if they were TV
I mean he mocks me lovingly on the roof and at the library book sale
My friend is not a banker but a prison activist
He used to be a philosopher, but like many philosophers, he’s taken a turn
that should be easy to understand
The trajectory from philosopher to activist is like the curve of a single brushstroke across a large canvas
Artists in the fifties paid attention to that
I hate flat language like this, but I’m pretty flat
sometimes. You have to be your own dictator
and the law is, hate yourself if you have to, but don’t stop doing the thing you said you were going to do
As I tell my daughters often
Emotion is a site of unraveling (JB)
I admit, gripping my T-shirt
I wish I were writing in prose an unfolding intensity that shocks history professors and prison activists equally
Later, in the grass, we’ll practice gymnastics and that way contribute our sweat
to Our Ephemeral City