Temet Nosce (Know Thyself)

This page exists as what used to be known as a "Commonplace Book" for the purpose of maintaining a log of the poetry and philosophy that inspires and propels much of my own thought and writing, and to share, with fellow sojourners, a collection of the beauty and wisdom of kindred souls throughout time. My hope is that we will collectively work towards the goal of a deep and sustaining self-knowledge that will, then, inspire and guide us to pursue beauty, peace and justice in our world.

“He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth.”

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Burning The Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds. 
Notes friends tied to the doorknob, 
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable, 
lists of vegetables, partial poems. 
Orange swirling flame of days, 
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.

~ Naomi Shihab Nye, “Burning the Old Year” from, Words Under the Words: Selected Poems

Monday, December 23, 2013

"In The Storm" by Mary Oliver

Belief isn't always easy. But this much I have learned — if not enough else— to live with my eyes open. I know what everyone wants is a miracle. This wasn't a miracle. Unless, of course, kindness— as now and again some rare person has suggested— is a miracle. As surely it is. ~ Mary Oliver from the poem, "In The Storm"
"It is impossible ever to estimate rightly the essential significance of the Quaker movement without a clear appraisal of the importance of this call to stark sincerity. And this call to sincerity lies at the root of the Quaker attempt to live the simple life. There is no fixed standard of simplicity. What is very simple for one person often seems very complex and extravagant for another person. There is no known calculus of simplicity. Simplicity at its best and truest is this utter honesty of heart and life,this complete sincerity of soul before God and in relation with our fellow men so that we truly struggle to be what we tell God we want to be and what we profess in our social relations to be. A Quaker must get out and keep out of the ruts of duplicity and sham. That is a basic Quaker way of life which gets back to its original spirit."

~ Rufus Jones

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What The Plants Say by Tom Hennen

Tree, give up your secret. How can you be so satisfied? Why
don’t you need to change location, look for a better job, find
prettier scenery, or even want to get away from people?

Grass, you don’t care where you turn up. You appear running
wild in the oat field, out of a crack in a city street. You are
the first word in the vocabulary of the earth. How is it that you
are able to grow so near the lake without falling in? How can
you be so alert for the early frost, bend in the slightest breeze,
and yet be so hard to break that you are still there, quiet, green,
among the ruins of others?

Weed, it is you with your bad reputation that I love the most.
Teach me not to care what anyone has to say about me. Help me
to be in the world for no purpose at all except for the joy of
sunlight and rain. Keep me close to the edge where every wild
thing begins.

~ Tom Hennen, "What The Plants Say"

Monday, December 9, 2013

"Postscript" by Seamus Heaney

"And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open."

~ Seamus Heaney, "Postscript"

"Knowing Nothing" by Tom Hennen

The hole in the landscape is real.
I can walk through it and back again.
Every time I do
My clothes look baggier.
My hair sticks out.
My boots become untied.
My coat unbuttoned.
My education gone.
I don't care anymore how the world thinks.

I only know that the snow
Has reached my knees.

~ Tom Hennen, "Knowing Nothing" from, Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems

Friday, December 6, 2013

I Looked Up

I looked up and there it was
among the green branches of the pitch pines—

thick bird,
a ruffle of fire trailing over the shoulders and down the back—

color of copper, iron, bronze—
lighting up the dark branches of the pine.

What misery to be afraid of death.
What wretchedness, to believe only in what can be proven.

When I made a little sound
it looked at me, then it looked past me.

Then it rose, the wings enormous and opulent,
and, as I said, wreathed in fire.

~ Mary Oliver, "I Looked Up"  from Owls and Other Fantasies. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Blue Iris by Mary Oliver

Now that I’m free to be myself, who am I?

Can’t fly, can’t run, and see how slowly I walk.

Well, I think, I can read books.

”What’s that you’re doing?”
the green-headed fly shouts as it buzzes past.

I close the book.

Well, I can write down words, like these, softly.

“What’s that you’re doing?” whispers the wind, pausing
in a heap just outside the window.

Give me a little time, I say back to its staring, silver face.
It doesn’t happen all of a sudden, you know.

“Doesn’t it?” says the wind, and breaks open, releasing
distillation of blue iris.

And my heart panics not to be, as I long to be,
the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

~ Mary Oliver, "Blue Iris"

Quote from Abraham Lincoln

"Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who know me best that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow."

~ Abraham Lincoln

Now Are The Rough Things Smooth by Mary Oliver

Now are the rough things smooth, and the smooth
things stand in flickering slats, facing the slow tarnish
of sun-fall. Summer is over... 
And therefore the
green is not green anymore but yellow, beige, russet,
rust: all the darknesses are beginning to settle in. And
therefore why pray to permanence, why not pray to
impermanence, to change, to - whatever comes next. 
Willingness is next to godliness.
Once I watched a swallow playing with a feather, high in the blue air.
The swallow wanted to fly and frolic; the feather just
wanted to float. Many times the swallow dropped the
feather, which drifted away, then went diving and
careening after it. There are so many things to do in
this world, and so many things to be done. Right now
I'm glad to be agile and insistent. But, later! Then, I'll
be happy to give up the quick burst, oh darling and important world,
and just float away.

~ Mary Oliver, Now Are The Rough Things Smooth, from What Do We Know, Poems and Prose Poems

Double by Rae Armantrout

So these are the hills of home. Hazy tiers
nearly subliminal. To see them is to see
double, hear bad puns delivered with a wink.
An untoward familiarity.

Rising from my sleep, the road is more
and less the road. Around that bend are pale
houses, pairs of junipers. Then to look
reveals no more.

~ Rae Armantrout, “Double” from Veil: New and Selected Poems.

"The Need For Solitude" quote from Canadian author and Nobel Prize winner in Literature, 2013, Alice Munro

“I loved taking off. In my own house, I seemed to be often looking for a place to hide - sometimes from the children but more often from the jobs to be done and the phone ringing and the sociability of the neighborhood. I wanted to hide so that I could get busy at my real work, which was a sort of wooing of distant parts of myself.” 

~ Alice Munro, Selected Stories

Messenger by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

~ Mary Oliver, "Messenger"

Sailing To Byzantium, by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

~ W.B. Yeats, Sailing To Byzantium

Starting With Little Things by William Stafford

Love the earth like a mole,
fur-near. Nearsighted,
hold close the clods,
their fine-print headlines.
Pat them with soft hands-
Like spades, but pink and loving; they
break rock, nudge giants aside,
affable plow.
Fields are to touch;
each day nuzzle your way.
Tomorrow the world.

~ William Stafford,  Starting With Little Things

Aunt Leaf by Mary Oliver

Needing one, I invented her -
the great-great-aunt dark as hickory
called Shining-Leaf, or Drifting-Cloud
or The-Beauty-of-the-Night.

Dear aunt, I'd call into the leaves,
and she'd rise up, like an old log in a pool,
and whisper in a language only the two of us knew
the word that meant follow,

and we'd travel
cheerful as birds
out of the dusty town and into the trees
where she would change us both into something quicker -
two foxes with black feet,
two snakes green as ribbons,
two shimmering fish - and all day we'd travel.

At day's end she'd leave me back at my own door
with the rest of my family,
who were kind, but solid as wood
and rarely wandered. While she,
old twist of feathers and birch bark,
would walk in circles wide as rain and then
float back

scattering the rags of twilight
on fluttering moth wings;

or she'd slouch from the barn like a gray opossum;

or she'd hang in the milky moonlight
burning like a medallion,

this bone dream, this friend I had to have,
this old woman made out of leaves.

~ Mary Oliver, 'Aunt Leaf'

Fall Wind by William Stafford

Pods of summer crowd around the door;
I take them in the autumn of my hands
Last night I heard the first cold wind outside;
The wind blew soft, and yet I shiver twice:
Once for thin walls, once for the sound of time.

~ William Stafford, "Fall Wind" from "The Way It Is"

Fletcher Oak by Mary Oliver

There is a tree here so beautiful it even has a name. Every
morning, when it is still dark, I stand under its branches.
They flow from the thick and silent trunk. One can’t begin
to imagine their weight. Year after year they reach, they send
out smaller and smaller branches, and bunches of flat green
leaves, to touch the light.

Of course this has consequences. Every year the oak tree fills
with fruit. Just now, since it is September, the acorns are
starting to fall.

I don’t know if I will ever write another poem. I don’t know
if I am going to live for a long time yet, or even for a while.

But I am going to spend my life wisely. I’m going to be happy,
and frivolous, and useful. Every morning, in the dark, I gather
a few acorns and imagine, inside of them, the pale oak trees.
In the spring, when I go away, I’ll take them with me, to my
own country, which is a land of sun and restless ocean and
moist woods. And I’ll dig down, I’ll hide each acorn in a cool
place in the black earth.

To rise like a slow and beautiful poem. To live a long time.

~ 'Fletcher Oak' by Mary Oliver

Saturday, August 31, 2013


Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints,

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done,
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall. 

~ Seamus Heaney, Irish Poet and Nobel Laureate, died 30 August 2013

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Still Life

Now's a good time, before the night comes on,
To praise the loyalty of the vase of flowers
Gracing the parlor table, and the bowl of oranges,
And the book with freckled pages resting on the tablecloth.
To remark how these items aren't conspiring
To pack their bags and move to a place
Where stillness appears to more advantage.
No plan for a heaven above, beyond, or within,
Whose ever-blooming bushes are rustling
In a sea breeze at this very moment.
These things are focusing all their attention
On holding fast as time washes around them.
The flowers in the vase won't come again.
The page of the book beside it, the edge turned down,
Will never be read again for the first time.
The light from the window's angled.
The sun's moving on. That's why the people
Who live in the house are missing.
They're all outside enjoying the light that's left them.
Lucky for them to find when they return
These silent things just as they were.
Night's coming on and they haven't been frightened off.
They haven't once dreamed of going anywhere.
~ Carl Dennis, "Still Life" from Ranking the Wishes

Monday, June 3, 2013

3 June 2013

"Understand that you are part of a great spiritual brotherhood; there is something cheering and soothing in the thought which will make you calm and satisfied."

~ Marcus Aurelius

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I Will Try

will try. 
I will step from the house to see what I see
and hear and I will praise it. 
I did not come into this world
to be comforted. 
I come, like red bird, to sing. 
But I'm not red bird, with his head-mop of flame
and the red triangle of his mouth
full of tongue and whistles, 
but a woman whose love has vanished 
who thinks now, too much, of roots
and the dark places
where everything is simply holding on. 
But this too, I believe, is a place
where God is keeping watch
until we rise, and step forth again and--
but wait. Be still. Listen! 
Is it red bird? Or something
inside myself, singing? 

~ Mary Oliver, "I Will Try" from 'Red Bird'

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Response and Reconciliation"

Life never answers.
It has no ears and doesn't hear us;
it doesn't speak, it has no tongue.
it neither goes nor stays.
we are the ones who speak,
the ones who go,
while we hear from echo to echo, year to year,
our words rolling through a tunnel with no end.
That which we call life
hears itself within us, speaks with our tongues,
and through us, knows itself. 
~ Octavio Paz, from "Response and Reconciliation"

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

This is Water

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” 
David Foster Wallace, This Is Water

Monday, May 20, 2013

Breathe Me In

"Our beautiful planet is wrapped in the protective shield of the atmosphere and beneath this wrap is all the air that ever was. No cosmic cleaning company comes along to replace it every so often. The same ancient air is recycled so that each time we take a breath, we breathe stardust left over from the big bang, air that has circulated through a brontosaurus, air that was breathed by Plato, Mozart and Bach. Every time we fill our lungs, we take in what was a newborn's first breath, and a person's last...the sense of community comes with breathing, the letting go of it all, the truth that we are, indeed, one being in unity with all other beings through time and the entire life of this planet."

~ Annmarie S. Kidder, in her essay, "Solitude"

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Today I'm flying low and I'm
not saying a word.
I'm letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I'm taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I'm traveling
a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

~ Mary Oliver, "Today" from, 'A Thousand Mornings'

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Way In by Linda Hogan

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body.
Sometimes the way in is a song.
But there are three ways in the world: dangerous, wounding,
and beauty.
To enter stone, be water.
To rise through hard earth, be plant
desiring sunlight, believing in water.
To enter fire, be dry.
To enter life, be food. 

~ Linda Hogan, "The Way In"

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Fishing In The Keep Of Silence

There is a hush now while the hills rise up
and God is going to sleep. He trusts the ship
of Heaven to take over and proceed beautifully
as he lies dreaming in the lap of the world.
He knows the owls will guard the sweetness
of the soul in their massive keep of silence,
looking out with eyes open or closed over
the length of Tomales Bay that the egrets
conform to, whitely broad in flight, white
and slim in standing. God, who thinks about
poetry all the time, breathes happily as He
repeats to Himself: there are fish in the net,
lots of fish this time in the net of the heart.

~ Linda Gregg, "Fishing In The Keep Of Silence"
~ For Nadia

I wake and spend
the last hours
of darkness
with  no one

but the moon.
She listens
to my complaints
like the good

companion she is
and comforts me surely
with her light.
But she, like everyone,

has her own life.
So finally I understand
that she has turned away,
is no longer listening.

She wants me
to refold myself
into my own life.
And, bending close,

as we all dream of doing,
she rows with her white arms
through the dark water
which she adores.

~ Mary Oliver, "Moon and Water"