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The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats
1919

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Raymond Carver

Luing

When the day comes, as the day surely must,
When it is asked of you and you refuse
to take that lover’s wound again, that cup
of emptiness that is our one completion,

I’d say go here, maybe, to our unsung
innermost isle: Kilda’s antithesis,
yet still with its own tiny stubborn anthem,
its yellow milkwort and its stunted kye.

Leaving the motherland by a two car raft,
the littlest of the fleet, you cross the minch
to find yourself, if anything, now deeper
in her arms than ever; sharing her breath.

Watching the red vans sliding silently
between her hills. In such intimate exile,
who’d believe the burn behind the house
the straitened ocean written on the map?

Here, beside the fordable Atlantic
reborn into a secret candidacy,
the fontanelles reopen one by one
in the palms, then the breastbone and the brow,

Aching at the shearwater’s wail, the rowan
that falls beyond all seasons. One morning
you hover on the threshold, knowing for certain
the first touch of the light will finish you.

Don Paterson
2003

A Woman Cleaning Lentils

A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black. A stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a stone, a lentil, a lentil, a word.
Suddenly a word. A lentil.
A lentil, a word, a word next to another word. A sentence.
A word, a word, a word, a nonsense speech.
Then an old song.
Then an old dream.
A life, another life, a hard life. A lentil. A life.
An easy life. A hard life, Why easy? Why hard?
Lives next to each other. A life. A word. A lentil.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black one, pain.
A green song, a green lentil, a black one, a stone.
A lentil, a stone, a stone, a lentil.

Zahrad (Zareh Yaldizciyan), 1924 – 2007

I discovered this in the cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian.

Midsummer I

The jet bores like a silverfish through volumes of cloud –
clouds that will keep no record of where we have passed,
nor the sea’s mirror, nor the coral busy with its own
culture; they aren’t doors of dissolving stone,
but pages in a damp culture that come apart.
So a hole in their parchment opens, and suddenly, in a vast
dereliction of sunlight, there’s that island known
to the traveller Trollope, and the fellow traveller Froude,
for making nothing. Not even a people. The jet’s shadow
ripples over green jungles as steadily as a minnow
through seaweed. Our sunlight is shared by Rome
and your white paper, Joseph. Here, as everywhere else,
it is the same age. In cities, in settlements of mud,
light has never had epochs. Near the rusty harbor
around Port of Spain bright suburbs fade into words –
Maraval, Diego Martin – the highways long as regrets,
and steeples so tiny you couldn’t hear their bells,
nor the sharp exclamation of whitewashed minarets
from green villages. The lowering window resounds
over pages of earth, the canefields set in stanzas.
Skimming over an ocher swamp like a fast cloud of egrets
are nouns that find their branches as simply as birds.
It comes too fast, this shelving sense of home –
canes rushing the wing, a fence; a world that still stands as
the trundling tires keep shaking and shaking the heart.

Derek Walcott

Easter 1916

I

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

II

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse.
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vain-glorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

III

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter, seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute change.
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim;
And a horse plashes within it
Where long-legged moor-hens dive
And hens to moor-cocks call.
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

IV

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death.
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead.
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse —
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

William Butler Yeats
1916

Strange Meeting

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,—
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand fears that vision’s face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.”
“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . .”

Wilfred Owen
1917

How I Helped The Wise

Have you heard how I helped the wise,
and the elders on their paths to perfection?
And the God-fearing boys so fine to behold
and so young
and their brothers?
I ordered a court prepared for a party
and said: “Let’s spend the day sweetly,
we’Il drink in honour of the parting-to-come;
grief awaits each in his halting;

friendship and energy are sisters.
death and departure — twins.”
So they came to the cushions threaded with scarlet
and splendid embroidery
and flasks and bowls full of nuts
in reach of philanthropists like us;
under the cedars where doves
flirted, fluttering in pairs,
and the furrows filled with the wine of clouds

and drank and sent forth their secrets.
And we were at ease, hearts
unstubborn and free.
Then I sent for Jubal’s son,
who rushed with his harp and perfect lute,
and I cradled my flask,
cut like an almond and studded with jewels.
I called for my family, which came
for the vine’s son, the vineyard’s heir-

in its pitchers deprived of light,
like Tamar,
her widowhood wronged by the law.

And the brimming womb they emptied was boneless.
The vintage prisoner of two
years in the dark
heart of the pitcher was free.
it had aged, and time worn away at its skin,
though its eye was bright as a boy’s blush;

it was fragrant, though not with frankincense,
and seasoned, although without herbs;
it looked like fire
though it poured like water,
and was folly’s embodiment, though it gathered the wise;
it was lighting—with showers to follow:
not the flash of the false alarm.
They poured it across their bodies by night
and went out wise from the cloak of their darkness.

While its glow was imposed
on the brightness of day,
they’d winced looking up to the heaven.
And they held it, though it moved their lips-
though not by threats
or strength of arm.
it spoke within them—although it was still,
and had the guest-list skipping like
fawns, or gazelles.

At once the, felt their wisdom flee,
and their knowledge taken captive entirely.
And their eyes went dim—
as it addressed the ambassador;
and frivolity swayed the sages
with its richness, bouquet, and savour,
and they hid behind their glasses of onyx,
went redder than rubies in a poor man’s hand,
the pitcher’s prisoner— like faces gone flush,

as though it were light
which had brushed their temples and stuck.
They tilted it back, into their throats,
and it rose to the heads of the haughty in power,
and by dusk they were stretching
out on their sides,
as though hit with a hammer in Yael’s hand.
At dawn when they woke not a one could rise,
or raise his head,

as though their feet no longer had toes,
nor their backs
the spines to prop them.
And they said: Who are you and What is this?
and stirred as though sloughing a dream.
And I answered:
listen to words
which friends and enemies alike will attest to;
and they were heard

in every court and up to the gate
and heights of the city,
and no one denies them: I am the heir of Kehat, the remnant of Merari,
men of renown, and excellent craft-
and from my father to
Samuel, Elkanah’s son,
the blood lines cross.
Likewise with Moses, the prophet of God,

who is kin to me.
When the peoples are gathered I’ll
call him my father
and he’ll call me my son.
When the peoples are gathered.
And they who question my lineage will find
their own much flawed.
I have glory and wealth,
though God alone has strength and power;

my songs surpass even those of the Levites,
even those of the close-cropped priests.
Coffers of gold are within my dominion,
and chests of the finest clothes.
In my presence the experts go dumb,
and scholars as though they were guilty.
And they leave with their
lips pressed together
when I pass, their eyes are squinted.

They stand there in silence before me-
even the movers and shakers;
I reveal to them marvellous things, of hidden interests,
“obscure”— and fashion my difficult rhymes,
which know no peer in creation.
But beyond all this, and better.
in as much as I’m able
none of my actions are rooted in anger.
If l’m forced to sin, or sin in secret—

may the Lord forgive me my compulsion and lapse.

Samuel ibn Naghrillah
11th century

Wild geese

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.

Mary Oliver