Is there no great love, only tenderness?
Does the sea
Remember the walker upon it?
Meaning leaks from the molecules.
The chimneys of the city breathe, the window sweats,
The children leap in their cots.
The sun blooms, it is a geranium.
The heart has not stopped.
—Sylvia Plath, from “Mystic”
LOST - NOTHING. STRAYED FROM NOWHERE. NO REWARD.
Everything happens so often, that speaking of it makes no sense
And what is it to be young in years and suddenly wakened to the anguish, the urgency of life?
Six Recognitions of the Lord
I lounge on the grass, that’s all. So
simple. Then I lie back until I am
inside the cloud that is just above me
but very high, and shaped like a fish.
Or, perhaps not. Then I enter the place
of not-thinking, not-remembering, not-
wanting. When the blue jay cries out his
riddle, in his carping voice, I return.
But I go back, the threshold is always
near. Over and back, over and back. Then
I rise. Maybe I rub my face as though I
have been asleep. But I have not been
asleep. I have been, as I say, inside
the cloud, or, perhaps, the lily floating
on the water. Then I go back to town,
to my own house, my own life, which has
now become brighter and simpler, some-
where I have never been before.
—Mary Oliver, from her collection Thirst.
True myth may serve for thousands of years as an inexhaustible source of intellectual speculation, religious joy, ethical inquiry, and artistic renewal. The real mystery is not destroyed by reason. The fake one is. You look at it and it vanishes. You look at the Blond Hero — really look — and he turns into a gerbil. But you look at Apollo, and he looks back at you. The poet Rilke looked at a statue of Apollo about fifty years ago, and Apollo spoke to him. “You must change your life,” he said. When true myth rises into consciousness, that is always its message. You must change your life.
Even the most desperate theology does not shed easily, and having just turned thirty, the age of my mother’s death, I still find myself often trying to unravel religion from reality. A co-worker unexpectedly asks if I believe in the Apocalypse, and after so many years, I can’t think of what to say. Religion is a language I no longer know how to speak; all of my creeds run backwards like a river trying to return to its source. I do not believe that my mother was saved by death. I do not believe there are sinners burning alive at the center of the earth. I do not believe this world is not my home. Sometimes I try to imagine what Heaven might be if not simply a place to escape to. I have so recently begun to know the earth, to feel its rhythms in my bloodstream; I can’t help but hope that Heaven is not elsewhere. I want more time to learn how to love these landscapes that have held me. My soul has been too small and the sky is still growing.
―Renée Thorne: ESCAPE FROM HELL: Growing up in fire and brimstone from the new summer issue of Parabola: Heaven and Hell.
Photograph: Girls exploring rock pools - Cameron Bay by State Library of Victoria Collections, 1909
Poetry is sane because it floats so easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion…To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.
Because it thinks by music and image, by story and passion and voice, poetry can do what other forms of thinking cannot: approximate the actual flavor of life, in which subjective and objective become one, in which conceptual mind and the inexpressible presence of things become one.
When I Met My Muse
I glanced at her and took my glasses
off - they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. “I am your own
way of looking at things,” she said. “When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation.” And I took her hand.
“To have imagination and taste, to love the best, to be carried by the contemplation of nature to a vivid faith in the ideal, all this is more, a great deal more, than any science can hope to be. The poets and philosophers who express this aesthetic experience and stimulate the same function in us by their example, do a greater service to mankind and deserve higher honor than the discoveries of historical truths.”