20 June 2007

Excerpts from this week's reading

It was a highly respectable street, where all the houses were exactly alike, and where business men of moderate means begot and reared large families of children, all of whom went to Sunday School and learned the shorter catechism, and were exactly alike as their homes, and of a piece with the monotony in which they lived. Paul never went up Cordelia Street without a shudder of loathing.
He lay still and closed his eyes and let the tide of realities wash over him.

-Willa Cather, from "Paul's Case"

O passionately at peace when will that tide draw shoreward?
Truly the spouting fountains of light, Antares, Arcturus,
Tire of their flow, they sing one song but they think silence.
The striding winter giant Orion shines, and dreams darkness.
And life, the flicker of men and moths and the wolf on the hill,
Though furious for continuance, passionately feeding, passionately
Remaking itself upon its mates, remembers deep inward
The calm mother, the quietness of the womb and the egg,
The primal and the latter silences: dear Night it is memory
Prophesies, prophecy that remembers, the charm of the dark.

And I and my people, we are willing to love the four-score years
Heartily; but as a sailor loves the sea, when the helm is for harbor.

-Robinson Jeffers, from "Night"

He was still trembling when he reached the street, but a walk down the Rue Bonaparte to the quais set him up, and as he crossed the Seine, fresh and new by the quai lamps, he felt exultant.

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, from "Babylon Revisited"

Again he is alone and again there is silence for him.... The misery which has been for a brief space eased comes back again and tears his heart more cruelly than ever. With a look of anxiety and suffering Iona's eyes stray restlessly among the crowds moving to and fro on both sides of the street: can he not find among those thousands someone who will listen to him?

-Anton Chekhov, from "Misery"

--Oh, never a doubt but, somewhere, I shall wake,
And give what's left of love again, and make
New friends, now strangers.... But the best I've known,
Stays here, and changes, breaks, grows old, is blown
About the winds of the world, and fades from brains
Of living men, and dies. Nothing remains.

-Robert Brooke, from "The Great Lover"

Meeting and Passing

As I went down the hill along the wall
There was a gate I had leaned at for the view
And had just turned from when I first saw you
As you came up the hill. We met. But all
We did that day was mingle great and small
Footprints in summer dust as if we drew
The figure of our being less than two
But more than one as yet. Your parasol

Pointed the decimal off with one deep thrust.
And all the time we talked you seemed to see
Something down there to smile at in the dust.
(Oh, it was without prejudice to me!)
Afterward I went past what you had passed
Before we met and you what I had passed.

Robert Frost

18 June 2007

Poems & fragments from Hopkins, Yeats, Housman, and Hardy

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 amid a crowd of stars.

-William Butler Yeats

Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord

Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

-Gerald Manley Hopkins

Into My Heart

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

-A.E. Housman

From Channel Firing

The world is as it used to be:
All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder.

-Thomas Hardy

From No Worst, There is None

Comforter, where, where is your comforting?

Gerald Manley Hopkins

From God's Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God. ...
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs -
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

16 June 2007

Excerpts from Emerson's "Nature"

If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

Broad moon shall be my England of the senses and the understanding; the night shall be my Germany of mystic philosophy and dreams.

What is a farm but a mute gospel?

In a higher manner, the poet communicates the same pleasure. By a few strokes, he delineates, as on air, the mountain, the camp, the city, the hero, the maiden, not different from what we know them, but only lifted from the ground and afloat before the eye. He unfixes the land and the sea, makes them revolve around the axis of his primary thought, and disposes them anew.

The aspect of nature is devout. Like the figure of Jesus, she stands with bended head, and hands folded upon the breast. The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.

From Shakespeare’s “Tempest,” excerpted in Emerson’s Nature:

The charm dissolves apace,
And, as the morning steals upon the night,
Melting the darkness, so their rising senses
Begin to chase the ignorant fumes that mantle
Their clearer reason.

Their understanding
Begins to swell: and the approaching tide
Will shortly fill the reasonable shores
That now lie foul and muddy.

We are associated in adolescent and adult life with some friends who, like skies and waters, are coextensive with our idea; who, answering each to a certain affection of the soul, satisfy our desire on that side; whom we lack power to put at such focal distance from us, that we can mend or even analyze them. We cannot choose but love them.

Therefore is nature ever the ally of Religion: lends all her pomp and riches to the religious sentiment. Prophet and priest, David, Isaiah, Jesus, have drawn deeply from this source. This ethical character so penetrates the bone and marrow of nature, as to seem the end for which it was made.

The poet, the orator, bred in the woods, whose senses have been nourished by their fair and appeasing changes, year after year, without design and without heed, shall not lose their lesson altogether, in the roar of cities or the broil of politics.

The tradesman, the attorney comes out of the din and craft of the street, and sees the sky and the woods, and is a man again. In their eternal calm, he finds himself. The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.

I see the spectacle of morning from the hill-top over against my house, from daybreak to sunrise, with emotions which an angel might share. The long slender bars of cloud float like fishes in the sea of crimson light. From the earth as a shore, I look out into that silent sea.

A man is fed, not that he may be fed, but that he may work.

The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?

Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men’s farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title.

In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight.

14 June 2007

East of Eden quotes - third and last batch

You see, there’s a responsibility in being a person. It’s more than just taking up space where air would be.

He looked up at the sky. “Lord, how the day passes! It’s like a life - so quickly when we don’t watch it and so slowly when we do. No,” he said, “I’m having enjoyment. And I made a promise to myself that I would not consider enjoyment a sin. I take a pleasure in inquiring into things. I’ve never been content to pass a stone without looking under it. And it is a black disappointment to me that I can never see the far side of the moon.”

“But there’s all that fallow land, and here beside me is all that fallow man. It seems a waste. And I have a bad feeling about waste because I could never afford it. Is it a good thing to let life lie fallow?”

“What else could I do?”

“You could try again.”

“I can’t tell you how to live your life,” Samuel said, “although I do be telling you how to live it. I know that it might be better for you to come out from under your might-have-beens, into the winds of the world. And while I tell you, I am myself sifting my memories, the way men pan the dirt under a barroom floor for the bits of gold dust that fall between the cracks. It’s small mining - small mining. You’re too young a man to be panning memories, Adam. You should be getting yourself some new ones, so that the mining will be richer when you come to age.”

“I love that dust heap,” Samuel said. “I love it the way a bitch loves her runty pup. I love every flint, the plow-breaking outcroppings, the thin and barren topsoil, the waterless heart of her. Somewhere in my dust heap there’s a richness.”


“I’m free, she’s gone,” he chanted aloud.

Virtue and vice were warp and woof of our first consciousness, and they will be the fabric of our last, and this despite any changes we may impose on field and river and mountain, on economy and manners.

It seems to me that if you or I must choose between two courses of thought or action, we should remember our dying and try so to live that our death brings no pleasure to the world.

The nation and the Salinas Valley changed its songs. At first we sang of how we would knock the hell out of Helgoland and hang the Kaiser and march over there and clean up the mess them damn foreigners had made. And then suddenly we sang, “In the war’s red curse stands the Red Cross nurse. She’s the rose of No Man’s Land,” and we sang, “Hello, central, give me heaven, ‘cause my Daddy’s there”…. I guess we were like a tough but inexperienced little boy who gets punched in the nose in the first flurry and it hurts and we wished it was over. [As today, in Iraq.]

She went back to work. “Do you think it’s funny to be so serious when I’m not even out of high school?” she asked.

“I don’t see how it could be any other way,” said Lee. “Laughter comes later, like wisdom teeth, and laughter at yourself comes last of all in a mad race with death, and sometimes it isn’t in time.”

13 June 2007

Poems and fragments from Thomas Hardy

I'm working extremely hard and learning a lot by day, and running, reading, and spending time with my friends in the evening - it's a great program, and I have a lot to be grateful for. Lately I've been reading the poems of Thomas Hardy, and he has become one of my favorites. Here are a few of the poems and lines that I've especially liked so far:

From The Self-Unseeing

Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!

The Man He Killed

"Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!

"But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.

"I shot him dead because-
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That's clear enough; although

"He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
Off-hand like--just as I;
Was out of work, had sold his traps-
No other reason why.

"Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat if met where any bar is,
Or help to half-a-crown."

From She, to Him II

Perhaps, long hence, when I have passed away,
Some other's feature, accent, thought like mine,
Will carry you back to what I used to say,
And bring some memory of your love's decline.

To An Unborn Pauper Child (link)
The Darkling Thrush (link)
The Respectable Burgher (on "the Higher Criticism") (link)

At a Hasty Wedding

If hours be years the twain are blest,
For now they solace sweet desire
By bonds of every bond the best,
If hours be years. The twain are blest
Do eastern stars slope never west,
Nor pallid ashes follow fire:
If hours be years the twain are blest,
For now they solace swift desire.

From After the Last Breath

Blankly we gaze. We are free to go or stay;
Our morrow's anxious plans have missed their aim;
Whether we leave to-night or wait till day
Counts as the same.

From One Ralph Blossom Soliloquizes

These trumpets here in Heaven are dumb to me
With you away. Dear, come, O come to me!

10 June 2007

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Letters and Papers from Prison"

After finishing Steinbeck's East of Eden this week, I turned my attention to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison. Bonhoeffer was an incredible man with an incredible story. He was an innovative theologian and an erudite scholar, and he wrote several highly influential books before his thirtieth birthday. Refusing to escape the fate of his family, friends, and church, Bonhoeffer - a German - turned down an invitation to repatriate to America in 1939. In Spring 1943, he was imprisoned by the Nazis, and two years later, on April 9, 1945, he was executed. During his two years in prison, he corresponded with his family and a friend on the Italian front; the letters are some of the most inspirational documents I've ever read, and they display an incredible level of humility, patience, and strength in adversity. One needn't be a Christian to find peace and reassurance in Bonhoeffer's writings. Here are a few of the many passages that I found worth remembering:

And though the world outside be mad,
Christian or unchristian,
Yet the world, the beautiful world
Is utterly indestructible

All I need to bring that home to me is a few autumn flowers, the view from my cell window, and half an hour's exercise in the courtyard. But in the last resort, the world, for me at any rate, consists of those few we would like to see, and whose company we long to share. ...And if I could also hear a good sermon on Sundays - I often here fragments of the chorales carried up here on the breeze - it would be better still.
As we were all lying on the floor [during an air raid] yesterday, someone muttered "O God, O God" - he is normally a frivolous sort of chap - but I couldn't bring myself to offer him any Christian encouragement or comfort. All I did was to glance at my watch and say: "It won't last any more than ten minutes now." There was nothing premeditated about it; it came quite automatically, though perhaps I had a feeling that it was wrong to force religion down his throat just then. Incidentally, Jesus himself did not try to convert the two thieves on the cross; he waited until one of them turned to him.
As compared with marriage and the ties of kindred, friendship has no generally recognized rights, and is therefore wholly dependent on its own inherent quality.
The idea that we could have avoided many of life's difficulties if we had taken things more quietly is one that cannot be taken seriously for a moment. As I look back on your past I am sure that everything has turned out for the best, and so we have every reason to hope that what is happening at the present can only be for the best too. To renounce a full life and all its joys in order to escape pain is neither Christian nor human....
Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; God does not fill it, but on the contrary, God keeps it empty and so helps us keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.

The dearer and richer our memories, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy. The beauties of the past are borne, not as a thorn in the flesh, but as a precious gift in themselves. We must take care not to wallow in our memories or to hand ourselves over to them, just as we do not gaze all the time at a valuable present, but only at special times, and apart from these keep it simply as a hidden treasure that is ours for certain. In this way the past gives us lasting joy and strength.
Another point, I am sure it is best not to talk to strangers about our feelings; that only makes matters worse, though we should always be ready to listen to the troubles of others. Above all, we must never give way to self-pity.
...We ought to love God in our lives and in all the blessings he sends us. We should trust him in our lives, so that when our time comes, but not before, we may go to him in love and trust and joy. But, speaking frankly, to long for the transcendent when you are in your wife's arms is, to put it mildly, a lack of taste, and it is certainly not what God expects of us. We ought to find God and love him in the blessings he sends us. If he pleases to grant us some overwhelming earthly bliss, we ought not to try and be more religious than God himself. ...Once a man has found God in his earthly bliss and has thanked him for it, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to remind himself that these earthly pleasures are only transitory, and that it is good for him to accustom himself to the idea of eternity, and there will be many hours in which he can say with all sincerity, "I would that I were home." But everything in its season, and the important thing is to keep step with God, and not get a step or two in front of him.... It is arrogance to want to have everything at once - matrimonial bliss, and the cross, and the heavenly Jerusalem.
In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don't insist on your rights, don't blame each other, don't judge or condemn each other, don't find fault with each other, but take one another as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.
I have just read this in Jean Paul: "The only joys which can stand the fires of adversity are the joys of home." ...I wish you a happy day from the bottom of my heart, and shall be with you in spirit. May your thoughts about me be confined to happy memories of the past and hopes for the future.

07 June 2007

East of Eden quotes, part II

I finished John Steinbeck's East of Eden yesterday, and it immediately became one of my favorite novels - joining the good company of The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, and The Great Gatsby, among others. It is a story of the great tragedies that befall two generations of the Trask and Hamilton families in California's Salinas Valley in the years leading up to and including World War I. As in any great novel, its themes are far larger than any particular time or place: death and rebirth, grief and recovery, family and home, wealth and ethics, racism, love and lust, greatness and mediocrity. It's a big book, but we should be grateful for that because it makes the story last longer. It is a hopeful manual for living that makes the world a bit bigger and clearer for those who take the time to read it.

Here is a second batch of quotes:

And Samuel could remember hearing of a cousin of his mother's in Ireland, a knight and rich and handsome, and anyway shot himself on a silken couch, sitting beside the most beautiful woman in the world who loved him. "There's a capacity for appetite," Samuel said, "that a whole heaven and earth of cake can't satisfy."
A kind of light spread out from her. And everything changed color. And the world opened out. And a day was good to awaken to. And there were no limits to anything. And the people of the world were good and handsome. And I was not afraid any more.
You can start reading if you want and it will raise up your lid a little.
"I don't want advice."
"Nobody does. It's a giver's present. Go through the motions, Adam."
"What motions?"
"Act out being alive, like a play. And after a while, a long while, it will be true."
And finally comes culture, which is entertainment, relaxation, transport out of the pain of living. And culture can be on any level, and is.

The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different facet of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing: the singing, the devotion, the poetry of churches took a man out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels. ... Indeed, if after hearing the ecstatic shrieks of climactic conversion against the thumping beat of the melodeon you had stood under the window of a whorehouse and listened to low decorous voices, you would have been likely to confuse the identities of the two ministries.
Samuel wrote to Joe, saying, "I would have been disappointed if you had not become an atheist, and I read pleasantly that you have, in your age and wisdom, accepted agnosticism the way you'd take a cookie on a full stomach. But I would ask you with all my understanding heart not to try to convert your mother. Your last letter only made her think you are not well. Your mother does not believe there are many ills uncurable by good strong soup. She puts your brave attack on the structure of our civilization down to a stomach ache. It worries her. Her faith is a mountain, and you, my son, haven't even got a shovel yet."
No story has power, nor will it last, unless we feel in ourselves that it is true and true of us.
Lee said, "Remember, Mr. Hamilton, I told you I was trying to translate some old Chinese poetry into English? ...Doing it, I found some of the old things as fresh and clear as this morning. And I wondered why. And, of course, people are only interested in themselves. If a story is not about the hearer he will not listen. And I here make a rule - a great and lasting story is about everyone or it will not last. The strange and foreign is not interesting - only the deeply personal and familiar."
"Why didn't you want the boys to learn Chinese, Adam?"

Adam thought for a moment. "It seems a time for honesty," he said at last. "I guess it was plain jealousy. I gave it another name, but maybe I didn't want them to be able so easily to go way from me in a direction I couldn't follow."

"That's reasonable enough and almost too human," said Samuel.
"Well, it seemed to me that the man who could conceive this great story [Genesis 4] would know exactly what he wanted to say and there would be no confusion in his statement."

"You say 'the man.' Do you then not think this is a divine book written by the inky finger of God?"

"I think the mind that could think this story was a curiously divine mind. We have had a few such minds in China too."
"Any writing which has influenced the thinking and the lives of innumerable people is important. Now, there are many millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, 'Do thou,' and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in 'Thou shalt.' Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But 'Thou mayest'! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he still has the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win." Lee's voice was a chant of triumph.

Adam said, "Do you believe that, Lee?"

"Yes, I do. It is easy out of laziness, out of weakness, to throw oneself into the lap of deity, saying, 'I couldn't help it; the way was set.' But think of the glory of the choice! That makes a man a man. A cat has no choice, a bee must make honey. There's no godliness there. ... Confucius tells men how they shold live to have good and successful lives. But this - this is a ladder to climb to the stars." Lee's eyes shone. "You can never lose that. It cuts the feet from under weakness and cowardliness and laziness."


02 June 2007

Quotes from Steinbeck's "East of Eden"

I'm 180 pages into East of Eden; here are a few of the passages that have caught my attention thus far:

And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.
To Adam who was an instrument, who saw not the future farms but only the torn bellies of fine humans, it was revolting and useless. When he fired his carbine to miss he was committing treason against his unit, and he didn't care. The emotion of nonviolence was building in him until it became a prejudice like any other thought-stultifying prejudice. To inflict any hurt on anything for any purpose became inimical to him.
A thing so triumphantly illogical, so beautifully senseless as an army can't allow a question to weaken it.
It is possible that his virtue lived on a lack of energy.
He lived in a world shining and fresh and as uninspected as Eden on the sixth day. His mind plunged like a colt in a happy pasture, and when later the world put up fences he plunged against the wire, and when the final stockade surrounded him, he plunged right through it and out. And as he was capable of great joy, so did he harbor huge sorrow, so that when his dog died the world ended.
Charles developed a restlessness that got him out at dawn. He worked the farm mightily because he was lonely.
Adam felt that he was sleepwalking. It is a hard thing to leave any deeply routined life, even if you hate it. In the morning he awakened on a split second and lay waiting for reveille. His calves missed the hug of leggings and his throat felt naked without its tight collar.
Adam walked through the dark town, increasing his speed as though his loneliness sniffed along behind him.
Adam said, 'Let me tell you. The proofs that God does not exist are very strong, but in lots of people they are not as strong as the feeling that He does.'
If the Germans had known Olive and had been sensible they would have gone out of their way not to anger her. But they didn't know or they were stupid. When they killed Martin Hopps they lost the war because that made my mother mad and she took out after them. She had liked Martin Hopps. He had never hurt anyone. When they killed him Olive declared war on the German empire.
The Catholic church, first on the scene and deeply dug in, sat in comfortable tradition while the missions were gradually abandoned and their roofs fell in and pigeons roosted on the stripped altars.
Louis said half derisively and half with admiration, 'He's always thinking about how to change things. He's never satisfied with the way they are.'
'My dear,' he said, 'can't you see? You must not destroy life. That's the one thing that gets me crazy. God knows I lose patients because I don't know enough. But I try - I always try. And then I see a deliberate killing.' He talked rapidly on. He dreaded the sick silence between his sentences. ... 'Have you met Mrs. Laurel? She's wasting and crying for a baby. Everything she has or can get she would give to have a baby, and you - you try to stab yours with a knitting needle.'
Perhaps Adam did not see Cathy at all, so lighted was she by his eyes. Burned in his mind was an image of beauty and tenderness, a sweet and holy girl, precious beyond thinking, clean and loving, and that image was Cathy to her husband, and nothing Cathy did or said could warp Adam's Cathy.
A man's mind vagued up a little, for how can you remember the feel of pleasure or pain or choking emotion? You can remember only that you had them. ... Oh, strawberries don't taste as they used to and the thighs of women have lost their clutch!
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing good was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man. ... And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.

[Amazing stuff. More to come.]

01 June 2007

Poems and fragments from yesterday's reading

To You

Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me,
why should you not speak to me?
And why should I not speak to you?

Walt Whitman

From Non Sum Qualis Eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae
[The days when Cynara was queen will not return for me --Catullus]

I cried for madder music and for stronger wine,
But when the feast is finished and the lamps expire,
Then falls thy shadow, Cynara! the night is thine.

Ernest Dowson

From The Hound of Heaven

Across the margent of the world I fled,
And troubled the gold gateways of the stars,
Smiting for shelter on their clangèd bars.

Francis Thompson

From You Who Never Arrived

You, Beloved, who are all
the gardens I have ever gazed at,
longing. An open window
in a country house-, and you almost
stepped out, pensive, to meet me.
Streets that I chanced upon,-
you had just walked down them and vanished.
And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors
were still dizzy with your presence and, startled,
gave back my too-sudden image. Who knows?
perhaps the same bird echoed through both of us
yesterday, seperate, in the evening...

Rainer Maria Rilke (translated by Stephen Mitchell)

From Thus Piteously Love Closed

Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul
When hot for certainties in this our life!

George Meredith

After Great Pain a Formal Feeling Comes

After great pain, a formal feeling comes--
The nerves sit ceremonious, like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions-- was it He that bore?
And yesterday-- or centuries before?

The feet mechanical
Go round a wooden way
Of Ground or Air or Ought, regardless grown,
A quartz contentment like a stone.

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


Out of the night that covers me
Black as the Pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate
How charged with punishment the scroll
I am the Master of my fate
I am the Captain of my soul.

William Earnest Henley

(Most of the poems are from Oscar Williams, ed., A Pocket Book of Modern Verse. Highly recommended.)