Archive for September, 2009

in the middle of the field
clouds’ shadows prove
they are closer than the trees

Commentary: When I am working on the exquisitely beautiful, 14th century poem, “Pearl,” I always find other beautiful poems and ideas out in the world — all related by the word “pearl.” Today, I found Pearl Pirie’s online chapbook: Page Half-Full Poems. Her haiku, above, struck me because I have been reading haiku every night and writing them ever since I was in Southern California a few weeks ago.

What does it mean not only for our natural life in the world, but our spiritual life within, when the shadows of the clouds are closer than the trees?

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Do you remember as a child
considering the sounds—
how many flutes would overwhelm
a trumpet? Could drown
the bash of a kettledrum?

But you have grown,
alone, and dangling now
from your fingertips
the single flute of all your sorrows
having played it into exhaustion.

As wind skeins off the grassland,
every strand catches the cold
lip-plate and spins
through the silver barrel
in wisps so fine

they have no timbre, tones
too slight to stir dust.
And in the wind,
each thread returns to cross
the flute again, note upon note

until winter-broken grasses
begin to crash against old leaves,
and for the first time
a young bird opens the dark
bell of its throat.

Karsten Piper
from Ruminate #10

Commentary: As a flutist and a bird-watcher, I love this poem. The flute does a have small voice in the overall orchestra, but it can (along with its sister, the piccolo), reach into the highest soprano ranges of sound. It can be piercing. It can be melodically sweet. When a musician plays the flute in its low voice, in the deeper octaves of its range, the audience can barely hear the instrument unless it is singing out a solo. This is such a clear metaphor for the soul, which longs to be heard in silence, no matter how softly she speaks.

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by: Heinrich Heine (1799-1856)

My darling, we sat together,
we two, in our frail boat;
the night was calm o’er the wide sea
whereon we were afloat.

The Specter-Island, the lovely,
lay dim in the moon’s mild glance;
there sounded sweetest music,
there waved the shadowy dance.

It sounded sweeter and sweeter,
it waved there to and fro;
but we slid past forlornly
upon the great sea-flow.

This English translation of “Mein Liebchen, Wir Sassen Zusammen” was composed by James Thomson (1834-1882).

by Heine Heinrich

… Thou little, youthful maiden,
come unto my great heart;
my heart, and the sea and the heaven
are melting away with love!

This English translation of “The Sea Hath its Pearls” was composed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882).

by Heinrich Heine

Ich hatte einst ein schönes Vaterland.
Der Eichenbaum
Wuchs dort so hoch, die Veilchen nickten sanft.
Es war ein Traum.
Das küßte mich auf deutsch, und sprach auf deutsch
(Man glaubt es kaum,
Wie gut es klang) das Wort: »Ich liebe dich!«
Es war ein Traum.


I once had a beautiful fatherland.
The oak
grew there so high, the violets gently nodded.
It was a dream.
It kissed me in German, it spoke in German
(one can hardly believe it,
It sounded so good) the phrase: “I love you!”
It was a dream.

(unknown translator)

From Wikipedia (the entry on “Heinrich Heine”)

“Among the thousands of books burned on Berlin’s Opernplatz in 1933 [by the Nazis] … were works by Heinrich Heine. To commemorate the terrible event, one of the most famous lines of Heine’s 1821 play Almansor was engraved in the ground at the site: “Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen”:

“Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people.”

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The time it takes —
for snowflakes to whiten
distant pines

Lorraine Ellis Harr
in HAIKU MIND (Shambhala, 2008)

Commentary: About five years ago, my family decided to go to Tahoe, making the trek from our home San Francisco Bay Area up north. My father and I drove up in one car, and he was talking to me about SpongeBob Squarepants, a cartoon I had never seen before. (Imagine hearing that cartoon described without ever having seen it!) But as he spoke, I was looking out at the landscape, which was covered with a new-fallen snow.

It amazed me how instantaneously the snow changed the whole world. One moment, everything was ordinary as far as the eye could see. It was simply the end of autumn. The next moment, everything was extraordinary: sparkling, pure white, heaven come down to earth to make a wonderland more beautiful than imagination or memory could have conjured up.

It occurred to me that just as quickly as God can change the landscape, He can change our lives and our hearts. The snowfall of his beauty and grace can transform everything instantly. This was deeply reassuring to me at the time.

For we often find ourselves waiting a long time for God to intervene in our circumstances. Or, if our circumstances are causing us to suffer, it may feel as if the suffering will never end. But there are surprising bridges over troubled waters in our near future.

Beyond them is not only the snowfall, but the spring.

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Outside my window, there is a tree that has lost most of its leaves — an early fall for that tree, I thought weeks ago, when I first noticed. But now, on the bare branches, flowers like daisies are blooming! Beautiful and unexpected in September.

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first light
everything in this room
was already there
~ Christopher Herold

in the deep fires
I saw the way
a peony crumbles
~ Shuson Kato

after the rain
bomb craters filled
with stars
~ John Brandi

from HAIKU MIND by Patricia Donegan
(Boston & London: Shambhala Press, 2008).

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“Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day:
it was the nightingale, and not the lark,
that pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear;
nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree:
believe me, love, it was the nightingale.”

~ Juliet, Romeo & Juliet III.v

“Why should we, in the compass of a pale,
keep law, and form, and due proportion,
showing, as in a model, our firm estate,
when our sea-walled garden, the whole land,
is full of weeds, her fairest flowers choked up,
her fruit-trees all unpruned, her hedges ruin’d,
her knots disorder’d, and her wholesome herbs
swarming with caterpillars?”

~ Servant, King Richard II III.iv

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance: pray, love, remember … and there is for pansies, that’s for thoughts.”

~ Ophelia, Hamlet IV.v

(SF: Chronicle Books, 1994)

Commentary: This lovely little book reproduces selections from Shakespeare’s plays that meditate on flowers alongside pictures of flowers taken from manuscripts and early printed books.

In the selections above, Juliet asks her lover not to leave her and mentions the pomegranate tree, a servant notes how weeds have choked up a sea-walled garden, and Ophelia, with rosemary and pansies in her hands, reminds us to remember and to think in the midst of everything.

My favorite flower is the sunflower because she always turns her face toward the sun … follows that great light across the sky all day … and then waits through the night for dawn to come.

*What is your favorite flower? Why? Do you know of a poem that makes reference to your favorite flower in a beautiful way?

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