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

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