Saturday, January 27, 2007

Some Selected Poem Re-Drafts IV


Mountained is my love,
wearing holy fawn-skin,
singing as he slays the goat,
delighting in the flesh.

Mountained in Phrygia is my love,
Bromios, who dancing leads
by milk-rich, wine-flowing streams,
by nectar-wine of bees.


With incense-fume of pine torch,
fragrant on the fennel rod;
running, dancing, hair-streaming,
band-rousing, ever shouting:


Booming timbrels hymn the Bacchic god;
the Phrygian flute of Mother Rhea,
satyr-stolen, it blends with revel,
sweet-graced and most holy,

antheming the wild troops;
mounting up they band and revel,
mountained, they are light of foot,
gambolling like wild foals.


Ashes and Clay

When the wordly wise seem to conquer,
when they scoff at the words on your tongue;
when they treat as though they were nothing
the chants your forefathers had sung;
when they speak as if Delphi's oracle
had told them of all secrets and ends,
as if each word they were speaking
did from great Apollo descend;
then cast off their sophists' deductions
and of their white noise learn to say:
Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses, defenses of clay.

They may take for their fashion the pompous,
or the dismissal of every decree,
or lace every word with a scorning
of things they do not bother to see.
They may boast of their goodness and virtue
or rejoice in their love of the poor
(whom they ignore every day in the passing
but as an abstraction adore).
They may contrast your life with disfavor,
but remember when hounds start to bay:
their maxims are proverbs of ashes;
their defenses, defenses of clay.

They will speak at great length of true justice;
they will condemn you for faults beyond ken;
they will hold you to standards of greatness
beyond the attaining of men.
And when it is done will they love you?
No, they hold you, you alone, to the blame;
for you never did think as they think,
and your name was never their name.
When they do this, be strong and have courage;
a mirror hold up to their way,
for their maxims are proverbs of ashes,
their defenses, defenses of clay.

But beware when you speak to another;
beware of your word and your thought.
For you are not so wise in your knowledge
as never unwise to be caught.
You may speak with great understanding;
you may speak with the wisdom of years,
or know all the paths that the world takes,
or the grounds of each hope and all fears;
but always be mindful of danger,
how someone might face you to say:
"Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses, defenses of clay"!


You have heard that the Phoenix
dies the death of bright fire,
fierce flames of burning,
feeding mortal desire.
You have heard that fine feathers,
red-gold, are thus turned
to ash of black dust
when the Phoenix is burned,
that amid deathly ash
the egg of great price
breaks from the flame
that the Phoenix may rise.
You have heard of all this,
but have you heard that they say
that the Phoenix at morning
sings songs of the Way?
What wonderful songs!
None other compares
in sweetness and glory,
in order most fair!
For the truth is but this:
the Phoenix-made flame
is the falling of morals,
the mixing of names.
But when it comes forth
in a birthing of light,
the Way is returned,
the names are made right
by the voice of its singing,
beyond nightingales:
a sign placed to show us
the Way shall not fail!

Sign of Fire

I too was born under a sign of fire,
driven and riven by the mind's desire,
seeking to ascend by a spiral stair
to the stars that burn with a beauty bare
in a timeless flame only Truth can sire--
I too was born under a sign of fire.

The Garden of the Great Khan

Every tree of the forest is found here,
and a bower for every bright bird,
and the flowers that leap up at the world's end
are faded by these beyond words.
When the sun in its shining blooms fire,
the lilies all bloom in return
with a whiteness, a gold, and a redness
beyond what the sunfire can burn.
The scent of their petals is precious;
it floats around dancers like dreams,
and the dancers that dance to the birdsong
float like the boats in the stream
on a music that Muses must envy
when the horse-spring has flowed from its fount
to inspire the poets and prophets
who camp beneath Parnassus-mount.
Light that leaps down from the angels
reflects here in small pools and ponds
that give way in rippling reverence
to the sadness of sorrowful swans;
and the sweetness of light in that music,
the sweetness it sends to my tongue,
is a taste beyond every honey
of which all the poets have sung,
and its nectar, distilled into power,
is found in the peach on the tree
more fair than the fruits called Undying
in islands beyond the wide sea.

Outside, It Is Night

Outside, it is night;
but I and the raccoons
are going over accounts,
picking out morsels
from cast-off residues.

Would I were a Pangur Bán
hunting for his mouse,
searching out the meaning
of these everlasting words!
Then there'd be a point.

Instead, I stare at the page.
I muse on the words.
I make a few revisions.
And all this little work
leaves me feeling exhausted.

Somehow I find something good;
that's hearteningly true.
But it amazes even me
how absurdly difficult
I can make writing a paper.

Academic writing, like poetry,
is proof that there is a Muse,
a source of inspiration;
it's there or it isn't,
but either way, you have to try.

One always suspects that others
are able to do better.
Some work more consistently,
without this mental stutter,
but I'm not sure it's worth it.

After all, never to be inspired
is in no way a consolation
for lacking the pangs of genius.
That sounds quite good--
this is labor before birth.

Or perhaps it's mental aridity.
Those monks in the desert knew
that sometimes inspiration fails;
and what I have is just that,
aridity. That's good, too.

But then I always wonder
if I'm really just kidding myself.
After all, it sounds pretentious
to talk of Muses, pains of labor,
the aridity of the mind.

I'm pulled both ways.
I can't shake the feeling
that I should be grateful
for this gift of stop-and-start
rather than dull assiduity.

But I also can't shake the feeling
that it's all an excuse,
a self-indulgent pretense
to justify a lack of work
and these empty nighttime efforts.

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