Along the bramble-path,

past the wolf's eye, a moon-tear:

others have seen. Your shadow

irradiates the world,

those who silenced you, the faithful,

have heard your song in the twilight,

Lilith rides the Red Heifer

into their dreams,

round her shaven head

flames the corona.


The tears, again,

each one a world,

for the song whose gentle note ignites holocausts,

for the burnings

in the midst of which the soul,

if G-d is just, must


for the rose

that costs more than riches:

these have my sisters seen in the candleshine.


Their muteness, later,

the seventh day, and afterward,

while the children

pour from the Song of Glory

and fill the world, groping

along bramble-paths, by the light

of those eyes within the corona,

behind day,

behind night,










Surely you too have seen

rakkefet,  flowering in crevices

between stones, in Yerushalayim,

in late winter, early

spring, the petals

pale, then seeming to deepen

their tinge of purple as days lengthen

though leaves, heart-shaped, tatter

and rain spatters them with dust:

the stalks stand together, small

figures with heads down, their dawn-

colored hair streaming upwards

as in a mighty wind from beneath the earth.


O you who have shown me

such things, and whose names I here

enumerate, in fives, like these

corollas, and scatter on silence:

may this word, your word

take root, and may some spring

flower us together, that we stand

under mild suns, turning still around each other,

like this rakkefet's earthbound







[a fragment]


Has then the night no messengers for me?

Is there no voice to go to her and say

what my too trembling hand perhaps obscured,

no angel to appear behind locked doors,

saying "fear not"? Is the hand closed that strewed

my path with signs, to warn and reassure,

and cannot set before her one small thing

to speak of me?  Has this holy city

no stones to cry out as she passes by?

And you, whom I felt move behind this world,

the echoes of whose footsteps I have followed

beyond the mortal gate, who spoke to me

when I despaired, to say you were still there?

Can you not go and gently touch her life,

tell her that you are more than a remembrance,

speak to her of me, as of some comfort? ...

I grieve that hates so easily conjoin,

and evil wills soon reach an understanding,

while love is fenced from love by its own will,

and hands that yearn can seldom join to save.

I, an unheard lament, dwell in the world











Now Jonah writes from Nineveh that he's having a good                                                                                                                 time.

There is quite a lot to see and do; the climate's warm, but                                                                                                                  fine.

There were certain things he saw at first that kind of                                                                                      freaked him out,

But you can't go around down all the time; that's not what                                                                                        life is all about.


Yes, when he got here, just out of the fish, he tried to spread                                                                                                                  the word,

He tried to tell the people how they were living was absurd.

He prophesied destruction, but he found nobody cared,

And he came to see their point of view, though sometimes at                                                                        night he's still kind of scared.


One day someone heard him preaching and said, "Come work                                                                                               for  me.

You have got something that we all need, it's called                                                                                                         integrity.

But you've got to know how to sell it, or it won't do any                                                                                                            good."

And Jonah thought it over, and he said he guessed he would.


From that time on he did all right, just living day by day.

He found you can be effective, if you just don't try to have                                                                                            things your way;

And Jonah's writing a book now, it soon will be on sale,

And everybody wants to read what it's like being inside of a                                                                                                              whale.


Now this story has no moral, so don't even look for one.

In the end it really all depends on what you consider fun.

The wicked city it still stands, as I'm sure you’re all aware,

And if you want to go and live there, well -- I guess that's                                                                                                      your affair.












I would not want to grow rich here

nothing could be poorer than these hills

balding to limestone

nor to decorate a house

rather this room's gray walls

like a hamsin sky


the people too

grow plain as the stones

I shall become like them


and the words remain external

something you put on each morning

and take off again at night

or if inward

a fading of images from elsewhere



I do not want to learn here

only to merge with the sorrow

of her darkest streets










                                                from the Hebrew of Simon Halkin


How dear you are to me, O outcast soul of man,

how lovely in my sight, here in this exile,

where none can spy out your deformities

nor follow, alien and arrogant,

the stunning tortuosities of your chasm.

How well I know them, soul, how well I know them,

those prying eyes, so open and so sealed!


They saw you shaken -- their gleam exuded cold.

Your maimedness, still a riddle, even to you,

glittered, a frost that stupefied their greyness.

Cruel to your nakedness, you stood before them,

exposed to the salvation of their gaze,

and they, like to a mist that madly roils

and melts away, looked on your nakedness!

Alas, you begged at dead men's doors, and waited

with mummies for the dew of resurrection,

when you aspired to snare a passing glance,

that it might linger and behold one moment

what was laid bare in you, a joy accursed:

pain, mingled with the splendor of the silenced!

Despised and sweet, my miserable darling,

a little girl among the barren harlots,

vainly you cried your beauty, stuttering,

like to a pedlar-woman in the market,

heavy of speech and burdened with disgrace.

Who heard your stutterings, felt your disgrace?

The play of pallor and of crimson flush

in your complexion who discerned, poor thing?

Were there not times when even I stored hate

against your muteness, never comprehended?

Did not even I at times, in cruel tempest

against what lay so obdurately concealed,

long to tear your veil from you, as if

thus to expose to view that nakedness,

itself a lie, veiled, as it were, in you.


Yet now I'll show you mercy, outcast one:

in your disgrace, your silence, you are mine.

In exile, with no stranger by us now

to rule us with the fear of his cold gaze,

you shall confide in me, we shall unite.

I shall behold the heaps of your dark ore,

its gold no longer dimmed for me by dross.

I shall give ear to your primordial sadness,

your formless sorrow I will not deny.

These grey and ancient rocks my soul, are strewn,

like princes of the spirit, on this mountain

and valley floor. Let us go out to them

and in their dark clefts utter our lament;

to their still heart-voice let us lend our ear,

that we may learn from them a moveless life;

for they have taken everything around them

into their fullness which cannot be known.

Magnanimous are these rocks to you, O soul!

The silence of their life, an eye that sees

and is not seen, an ear alert to listen

from deep concealment, and a hidden heart --

deaf and exalted, it will surely answer

the wingbeat of an autumn butterfly,

the shadow of an alien bird flung northward,

the seeping from a bent and wind-stripped bush,

the muteness of the outcast soul of man.


These rocks, my sister and my bride, my soul,

will hide us, we shall sink into their night.

Their wrinkled folds are marks of birth, their beauty

lives sealed as in their childhood, and they know

and live it in their rigidness, the splendor

of their oblivion is unceasing song.




O my grey rocks! It is not man I flee,

for who would flee the sorrow of a thing

so downcast and forlorn? Nor do I make

complaint of man, that he has turned from me;

how should the pine-tree on the northern slope

complain of futile longing for the palm

that faints among the deserts of the south?

It is a stern decree of God for man

that pain should weight on brothers all alike,

yet brother not know brother in his pain;

that every soul should long for its companion,

yet longing fall forever short of grasp;

and even though one soul should kiss another

for one brief moment, never in that moment

may it be kissed by the other in return.

And if I stand here in accusing prayer

before you, rocks so mutely rich, it is

the prayer of one bewildered beyond prayer

I pour into your ears that understand

such murmurings: the prayer of all men, struggling

in muteness, orphaned generation following

on orphaned generation, I entrust

to the deep understanding of your crannies.

Each heart has its own mute and separate grief,

and yet the mother of all griefs is one:

the prison of silence that confines the soul.


O my grey rocks, my grey, my graceful ones!

You will not thrust me from you.  I will ponder

with you by day upon the undefined,

confide, like you, my being to the night.

I will lie down in your moist echoing clefts,

call soft your bosom's sharp cold edges, breathe

the coolness of your tender scentless moss,

and learn from you to slake my thirst in secret

from the autumn azure, open as eye,

from the gloom of the sky as it goes blind.

I'll lose myself with you in wastes of twilight,

playing a twilight game of consolation,

stumbling upon the outcast soul of man;

the interpretation of the darkening silence

I'll drink with you to still a thirsting soul

which the creating kiss of God ensnared.


The creating kiss of God ensnared my soul,

implanted in my soul its own deep thirst,

that it should long for all that it beholds,

and yet yearn, for the holiness of beauty,

to change all it beholds.  The green of spring,

the whitening gaze of dying eyes, the smile

of wondering love that curves a young girl's lip,

a raven's croak in dusk somewhere unseen --

All these beseeched my soul: swallow us up,

tell of our beauty! And my soul swallowed up

all that surrounded it, till the oppression

of life's immured mystery entered into her,

was buried in her.  A dear and speechless burden,

a foetus in its mother's womb, that richness

shuddered within the soul that, filled to choking,

travailed and could not bring her burden forth.

For with his kiss God caused her to inherit

the hunger that was his; but he withheld

from her the strength to satisfy that hunger.

O soul -- rich, yet the poorest of the poor!

O human soul, drenched like a field with blessings

of dew and light from heaven, yet vainly waiting

for that one drop of miracle to fall

upon the treasures of its seed, that they

might sprout, be lifted towards the gazing sun.

A magic spark the heart of man entreated,

a spark that might ignite the smoldering heart

till it became a singing conflagration

whose flashings turn the very night to splendor --

And spark there is none.  The heart is sealed, daubed shut,

and cannot leap beyond its mute confines;

it cannot bend the knee, nor force the cry

of "Holy" from man's throat.  In fields of spring

filled with the rustlings of all intuition,

in time of melting snow, the spark is sought,

and in the longing after woman's love,

and in the dream of striving generations

that climb and pass from sight -- yet what is sought

is never found, and song itself is helpless

to break the fetters of the mystery.


Grey rocks of mine! What do you know of this,

the grief of song that cannot save from darkness?

I have known the blessing of the tender azure,

veiled in a muslin of transparent clouds,

a feathery birch.  To all ends of the sky

the azure reached, was woven, flock by flock,

into the heart of heaven, and showed down

its alms, spring's blessing.  And the land around,

an earth of trusting and believing fields,

laid bare its thawing furrows, black with fatness

beneath the melting snow: our mother Earth

joyfully giving suck from age to age.

O ragged mother offering your full breast,

how my soul pines for your secure embrace,

how my soul craves the eternal faith you hold!

break forth, song of the universe, that knits

in me! Hymn of annunciation

that throbs, that shakes the heart of me, break forth!

Silence.  My soul within me melts away,

is lost,  The universal song is mute.


And I have hearkened to the song of ascents

that streams from man's heart through all generations

while he strives to ascend the mountain peak,

stumbling upon the obstacle-strewn road,

rising and going on.  And high above them

the peak, a radiance that cannot dim,

beams and beckons to the few that go

before the throng that crawls along, dismayed,

confused, like frightened sheep that have grown weary

amid the sandy plains: the herds of men

are led along, up to the mountain's foot,

but cannot lift up their bewildered eyes

to where the mountain's summit beams and beckons;

they turn their weary heads around and gaze

in the disconsolate sorrow of farewell

back toward the desert plains through which they passed.

Of little faith, they plod along like mourners

behind their leaders, and their eyes are full

of treacherous murmurings against the few

who with sure step and with straightforward gaze

have set their feet upon the mountain slopes

and between crags go skirting the abyss,

like sons of giants among the human sheep,

to blaze a pathway for the stumbling throng.

The distance widens now between the climbers

and those of erring heart who in their thousands

go groping on the path of their confusion

and, hesitant, ascend against their will.

The distance widens, stretches out between them,

until I see the herds of men all tottering,

stumbling and falling in a straggling line

on slopes, in valleys, in the plains of sand --

until I see the few that climb ahead

halting their climb and turning back a moment.

O song of man's ascent past the abyss!

One moment stand those strong ones, gazing back

on those who stumble there, by cliff and crag,

and fall, each man's hand raised against his neighbor --

and all at once those who ascend tear forth

their hearts from out their breast, for burning torches,

a signal fire upraised before the eyes

of the stumblers down there, shedding forth a splendor

unquenchable as the dawn, that beams and beckons:

Near is the mountain summit, within reach!

O song of man's ascent past the abyss,

grant me to be a mouth to you, O song!

Your might has filled me till I burst in flames,

your fire I have drunk in until I choke.

Silence. My soul within me melts away,

is lost.  The song of man has ceased, is mute.

And what, my grey rocks, what is woman, that

my soul should tune its strings to her, as if

it were a harp which unknown fingers play?

And what the living God in me, whose goodness

I praise both day and night to win His mercy,

and day and night, as one whose strength fails, fling

words toward him: O my God, my unknown God!

Take from me, I pray, these frozen riches,

take from me this desire to turn to beauty

all that I feel in me, and feel in you,

this storm that rage is in my blood and finds

no peace save in an outcry?  And God's wonder,

silent and wakeful, comes to me again

to quench my soul's thirst with more thirst, and muteness;

and woman's eye, where love and sadness dwell,

still longs to comprehend, and never can.

The prison of silence, where each soul's confined --

who knows that prison, my God, as I have known it?

Rocks great in lovingkindness, to your clefts

I have brought this day my weary soul.  May she

learn at your knees to take delight in silence,

learn at your knees that frozenness is joy.

Wrap her in shadows, princes of the spirit,

refresh her with your hues, that bloom in cold!

Though she is but a child that does not know

how to grow up, accept her as your child,

so that her sobs may slowly die away

in the desertion of your clefts, at nightfall,

the wing of the Shekhinah bring her sleep

within your bosom, deep sleep fall on her

in your dream-strewn captivity; may she find

in you the interpretation of her dream.

Soft be your teats to her! In prophecy

and in sweet revelation my she clasp you,

whispering, My mountains, O my lovely mountains . . .




A single seed, winnowed from mouldering heap

that it at least may live, carrying with it

the future harvest in a distant land,

I have fled from man, who wallows in man's blood,

who kills, whose soul is faint with love of killing!

Blood, blood, blood.  And only I am undefiled,

I and these disconsolate rocks around me.

Why do I vainly weep for man's shed blood?

What moves my soul with longing to return

to her uncleanness?  How shall I return

while yet love's law is mute in me? descend,

while yet my hand is powerless to lift up

my falling brothers? Woe is me, their lewdness

has grown so dark that no song can redeem therm --

woe is me, for there is in me no song

that could redeem them.  Would I had God's strength

to purify my brothers and redeem them,

or else that my own purity would perish

so that I could defile myself with blood,

become as one of those unknowing mourners,

and holiness in me no more bewail

the victims! Woe is me, that I love man,

woe is me, that I long for holiness!


Leaves blanched by frost and blasted by the wind

and seized as if by thought, come to me now,

trembling as if with understanding, come!

The bitter torrents of the rains have torn you,

the tameless whirlwind ferried you to me,

the wanderer, bewildered, hid in cleft

of rock: I bid you welcome, rest with me!

The living dead are you, that gaze on death,

and I am blind: I know not my own soul.

The hard rains struck you, tore you from the tree,

and ere you settled here among the rocks,

how far you saw, to what heights you ascended

in grey-veiled space! How far and wide you saw,

you visionary dead, that mutely, mutely

you have returned to earth here, seized by thought,

embracing mystery, at last consenting,

forbidding not the wind to set you down,

refusing not to fall discarded here!

As for my soul, it is yet linked with life,

bound up with all the souls of all my brothers:

I fear -- O how I fear -- my future fall;

I fear the future autumn-time of man.

Rest here beside me, leaves that gaze on death!

Your thin backs shivering in the chill, your rustlings --

for these my heart has some interpretation:


            "Who we are we do not know,

              know not what our lives may be;

            only this we know: our days

              lengthen to eternity.


            Tremors of a hidden life

              wandered, wander, and once more

            will be plucked up, take on new form,

              and be stripped to bare life's core.


            Tremors of a hidden life

              wandered, wander and again,

            till they have found a new disguise,

              wander, seeing and unseen.


            And when they've put their new clothes on,

              they are seen, but no more seeing:

            they with their disguise are one,

              as in fixed and stable being.


            And in disguise the souls congeal:

              fixed and rigid, blind and cold,

            each makes its littleness its all,

              hides itself within its folds.


            And thus wrapped up in littleness,

              enfolded, hidden and secure,

            each yearns for liberty -- yet less

              than it holds its fetters dear . . . "


Who are you, soul of man that yearns -- who are you?

What is your thirst for holiness, for man?


            "Tremors of a hidden life,

              strayed and straying, evermore

            to be plucked up, and find new dress,

              and be stripped to bare life's core.


            And see: a timorous cricket hid

              in the wood, a cloud, a leaf,

            a foaming wave, a flowing spring,

              a soul of man consumed by grief.


            And all, all of them are naught

              but these tremors deep-entombed,

            sparks of life that found new dress

              and are now immured, embalmed.


            Even as it strays, the soul

              congeals, still living, and goes blind,

            condemned to long for liberty

              even while it seeks to be confined.



            Yes, it will grieve lost liberty,

              yet love its garment wondrous well,

            until its garment comes to seem,

              although a jail, the choicest cell.


            And from their prison none break out:

              the atom of life, the secret spark

            weeps without voice, with none to hear,

              like a convict in the dark.


            And suddenly the door's flung wide,

              and, all reluctant, forth they go --

            plucked up once more, against their will,

              they stray and wander to and fro.


            Tremors of life they are, no more,

              condemned to long eternally:

            first they long for prison cell,

              then they struggle to break free. . . "




Open your gates, my soul, and let the glory

of your spring enter in! O drenched in mourning,

open your gates and let the spring descend

upon your plains with all their generous seed,

the sun embrace you: O appointed spouse!


Open your gates, my soul, and let the glory

of your spring enter in! The living God --

Listen! -- knocks softly at your door and whispers:

Let me in, let me in to your recesses

to dwell there in eternal love, and spread

my wings within your refuge, soul of man!

The living God, the mighty one, seeks shelter

in you, seeks shelter in a merciful soul:

Open your gates, my soul, and let him in!


Bow down, my soul, bow low and bend the knee,

master your trembling, open-eyed, and say:

God of wonders, Lord of life, here am I!

You called me -- weak and trembling, now I stand

before you, God.  Who am I, how have I

deserved to come before you? Who am I

that you should seek a sanctuary in me?

And the merciful living God, who thirsts for mercy,

will slowly enter into your recesses,

my soul, without your knowing -- as the image

of the beloved steals into the heart

of the unknowing lover, till he wakes

and deep within him feels the silence quivering

with mute and pining melodies, that die

away and, fainting, wake unending waves.


And as he enters your recesses, soul,

whisper to him: My God, I pray, forgive me

for that I love my life, my prison-dwelling,

and fear the day when I must leave my prison

and shed the outworn garment of my life.

I and my littleness -- what are we but sounds,

notes in your wakeful playing, floating isles

bathed in the ocean of your life, adrift

upon the ever-swelling tide of dreams?

Forgive, I pray, this isle, this merest islet

which loves the small circumference of its shores

so much that it forgets its father ocean.

forgive the soul that loves its prison walls

and fears the day its prison will be opened.

And then the living God will gently laugh:

I did not know that you had sinned against me

by loving the dark beauty of your prison.

You and your prison, both, are dreams of mine,

I am the dreamer and I am the dream,

and all my dreams are precious in my sight:

you, and your prison's pain, are dear to me.

And while you pray for my forgiveness, I

within you likewise pray for your forgiveness,

and I am the forgiver, even I.

Sing, soul of man, for you are purified,

you shall descend to man, and I with you,

your being shall be radiant with God's beams;

and know: if man bows down to you, he bows

only to the divinity within you;

but if he turns away from you, it is

that he has not yet beheld your God.

And do not mourn, nor feel yourself as orphaned:

the pain of man is God's pain, but as yet

the pain of God has not become man's pain.

Sing, soul of man, for you are purified,

you shall descend to man, with God in you.


Great with love and compassion, you shall stand

where he has set you, and shall keep your vigil:

a day will come when every single soul

will heart to God's soft knocking at her gates:

Let me in, let me in to your recesses

to dwell there in eternal love, and spread

my wings within your refuge, soul of man.

And every single soul will yet throw open

her gates, and be a refuge for her God,

a basin for the ocean of his dream

whose tide's forever at the full.

                                                                                    Yet silent

now, not pressing for the end of wonders,

you stand where he has set you, keeping vigil,

sustained by hope till your relief arrives:

another human soul will take your post,

your sister, future's child, will come, although

you will not know her coming, nor she you.

And after her still other souls will come

to keep the vigil for their generations,

hoping, like you, to see the end of wonders,

the eternal spring when every single soul

will open to become a tabernacle

for the living God, will widen to contain

the waters of the ocean of his dream,

full to the vast horizon's edge for ever.


                                                                                    translated 1982






                                    I am a memory come to life.

                                                            -- Franz Kafka


            Among these stones, both ancient and new-quarried,

one substance underneath the dark and light

of varying time, bespeaking the one source

to which I have returned (I say returned,

  5  though I know none whose blood is in my veins

that walked here, yet here certain words were written

from which, though mingled and transformed, descended

this more-than-life) I, Beatrice, pass,

living and yet a shade, a dream undreamt,

 10  like her whom Faust waked from unfathomed sleep

to hear her own life told, a stranger's tale,

yet unlike her, much praised and not desired,

not maddening men to burn each other's cities,

but shunned by them, as weeping at mid-day.

 15  And not for a magician's brief delight

was I awakened, if the murmuring voice

that pierced my sleep of formless dreams spoke true,

but . . . I know not.  To grope, to wander here,

to stand beneath the closed skies which they say

 20  were once Your face, to sit at Your sealed gates,

to lift up Wisdom's voice, and be called Fool,

to see You, or to be forever blind

among a blind race groping toward its doom.


How long, how long, O Father of all wisdom,

 25  sole guardian of the knowledge stored for men,

how long have I been wandering in this world?

When did my feet first leave upon its dust

their traces, soon effaced? when did my voice

first echo and die out among its stone,

 30  when were my eyes first lifted to its stars

to ask if they remembered my high parentage

and knew me still? outside whose fast-shut door

did knowledge of Your ban first come to me?

Was I that Helen Simon Magus found

 35  (as evil tongues told) in a stew in Tyre,

whom he, who called himself as You, proclaimed

his own First Thought, that ere time was leaped out

and in the nether realms gave birth to those

who, being ignorant of the Father, still

 40  hold her captive in their jealousy

so she cannot return, but ever again

is held a prisoner in a female body

suffering humiliation? Methinks I see

myself stand in the market, a wordless show,

 45  while he, half barker and half preacher, speaks

a tale some priest preserved to rail against.

And had he who first penned the praise of Wisdom

once glimpsed me here, in street or palace hall?

Was it even to my footsteps Orpheus tuned

 50  the lyre that beasts and trees and stones obeyed?

Was I indeed the form that Dante glimpsed

in the dark streets of a barbarian town,

did I return his glance, and know he knew,

did I receive him in the World of Truth,

 55  my rightful home,

with those companions gathered from all time

beneath Your primal light, in the great Rose

where now my place is vacant, I being banished,

though for what fault there, where no trees can grow,

 60  or for what task here, where no hope can spring,

no thought divines . . . ?  I have no memory;

all these are strangers' tales.  Only the voice

that murmuring woke me, gave me the name again,

and when I read, methought I knew

 65  the gestures and the keen, delighted speech

woven of swift thought, the gaze upturned in gladness

or downward in indignant sorrow bent,

the joy in that creation which I was,

reflection of the Creator's greater joy --

 70  Riguarda qual son io! -- these things were mine,

this was myself, before the woeful change

and for the first brief moment of recall.

This was the form that hatred has bowed down,

this was the joy that envy brought to dust,

 75  and this, ah this, the spirit that was seen

in the dark forest like a distant light,

for which spoke reason, among the woeful people

who have lost the good of the intelligence.

O poets! vain and unbelieving race,

 80  so puffed up with the pride of mere invention

that none can see what his companion sees,

nor hear when his companion speaks the truth,

nor love with a whole heart what was before him:

therefore the Word is as a window painted

 85  with opaque semblance of what lies beyond,

and therefore none since Dante entered Paradise

except the last, who cast a look and died.


Think not, O builder of the visible

and the invisible worlds, I think to break

 90  by speaking here, the bars, not forged by man,

that fenced me even from the one who called me

while yet he lived, and now that he is hidden

are more the barrier than death itself.

It was a mortal hope, although the best:

 95  that grief for all he was might blaze a path

through the blind hearts of men, for me to pass;

that in the world lived scattered souls like mine,

of his love's will co-hearers and co-heirs,

known with me, and to each other known,

100  who, meeting in his setting sun's last rays,

might for our life on earth devise a form

that should become our oneness, and prepare

for those who spring from us, a world not dark

with war and ignorance, a little space

105  for wise play under the eternal eye.

O reverie of an over-learned child!

Not the dark might of armies, nor the snarl

of the human beast, dispelled thy golden gleam,

but the withdrawal of extended hands

110  in hope's last stronghold, here.  The wisest and the best,

and among those the wisest and the best,

counselled me to renounce my word's high aim

and play the fool to those who sell the word,

to make my peace with falsehood, act a part

115  in the weary play which surely none believes

but all keep up, as if 'twere life itself.

And against this avail, I know, no tears,

no reasonings, and no melodious song,

no warnings, no impassioned stern rebuke,

120  neither his name, nor any one of Yours.

Even their kindness is but mockery:

they see me, then they see me not; they see

in me that part which they themselves have chosen

and minister to that.  And I, alas,

125  from human need beg and betray myself

till I seem a worse fool than all the rest

and take at last from their contemptuous hands

the portion I could not accept from Yours:

the solitude, the obscure and lowly path.

130  So be it.  Only let me learn at last

the wisdom I myself pronounced on high

and not, more foolish than a fledgling bird,

mist by the first arrow, await the second.

Since the most just among the living could

135  not judge my cause, let me not then appeal

to lesser hearts; and if indeed You hear,

then hear it not as prayer, but as the song

of one in prison, as the words of one

who seeks not to appeal, only to be.

140  These make me present to myself, these bring

the dark chaotic world into my ken,

these make illumined spaces in the dark

and gird the world I sought to fashion here

in the vast spaces of nonentity.


145  Yet even now my mind entreats to know

why I was sent here in this midnight hour,

drawn forth with words and driven forth with violence,

to the sore-troubled remnant of Your people

who in their need of Wisdom's grace yet find

150  my consolation harsher than their ills.

Your very Law forbids them hear my song;

custom would have me serve, and speak no word;

and how should I, a stranger still, rebuke them

over the blood of their kin, shed by mine?

155  Had you but left me in my mother's house

and in my mother's mother's house, continuing

in word and deed the song that gave me birth:

had You but left me hands, to do some kindness,

and hearts to echo what you placed upon my tongue,

160  surely my will was peace, and would have reached

to these, even here.  But You have cast me out:

my people know the song, the name no more,

what mercy was in them -- it was but little,

but scattered islands in a cruel sea --

165  they have cast forth.  Violence rules utterly,

the truthful word is voiceless now among them.

The peace of home, the mother's sheltering arms are mocked;

the hounds of envy, cruelty and lust

are set on beauty, love and wisdom; then

170  oblivion swallows up their memory

lest any should, remembering, feel remorse;

the blood of innocence is sold for gain.

I have no name and no memorial there.

In grief for sisters vilely slain I call

175  to those who mourn here what my people did

to strangers, ere they turned against their own --

They do not hear.  Being gathered from destruction

they mourn their own dead, guard what life remains,

they build against the hate that builds without,

180  by guilt unchecked, by sorrow unappeased --

O God, they speak of miracles, yet none believes:

the seas divided not for those most innocent;

dreadful are Your designings, if design

they are.  I know that there are tribes of men

185  in hate begotten, without a spark of faith,

who live by killing, for the joy of causing pain;

these shall inherit earth.  Woe to the last

seed of the just, that shall be born among them!


O chains of fate! I see their entanglements,

190  I see their twistings, back through generations,

I see how that has come to pass which is,

and what must be, if these same laws prevail.

I see the one point where the whole is fettered,

but do not hold the key, nor have the strength,

195  to break those chains, even at their weakest point.

I see, far back, the naked seed of life,

scarcely escaped from the inanimate

or in it still, like a candle in the wind,

already binding to its preservation

200  the missiles launched against it; building shells,

forms that have left their impress even in stone,

organs, limbs, till the first form's blind will

became a flame of cunning, fed and shielded

by ever ampler provender, higher domes,

205  until at last it built itself a shelter

even beneath the heart of its own kind,

enlarged itself to shelter more than self,

and love and grief with the first young were born.

And ever wider compass sought the mind

210  in which to play and keep itself from harm,

houses and camps and circles of the wise,

and all the arts by which man's world is framed,

until was cast the mirror of the spirit

in which life saw itself, and knew itself

215  as image of a larger will and purpose.

And last the dream: that from the mirror stepped

the image into the arms of that which cast it --

so life returned, and its long journey was

a tale to while away eternity --

220  But all that light cast shadows long and dark,

and every peace was bought with greater pain;

the smiles of child and mother brought the hand

grown cruel with feeding and protecting them,

possessing that in which it had no share;

225  the hand that fought against itself and grew

more cruel with every victory, proclaimed

itself its only purpose, forced mind and love

into its service, bred itself a world

in which inanimate force once more was aimed

230  at all life had created, and struck true,

guided by life's own knowledge of itself --

a world as dark and merciless as the void

from which life sprang, to which it must return --

So it must end.  The spirit was -- was not.

235  A signal-fire from a world consumed in strife,

signs that meant briefly love and peace and honor,

whose meanings melt like the tender mist of flesh

while the letters, and the bones of law, remain,

and even my barren course must bear it out.

240  Law without justice! mock me, if you can!

Say that in every generation some

knew of the hand, and covered up the breast,

only to leave the world to fiercer broods

of those conceived by violence and deceit;

245  their words none heeded in the rut and bloodlust,

their sacrificed inheritance none grieved,

so that the light they saw by did but thicken

the dark in which the others struggled on.

Accuse me thus, and mock us all together,

250  O serpent Time! for if the spirit's nothing,

who then can mourn which way the flesh is driven?


Had You but led me to Your covenant

with gentle hand, I might have learned to live

            in silent peace with those whose fathers saw

255  Your glory tear the curtain of the world

and heard their King's voice overthrowing all

man's power, yet granting him a little space

in which to live, and exercise his sway --

saying, "Thus far, no farther" to the tides

260  of violence which would destroy the world:

with these, that lived to witness against kings,

I might have lived and given life, transmitting

the memory of Eternity through time.

-- You did not will it.  From the sheltering home

265  I stepped into a world that knew no law

but that of might, no code except betrayal,

a prison-world whose reasons chained my mind

and made me doubt my soul, and long for madness.

Before me vainly human love was praised:

270  shunned and despised I lingered among men,

and only strange dreams visited my cell,

bringing the air of lands beyond despair,

and vanished, leaving words half-understood,

images unexplained.  Till he appeared

275  whose tokens they had been: the prince of song,

the orphan child of Israel's greatest woe.

He too had grieved in exile, and had seen

in dreams the one prepared to comprehend him;

had called me by a name none spoke in earnest

280  these seven hundred years, to rise and shine for men.

Not earthly love, he offered, nor I gave;

cold was our meeting-place, beyond this world;

only when he had set could I arise

and sing the song of praise and grief in one.


285  Then, only then, did I acknowledge You,

believe that You are King, and men are fools

pursuing Time's decoys, while from the door

they shun to enter, beckons eternal joy.

Then did I laugh at Time, and men's designs,

290  at Death itself, whose power they uphold --

were not the laws of Might a crumbled tower?

Surely now all would wake at last, and hear

their names, and issue from their hiding-places

in the mechanic thicket of man's world;

295  now they would call to each other, and make plain

the paths through Your creation, once so fair,

and gather in Your presence and each other's

to speak the spell of reconciliation

as I once heard:

                                                "We gather here to see

300  faces from which we need not hide our face,

to hear the sound of honest speech, to share

what dreams have etched upon the sleeping brain,

what the still voice has said, when heavy hours

plunged us to regions of the mind and life

305  not mentioned in the marketplace: to find

and match the threads of common destinies,

designs grimed over by our thoughtless life --

A sanctuary for the common mind

we seek.  Not to compete, but to compare

310  what we have seen and learned, and to look back

from here upon that world where tangled minds

create the problems they attempt to solve

by doubting one another, doubting love,

the wise imagination, and the word.

315  For, looking back from here upon that world,

perhaps ways will appear to us, which when

we only struggled in it, did not take

counsel of kindred minds, lay undiscovered;

perhaps, reflecting on the Babeled speech

320  of various disciplines that make careers,

we shall find out some speech by which to address

each sector of the world's fragmented truth

and bring news of the whole to every part.

We say the mind, once whole, can mend the world.

325  To mend the mind, that is the task we set.

How many years?  How many lives?  We do not know;

but each shall bring a thread."

                                                                                    Still I can see

them meeting there, a circle in the night,

crowned by the listening stars of a great hour,

330  among them many I have known, whose words,

whose deepening gaze, whose silent dignity

confirmed the voice that spoke our greater being,

and at their shoulders stand the dead, not feared,

but welcome guests, that entered with your Presence.

335  O would that hour, by Your will, but strike,

here, among those that vainly wait for signs

they cannot see, and know not to interpret!

Then they would learn new laws, renew the old'

then they would understand Your ways, though dark,

340  perhaps be reconciled even with the spark

that fled their midst, when in half-learned tongue

one stammered of the soul's supremacy,

of love transcending law and domination,

of one soul reconciling all, forever.

345  What though that word was cast into the night

of those who scorned the discipline of peace,

who took love for their scepter and their sword

and built an empire that seemed made to mock

the one whose word had given it foundation?

350  Even that darkness labored with the light:

for this might he who traveled hell and heaven

and saw at last the light beyond this world,

for this might he who traveled earthly hell

and called me from the other world, bear witness.

355  O could that dark's one offering be accepted

by those who stood so long against its sway,

then, with the souls of all this world has lost,

I might return in truth, and purify

the house wherein all nations shall bow down.


360  O God, what is this world, that it can stand

so firm against Your power that shakes the soul?

Not as my people's offering do I come

bearing the tokens of Your messenger:

a cast-off thing, despised more than before,

365  driven forth by violence denying all

that gave me birth, I reached Your people's shore.

Where are those creatures, fair beyond belief,

from which Your image shone, that tutored me,

who made sing in my soul the words of greeting,

370  for whom Creation's garden seemed to wait

that they might tend and dwell in it again?

Their faces; light went out when called upon,

for greetings rude denial, weak excuse,

and back they turned to man's destructive work,

375  to mutual pleasures bought with bribery,

invoking their souls' freedom to resist

not the world's power, but Yours.  Can I believe

in my own soul, when their they so disprove

in whom I saw myself?

                                                            And these Your people?

380  is it their righteousness and their obedience

that makes them turn away?

Have they not taken of unrighteous gain,

my sisters' spoils, to build their refuge with?

Have they not made Your law a spade to dig with,

do they not turn its eyes from present truth

385  and take their pay for silence?

                                                                                    Can I judge

them, burdened so with grief and fear,

must I not even for compassion's sake

admit that Force is king?

                                                                        So I may well

have grieved, unheard, in every generation.

390  O Lord, I fear this world's not Paradise,

nor yet the spot on which it might be built;

thought fails me to believe that I once played

beside Your throne, joying in Your all-knowledge,

so freely given; nor was it I that shone

395  where difference is but the sweet reflection

of light upon itself, and shadows come

only to give light form and rest; where each

lives by the ceaseless effortless imparting

of all all know to all.  A mortal mind,

400  circumscribed, and not with widest bounds;

a mortal soul, that surely seems to others

a darkened thing, even as they are to me --

I am but this.  I think I see now

that to take shape each thing must cease to be

405  what there it is; that Heaven reflects itself

upon our Hell; and what is willed up there

is this our fall, and that which cannot be.

O let them live at peace with this who can,

Father! and keep the laws which You once gave;

410  me You have torn beyond that hope of peace!


Yet this is new beneath the bitter stars:

that he was here who called me by my name.

Never in all the generations past

did man's tongue hold his language, did man's eye

415  so seeingly admit the world men made

and what they did not make, and had not seen,

nor was the secret dream so truly spoken

amid the praises of assembled men,

although they still dissembled what they praised;

420  and though I came and went in flickering dreams

for many, none before turned to me living

to pray for the fulfillment of the dream.

So it may be that I too, after all,

stand for the first time here upon this earth,

425  knowing myself, the beginning, and the end;

that while I was for men an apparition

remembered yet not sought except in dreams,

I but half knew myself, as in those years

when anguish of half-knowing seared my brain

430  and images of him I knew not yet,

strange figures from an unknown ancient tale

of Silkie, unicorn or Fisher-king,

a torn god worshipped even amid the hunt,

came through the night, invaded even the day,

435  severing me speechless from the common life,

until we saw each other face to face

and learned each other's names.  What though all others

forsake the mystery, and earth prolong

its fall beyond my arms to utter dark?

440  Were we two not the halves of Primal Man

that struggled from the wreck of First Creation

through tales and histories, through lives that were

like fragments of distorting mirrors case

upon the earth, till in its final hour

445  we met beneath the shadow of destruction,

burdened with flesh, with guilt and shame and wounds

and with the manners of a lying race,

that once the secret message might be written,

the title given to this world's spectacle:

450  Bozhestvennaya tragedia.  Then let

the curtain fall, the characters disperse,

the audience emerge into those streets

illumined by the nearer, kinder stars,

speaking in whispers, and with quiet tears

455  for Heaven's shame.  The end is surely hear.

Yet I am I, and he is he, and knowing

was perhaps, after all, the goal -- attained.


O unseen Presences! O heavenly Father!

Forgive these words! Prophets were ever tempted

460  to wish the doom of those they came to save;

and those with whom Despair has come to live

have not the strength that can forbear to paint

its ghastly face with colors of delight.

Shall I be true to love, yet false to hope?

465  Still will I hope.  your sages' words I heed:

"Believe not in thyself until the day

thou diest."  Since faithfulness until the grave

I promised, let me not claim the reward

of faithfulness -- belief -- until the grave

470  is sealed above me, and all know that I,

changed by eternity into myself,

no longer can betray.

                                                            Till then, let this

body in which I am confined, that knows

fear, weariness, and anger, be my tutor.

475  Let me not give offense to any creature,

nor lift my voice in arrogance, nor put forth

my hand to take what is not rightly mine,

nor draw it back from giving what it should,

lest it be said my dreams were wickedness;

480  but grant me sustenance in patient toil

that I may learn the laws of Your Creation

-- as much as may one human intellect

too limited, alas, for its soul's vision --

and leave behind, perhaps, some better gift

485  than those I made before.

                                                                        I cannot cease

to pray for miracles: that through Your grace

I might even now, while in the turbid flesh,

be changed in all men's sight to what I am,

or better, that the word you gave, Your word,

490  might wake in all, and Wisdom's spirit shared

might comfort, gather, lead us in this time.

Then might so many tears that yet must flow

be stanched, and many a lovely thing be shielded

upon which now the hateful storms bear down;

495  yet all is in Your hand; I can but trust.

I will believe that, though my voice be silent

to reach its heart, Jerusalem still is;

that mortal, weak, corruptible though we are,

flawed with this world, and burdened with its hate,

500  yet there is here some stronghold of the spirit

the deluge of this time shall not submerge.

Let those who plot against us foil each other

until the nations see Your hand sustains,

and not the merits or designs of men!

505  Then even envy might seek peace with us,

and in Your people's heart the knot of fear

be loosened, and their eyes and ears admit

forgotten things, of which I shall be one.

Freed from the weight of doom, they might then see

510  the world before them, and once more light

in plans of tending and of restoration:

so might the dawn come slowly over earth,

and the receding cloud of violence show

Your sky whose sun and stars are moved by love,

515  as men have sung, and You at last must prove.





Line 1.  The opening phrase, and the immediate impetus for the poem, I owe to Simon Halkin's "Beyn Sela'im (Among the Rocks)."  The opening also recalls the first lines of Part II, Act 3 of Goethe's Faust, spoken by Helen of Troy, whom Faust has conjured from the dead: 

            Bewundert viel und viel gescholten, Helena,

            Vom Strande komm ich, wo wir erst gelandet sind

            (Greatly admired and much berated, Helena,

            From shore I come, where even now we landet)

In Goethe's version of this legend, Helena is unaware that she has been summoned from the dead, and is thrown into confusion by Mephisto-Phorkyas' narration of her saga.

21. "Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice?" (Prov. 8:1) The figure of Beatrice in the Divine Comedy is often interpreted as an allegory of either the true Church or Divine Wisdom.

24ff.  The complaint "How long have I been wandering in this world" comes from a Gnostic text; I do not remember which.  In Gnosticism Wisdom, or Sophia, is often portrayed as the exiled "daughter" of God.  This portrayal harks back to the depiction of Wisdom in Proverbs 8 and 9 to Athena, sprung from the head of Zeus; the Kabbalistic Schechina and Dante's Beatrice are further avatars of this figure.

34ff. In the first century C.E. one Simon of Samaria, traditionally identified with Simon Magus, claimed to be the incarnation of God the Father and introduced a woman named Helen, said to be a former prostitute, as his own First Thought.  Lines 37-43 are taken almost verbatim from the Simonite Hymn to Helen, preserved by Irenaeus in his polemic against the Gnostics.

43-45.  The image of the barker is taken from Paul Celan's "Meridian" speech.

47.  The author of Proverbs, identified by tradition with King Solomon.

51.  Cf. the opening chapters of Dante's Vita Nova.

56f. Cf. Paradiso, Cantos XXX-XXXII.

69.  Cf. Par. XXX, 19-21:

                        La bellezza ch'io vidi si trasmoda

                          non pur di la di noi, ma certo io credo

                          che solo il suo fattor tutta la goda.

("The beauty I saw not only surpasses our measure, but I surely believe that only its Maker has all the joy of it.")

70.  "Look, and see me as I am."  Par. XXIII.

75-76. Cf. the well-known beginning of the Divina Commedia:

                        Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

                          mi ritrovai per una selva oscura

                          che la via diritta era smarrita (Inf. I, 1-3)

("In the middle of the road of our life I found myself in a dark wood where the true way was lost.")   And see also Virgil's address to Beatrice, Inf. II, 76-78:

                        O donna di virtu, sola per cui

                         l'humana spezie eccede ogni contento

                         di quel ciel c'ha minor li cerchi sui

("O lady of virtue, through whom alone the human kind surpasses everything within the smallest circle of the heavens")

and also Purg. VI, 45: "Che lume fia tra'l vero e lo'intelletto" (Who will be a light between truth and the mind).

77-78.  Virgil, who at Beatrice's request guides Dante through Hell and Purgatory, is identified by commentators with human reason.  (Though since Virgil is after all a poet rather than a philosopher, it would seem that the "intelletto" for Dante, whatever it might have been for his sources, is inseparable from poetic vision.)  The damned are characterized by him as "le genti dolorose c'hanno perduto il ben dell'intelletto" (Inf. III, 17-18).

79ff. The critic Harold Bloom has diagnosed the "anxiety of influence" which leads poets deliberately or semi-deliberately to distort the vision of their predecessors in order to appear "original" to themselves and to others.  "E tu che sol per cancellare scrivi" (and you who write only to cancel out) (Par. XVIII, 130).

87. "The last": Paul Celan (see also lines 16-17, 62-63, 91-93,

274-6, 353-5, 412, 445-50).  The line also alludes to the Talmudic story of the four who entered Pardes (i.e. the realm of mystical speculation).  One, Ben Azzai, "looked and died" one went mad, one became a heretic; and only Rabbi Akiva "came out in peace."  I first heard this story in 1970, after Celan's suicide, from a friend of Orthodox Jewish background to whom I had ventured the surmise that Celan had attained some insight that was too much for him to bear.  Several years later I heard a Reform rabbi, Marc Gelman, read his original variant on the "four who entered Pardes," substituting four contemporary Jewish thinkers marked by the Holocaust for the four Talmudic rabbis.  In this version, Celan was substituted for Ben Azzai.

122. Cf. Purg. XXXIII, 10-12, which in turn plays on John 16:16:

                        Modicum, et non videbitis me;

                         et iterum, sorelle mie dilette,

                         modicum, et vos videbitis me.

("A little while, and you will not see me; and again, my beloved sisters, a little while, and you shall see me.)

130ff. Cf. Purg. XXXI, 61

                        Novo augelletto due o tre aspetta;

                         ma dinanzi dalli occhi di pennuti

                         rete si spiega indarno o si saetta.

("A young chick waits for two or three [shots], but in vain is the net spread or arrow shot in the sight of the full-fledged bird.")

151.  Rabbinic law forbids a man to listen to the song of a woman other than his wife (some authorities permit it if the woman is on stage and personally unknown to the hearer, if she cannot be seen, or if the voice is recorded).

173.  "Unto them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name."  Isaiah 56:5.  The name of the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, Yad va-Shem, is taken from this verse.

259.   "Thus far, no farther" is the rabbinic interpretation of the Divine name Shaddai.

280.  "Arise, shine" (kumi, ori) -- Isaiah 60:1.  A poem addressed by Celan to the community and the representative reader closes with the Hebrew words.

274-284.  In an essay entitled Folie a deux I attempted to trace this otherworldly encounter through a number of poems, in most of which the motif of cold is present.

383.  "Do not make of Torah a crown to aggrandize yourself, nor a spade with which to dig."  Pirkei Avot 4:7.

406-7.  See Inf. III, 95-6:

                        vuolsi cosi cola dove si puote

                        cio che si vuole

("It is so willed where will and power are one.")  However, in the words of Deborah Gorden Friedrich, "Everyone knows that love is pain,/ That which is cannot be."

411.  Cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9; "...and there is nothing new under the sun."

412.  In the Scottish ballad "Silkie" (which I heard in the version sung by Joan Baez), a being who is a man on land and a silkie (seal) on the sea fathers a child on a mortal woman and leaves her with the prophecy:

                        And ye shall marry a gunner good,

                        And a right fine gunner I'm sure he'll be,

                        And the very first shot that e'er he shoots

                        Will kill both my young sun and me.

For the unicorn (sometimes understood as a symbol of Christ), see Rilke's treatment in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.  The figure of the Fisher King is studied by Jessie Weston in From Ritual to Romance, cited by T.S. Eliot in his notes to The Wasteland.  The "torn god" refers to the ancient Near Eastern cults of Adonis, Attis, and Tammuz, predecessors of a certain aspect of Christianity.

440. Cf. Genesis 1:27: "And God created man in his own image . . . male and female created He them."  Primal man: the Kabbalistic Adam Kadmon.

441. This refers to the Lurianic myth of the "breaking of the vessels."

450.  Bozhestvennaya tragedia:  Celan's words to me on August 4, 1969.

456-7 is the final formulation of the Gnostic position which alternates in the poem with the Jewish hope of an earthly redemption.

459-60.  As in the story of Jonah, who is angry with God in the end for not destroying Nineveh.

466.  "Do not believe in yourself until the day of your death."  Pirkei Avot 2:5.

467.  The hero of Wagner's Flying Dutchman can be redeemed from his eternal wanderings only by a woman "faithful unto death."  Apparently Wagner got this idea from Heine -- who, however, suggested it with characteristic irony.

471.  This is a translation of the first line of Mallarme's sonnet, "Le tombeau d'Edgar Allen Poe": "Tel qu'en lui-meme enfin l'eternite le change..."

510.  Cf. the close of Milton's Paradise Lost: "The world was all before them.."

511.  Cf. Genesis 2:15: "And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and keep it."

515.  Cf. the last line of the Divina Commedia: "l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle."








An unidentified remorse

like a lost needle

somewhere, seeking

the heart.









There was a wizard in Paris town,

And a cunning man was he:

He called the Lady of the Dark Chamber

To come from beyond the sea.


He has seen her in a midnight glass

And written her name in sand,

He has summoned her up by candlelight

And whispered her his command.


The lady tosses on her bed,

She has not peace nor rest.

She dreams all night of a falcon dark

Lighting upon her breast.


And all she did to banish this,

It was of no avail

Till she went down to the cold sea–side

And for Paris town set sail.


And when she came to Paris town

She heard a man was there

Who could summon spirits to do his will

And walk upon the air.


She went unto the wizard's house,

She would not say her name,

But the wizard bade him let her in,

For well he knew who came.


"Thou cunning wizard of Paris town,

Know'st thou who I may be?"

"Thou art the Lady of the Dark Chamber,

Whom I called from beyond the sea.


"I have seen thee in a midnight glass

And called thee by night and day,

I have bound thee with the Threefold Spell,

And thou canst not get away.


"But fear thou not, thou Lady dark,

For I mean no harm to thee ––

I mean to be king in Paris town,

And thou the queen shalt be.


"Thou shalt sit upon a golden throne

And wear a golden crown,

And even I shall do thy will,

And thy words shall be written down.


"Thou shalt be mother to all men,

But thy children shall be seven;

They shall be fair as the sun and moon

And wise as the stars of heaven.


"And all the people in all the realm

Shall to each other say,

'Well to the Lady of the Dark Chamber

And to those beneath her sway.'"


He has taken her up to a window high

And shown her to all the town,

And his face was like the moon at the full,

And hers was like the sun.


And when those two lay down to rest

The bells of the town did chime,

And when he kissed her rose–red lips,

 The clocks stopped at that time.


And never a clock has struck since then,

All is as he did say.

Well to the Lady of the Dark Chamber,

And to those beneath her sway!









If you must indeed return there, pray speak of me to the cyclamen,

To the lavender flowers on the chinaberry trees,

To the evening star as it gleams in the sky at twilight,

And to the asphodel; for I found none faithful save these.


And it will be when you lift your eyes to the twilight

Sky with the evening star, that you will remember again,

And I will be the evening star to you, and the scent of the                                                                             chinaberry trees,

And you will not lose your soul amid the sons of men.










In a dark night I lay in prayer,

while cruel armies gathered round,

for God's arm flashing in the clouds,

for splitting seas; but even more

that one small star of selfless love

might pierce the murk of sordid strife,

that one white flower of mercy pure

might blossom from earth's stony ground.








It is no secret.  You may feel relieved

of any weight of confidence incurred

by the hearing of a total stranger's life,

its deepest moments and its gravest sins;

no do I hold out an importunate hand

for friendship.  You may see in me no more

than the seatmate whose chance garrulity

doubles the journey's length; and I, too, know

no more of you than that you must hear this.

If one could tell it, and be done with it!

Such things occur.  And one is not absolved

until the words have picked one's bones and those

bones are hung up somewhere, as a warning.

So, Wedding Guest.  I hope this does some good.

I take a deep breath, fix my glittering eye,

and lift this weight once more, in front of you.










Bird cries arise, in a crowd.

It is yet light.

They are waiting for darkness to arrive, like a train,

while I lie here waiting

for an evening that will not arrive this evening

when the bird cries will arise, in a cloud,

and take me with them into darkness.






Heal the sick and raise the dead

  And levitate in air;

Break for crowds twelve loaves of bread,

  Fell walls with trumpets' blare;

     See yourself ten lives ago,

     What is done at ten leagues know,

     Never shall you overthrow

The iron reign of circumstance.


Check but one man's flight from love,

   Give one cold heart regret.

What the stricken would forgive,

   Make one who struck forget;

       Of dear-bought folly wean one mind,

       One broken faith by all arts mend,

       Cure one whom envy has made blind --

Then you may shake the centuries' trance.






This will protect you

though all betray you:

the word keeps faith

though it be broken.

Though friends fall silent

the unseen tokens

will lead you home

to the House of Song.









I wake and cannot sing,

my throat dry as this land.

O G-d, what curse has clenched Your hand

thus to withhold rain and the spirit's power?

-- Over my head the clock that struck the hour

is striking with uncertain, random chime,

as if, in a daze, it sought to ring the end of time.


Was that an answer, G-d? Did the prayer

born of my spirit's fear

despite numb heart and tearless eye

reach to the harpstrings of causality

and wring from them a chord of prophecy? ...

What need of sings? Whoso has not the wit

to see around this world Your tightening net,

for him in vain the very stones would cry.


Silence again.

O G-d, You are my witness: I have tried

to strike the word like a great holy gong

to fill the air with humming song

calling the spirits to one place.  In vain.

Shall I then say the tokens lied?

No; it is humans who betray

Your voice that calls within them every day:

"Gather and hear, gather and hear my will!"

You speak; but it is we who must fulfill.

Are not our hearts, too, in Your hand?

Then for the sake of this beloved land

let them understand ..

That I do not weep now, is very ill.

Yet what can I do, Lord? I trust, and call out still...








Fallen basswood, rotting

bridge over the oxbow:

ripple-stroked sandstone slab

where the gradient, freshly

steepened, makes the stream murmur:

this too will wear away,

wear away, in the water's

lapse, till the endlessly-

downdrawn current passes

silent here too.


                                                            Madison, 1984








Wide are the grounds of death here, high the stern symmetric gates,

gray the late heaven over this deserted ground,

bronze-dark its edge of maples standing at a distance,

and black this stone, which fourteen winters now have worn.


Death, be hence forth this stone that covers one

whom life's own strictest logic hounded to such end,

and I the ever-shattered slowly-scouring wave

which those same laws now hurl against your base

again, again, again.


                                                            Orly-Tel Aviv, 1984










                   for Ruth Blumert


The block of events comes towards us


to let us through

                  as everything

is atoms, spaces, flocks of birds, galaxies

of nothing


swirled and swung

by shaping–reshaping


     So, when we talk, our word–swarms

wing through each other.

                        Say it:

even the spring

is autumn here and our thoughts gather for flight

over the world's edge

far into dizzying depths

but not alone.












While passing through the Ben Yehuda Mall

during the Ten Days, I was struck

by one who leaned upon a signboard's pole,


two further signs covered his chest and back:

inscriptions from the Talmud and the Bible

proclaimed it right to love hard work


rather than alms and idle speech and quarrels.

The man stood silent, upright as his staff

save that his neck was bent at a right angle;


he was thin, not young, shabbily clad.

Facing him in a semicircle stood

some ten or twenty people.  Did they laugh,


question, or ponder?  As for me, I strode

too quickly past, stung by some arrogance or pity,

to have studied their expressions, or to have read


all the sayings.  Yet now it seems fitting,

seeing he had the majesty of the absurd,

to draw from him an image of the poet's velleity

of standing humbly beside his word.





into the breach

of faith

peg your way

up the word-wall


muscle-prayers, breath-prayers, gut-prayers,


where you were


behind you,


there's no going back.








Concerning I-Am, do not say

"You are this." "You are that."


!O road, hedged in with mirrors!


I-am is

an ocean and

an eye looking at

the ocean.






The poem I have not yet written

    whose first line would be the doorsill

    to another space


The poem I have not written yet

    whose form would be that space domed for meeting

    filled with its own darklight

    like the shine from invisible candles


The poem I have not written

    whose words would be humans met

    in understanding


The poem not yet written

    whose voice would be the inner voice of all


that poem

I would send you








Two separate countries, these,

distanced by a body of water

whose width is disputed:

a vast gulf, say some,

a narrow rivulet, say others,

and crossed by odd emissaries,

chance couriers:

leaf from unknown tree,

random phone call,

figure of waking dream

lured to candle–flame,

revealing, deceiving, concealing:

a rift, in the end

no other, perhaps,

than that which sunders

our two minds, here.






For your the quietest song:

ripple rarely

lapping the lakeshore,

breath barely

stirring the pine-boughs,

a call, caught

at the verge of hearing,

saying (or was it the water,

the wind?) "I am here."









Farewell, thou richly-furnished room,

My workshop, dwelling-place, and tomb:

All that I was and am is here.

I close the door and go: not free

But as a shade, by some decree

Still banished to the earthly sphere.









                                                for Paul Celan


                                                Report me and my cause aright

To the unsatisfied

                                                                                                Hamlet, Act V


"You live here, in the impossible,

surrounded by fires.

The hate of the world is focused here;

its hope also


"Yet you live, as far as possible,

the life of the world:

love and the raising of children,

friendship and quarrels,

making a living, maintaining status.

Sometimes against the world

you bristle together;

sometimes the name of the city

is felt as a hostile presence,

asking too much.

"To live in language is

another impossible: is

to belong to the names, unconditionally.  To speak from their dream and then walk

the path your words have pointed.

The dream said the life of the world

might have to end.

I came here and saw no contradiction,

so I went back to my post

and walked the path of the dream to an end

which was my own.


"And if I had stayed here?

I would have been one more who took refuge

in human company,

when I had heard we must go

beyond the human

for human life to be renewed.

My name would have been a boast to you,

now it is a grief and a challenge --

and is it not better this way,



"Yours was the last name I spoke.

I come with the light from beyond.

Let me speak to you now, in your doubt,

let my word

come home."










                                    (a morality play)



The good angel





The Editor

The bad angel


In the middle of the stage is a large, empty desk.


Enter the Good Angel.  White robe, wings, epicene appearance, businesslike manner.


Good Angel:  Ladies and gentlemen, and poets true,

We come to bring to you a judgment scene --

Not the last judgment, true, when it is said

The heavens will be rolled up like a scroll --

We merely show the judgment which decides

What word, of all that flow from hopeful pens,

Will be dispersed and honored in its time

And reach the ears of coming generations --

A minor matter, as most men agree.

Therefore be of good cheer, and watch our play

Which aims at tendencies, and not a persons,

For each of you owns stock in all the others,

And all of you I think are well acquainted

With me, as well as with my colleague here.


(Bad Angel steps onto the stage from the opposite side, makes a mocking bow, and quickly steps back.  He is dressed like an old-time gambler or confidence man, in a flashy suit; his face is smoother than the usual devil's mask, but a sneer is never entirely absent.)


Enter Misery, a shuffling, vaguely female form dressed in rags, holding (as will Genius, Vanity and Cleverness) a large white scroll.


Misery: I come to bring the editor a work

Which I have written out of pain and sorrow

In which my spirit found no consolation

Except the thought: Someday this might be known.

And I have done the best I can, although

My pen does stutter, and my brain finds not

The metaphors to wing my personal grief

And lift it from my heart into another's --

But this I do not know.  Because these words,

Poor though they are, have soothed my spirit, how

Can I not think that they will speak to others?

Here, then, upon the altar of the future

I lay the testimony of my woe.


(She approaches the desk, lays her scroll upon it, bowing nervously although no one is there, and goes out.  In so doing she brushes past Genius, who has been standing near the wings -- both of them came out from the same side as the Good Angel -- and overheard most of her speech.  Genius is an adolescent figure, who could be either male or female; in a pinch she/he could be played by the same actor who plays the Good Angel.


Genius (looking after Misery): Poor brother, sister! I have heard your groans,

And often your despair has dragged me down

To depths where I believed that I was lost;

But always in the darkest depth a ray

Gleamed from a jewel which on the miry floor

I found, and gasping to the surface brought,

Where it still shines, and still delights my eyes,

As if I'd snatched a star from farthest heaven.

Not from my own distress alone I write;

How could my hope be for myself alone?

Just heavens! how many foundered in the night

To weep that bitter sea in which I plunged;

And if I can return to you one star

Will its light fall into afflicted hearts?


(Looks down at the scroll in his/her hands; then slowly turns his/her eyes toward the desk, walks slowly, solemnly, as if fearfully toward the desk, places the scroll carefully upon it, next to that of Misery, turns swiftly and goes out.)


Enter Vanity, wearing a frilly pink dress with puffed sleeps and a wig with flaxen corkscrew curls, around her wrist a bracelet with jingling bells.  Curtsies elaborately, to the right, to the center, and to the left.


Feeling a lack of other occupations

And wishing for more praise from those around me,

I've taken to making verses; and indeed,

I think that I may say I have succeeded.

Such pretty images and rhymes! Not all

apt or exact, of course; but that's no matter.

And, to be sure, I've left out everything

That might disturb the readers, make them think

Too much -- for I don't want to think, myself,

Only to make a little noise to fill

The emptiness -- Oh! (Jingles the bells) I didn't mean to say that.

Jingle, bells, jingle -- doesn't that sound nice?

Now everything's fine.  And won't my friends be jealous!


She prances up to the desk, places the scroll on it next to that of Genius, prances out.  On the way out she almost bumps into Cleverness, who shrinks back with an air of disgust; noticing this, she flounces out with her nose in the air.  Cleverness brushes off his suit where she brushed him, straightens up and walks to the center with a dignified yet studiedly casual air.  He is tastefully dressed in Ivy League style, but could be played by the actor who plays the Bad Angel.


Cleverness:  It wouldn't do to have it known, of course,

That Vanity and I are close relations --

She's so unsubtle!  Snatches odds and ends

And doesn't care whether it fits together,

Has no idea, really, of what goes.

Whereas I've made a systematic study

Of where each images comes from, and what tone

Is countenanced by the fashion of the decade

Under a given set of circumstances,

Which thoughts and feelings are to be confessed

And which are better left to lie in darkness,

And like the story of a witness -- oh,

Not necessarily true, but well rehearsed

With coaching by a competent attorney,

My work's consistent, without gap or flaw.

Of course there's something missing: I am not

a genius; or perhaps I'm just a bit

too cautious. No one really gets inspired

from reading what I write.  But that's the price

one pays for being safe and well-received,

which, when all's said and done, is what I'm after.


(Strolls up to the desk, casts a pityingly contemptuous glance at the three scrolls already lying there, puts his own as far away from them as possible, jog-trots out, whistling.)


Enter the Editor, wearing a judge's robe and wig.


(Sitting down at his desk)

I see the writers have again been busy.

It's quite amazing, when you think about it,

on what proportion of the population

the dream of publishing has taken hold,

As if appearance of their words in print

could guarantee survival of the soul.

When I consider this, my desk-top seems

a life-raft crowded with too many souls,

and I decide which ones are to be rescued

and which must be pushed off! -- A grisly thought.

(Reaches for the scroll of Misery, unrolls, reads)

Now here's a case in point! A tale of woe

In childish scrawl, with words misspelled, misused,

Grammar and syntax badly out of joint --

Pathetic! Well, we'll write her a nice note:

"Found your work deeply moving, but not quite

Polished enough to warrant publication."

(Writes, then rolls up Misery's scroll, places it to one side.  Picks up Vanity's scroll.)

What's this now? (Reads) Pah! Tasteless and overdone.

(Writes) "Regret that this material is not suited

For publication in our magazine."

Discouraging! (Leans back a little; his eye falls on the scroll of Cleverness.)  Let's have a look at this one.

Hm . . . not bad . . . competent . . . quite clever.

Now this is something we could publish; though

I must admit it's just like what we published

Last issue, and the issue before that.

I wonder if our readers feel the same?

But then I guess it's turned into a game,

Assuming it was ever more than that . . .


(A pause.  His eye falls on the scroll of Genius, which has remained alone in the middle of the desk.  He reaches for it, slowly.  As he does so the Good Angel and the Bad Angel enter from opposite sides.  He reads, then, after a long silence)

Well, this is something different, anyway.

I don't know if it's good or bad -- the voice

Speaks to me, draws me down and lifts me up,

And something shines before my eyes: a form

Radiant and whole, as from within,

And my flesh feels a chill, my heart a fear.

Is this, perhaps, the thing that I should publish?


Evil Angel (at his right shoulder)

Yes, go ahead! It's certainly much better

Than anything you've published recently,

Or even than the things you used to write

Yourself, before you learned what's in and out.

Of course, you realize that if you do this

whatever else you publish in this issue

beside it will look colorless and timid

or else a bit inhuman.  The whole aesthetic

By which you've operated now for years

will be called into question.


Good Angel:                                        As it should be.

Good man, here is a chance that won't return

To justify your calling, and transmit

The word of truth and beauty to a world

That needs it.  Do not hesitate: accept!


Evil Angel:

By all means -- if that is indeed the purpose

Of this position you have gained by means

More foul than fair, if truth be told, the way

One gets things in this world.  You wanted power:

The power of life and death over the word!

And where's your power, if you merely bow

Before the evidence of excellence,

Like to a footman, opening a door

For royalty to pass! Ah, no, my friend,

The art of editing is not to acknowledge,

But to make reputations out of nothing

And favor those you know you can control.

Take up the scroll of Cleverness; he's your man.

And don't make such a face.  You know the world;

If men were angels, they would not be here,

And as for truth, integrity and beauty,

They're luxuries not many can afford,

If indeed they are not simply illusions

Which modern culture rightly has dismissed.


Good Angel:

How curious that my colleague here should talk

About illusions, when his whole profession

Is just the fabrication of illusions:

I quote: to make reputations out of nothing.

As for the power which he so desires

You to desire, is that not sheer illusion?

Where is your power, if you only do

What is expected, tediously repeating,

Time after time, the identical betrayal,

Playing a role which everyone sees through,

Forever reckoned with, never respected?

I tell you cast out envy.  Let its sting

But tell you something's there to be acknowledged,

For in acknowledgment is dignity

And freedom from the bondage of this world.

Those who attain that dignity and freedom,

Their names are etched in letters of pure light

Upon the gold ground of eternity.


Evil Angel:

A pretty faith indeed -- for those who have it.

But I suggest you think about this world

And let the next one take care of itself,

As you've been doing now for twenty years --

Would you regret it?  Come.  In any case,

I'm not sure what this argument's about.

You are the editor of a magazine,

You have an issue to get out, which means

Selecting works which go together, fit

The image of the publication; work

May be quite excellent, and yet not suited

For your particular purpose.  This perhaps

Is such a case, although I must confess

I don't see what you see in this at all.

Isn't the rhetoric somewhat high-flown?

Hasn't this trope been used somewhere before?

Come, take another look.


Editor:                   Perhaps you're right.

I don't see what I saw in it before.

I feel depressed.  Of course, it wouldn't suit us.

(Writes) "Thank you for showing us your manuscript.

Regret to say that it does not fit in

With the aims of our journal at this time."

(Puts the scroll of Genius aside, along with those of Vanity and Misery.  Good Angel hides his face, exits.)

Now for this. "With pleasure we acknowledge

Your contribution, and are glad to inform you

It will appear in our forthcoming issue."

(Evil Angel smiles, pats him on the back, tiptoes off.)

That's done. -- My God! I was supposed to meet

The controversial Crimp at the cafe

A quarter-hour ago!  I hope he's waited.

(Exit.  Evil Angel comes back in, clears the desk top.  Re-enter Misery, Genius, Vanity, Cleverness, separately, opening their letters.  Misery reads, resignedly pockets the letter and goes off, shoulders hunched a little lower.  Vanity is furious, shakes her fist.  Genius lets the letter fall, gazes up to heaven in anguish.  Cleverness kisses the letter, goes off whistling at the opposite exit from Misery.  Genius and Vanity remain frozen in their respective poses of sorrow and indignation as the curtain falls.)









The Social Spell was on them all

Who sat enchanted in the hall

To hear the high-prized poet speak,

Though pith and sense were far to seek

In any word that he let fall.


In vain do Truth and Genius call

As from behind a prison wall:

Their choicest pleadings cannot break

   The Social Spell.


But sometimes when the funeral pall

Has wrapped them, and men half recall,

Or quite forget, what was at stake,

Their scattered words may go to make

   The Social Spell.








Light-years away

you listen

to the voice traveling outward forgetting

me and the pain

that will be ancient news by the time

you hear it.


You are so far away

I climb and climb and can never

reach you.  And yet

you are all close within me









At the end of the exhibition

the hall was full of afternoon light

and the dahlias stood up, each in its separate carafe,

and their shapes and colors seemed a language invented

to speak of water and light.

And they gave the dahlias away.


There was the Snow Queen, whiteness curling away from a golden center

to the circumference of a man's two hands placed thumb to thumb.

There were great manes of saffron and orange

and the miniatures, so exactly calibrated

they seemed honeycombed by an infinite patience

out of small spheres of amethyst.

There was one with white-capped petals the color of dilute blood,

that fitted into a palm-sized invisible dome,

and the same thing in purple and white,

and a huge hyacinthine mass that vibrated vaguely

between pale russet and lavender,

and one whose petals had curled into tubes of translucent rose,

dawn-fingers, forked at the tips,

with the yellow-white of daylight at their roots;

and the same shape in dark red, a crimson mace.

And a white waterlily atop a dahlia stalk,

and the one with the veined cupped petals of faded carnelian

that came open and open.

And the threedimensional yellow sunbursts

and the sunbursts of rosequartz with the violet hearts

and the smaller ones whose every petal

was watermarked with violet and white.

And every flower seemed a world

whose inner space were harbors where anything

might be sheltering, like a hermit crab in a seashell:

Rebellious thoughts. Secrets. Old messages of love.

All the angels that could not fit on the point of the needle.

My dears, I'm almost afraid that in some forgotten dream

we've signed away our share in the coming world

to behold the praises of the dahlias!








                        For the seventh child of Helen and Shabtai


From Sabbath to Sabbath

you have waited

nameless in the shadow

of the knife.  Only the number

of the day of covenant

inscribed amid your stars.


Can you see to the end of creation?


The name will come, and the pain.


May the pain be swift and slight,

the name true,

the fire unveiled in you

burn clear


as a pillar of light

in this darkness


or as a pillar of heaven

in the light

of the seventh day.








My thought flies out like Noah's dove

and hangs the swirling flood above.

Upon the waves that rage and race

her foot can find no resting-place.


First o'er the West she leans to brood,

Where Liberty once kept the good,

but now no mercy she finds there,

'tis changed into a wild beast's lair.


Then to the North her pinions wheel,

till she descries the men of steel:

to rule the world with tyrant sway

is all their dream by night and day.


Then southward fast she takes her flight

and there finds those whose god is fight:

The grim fanatic sword they raise

against all just and gentle ways.


And last she veers toward that fair town

where prophets old held high renown,

but now they hear the word no more --

pride and despair have sealed the door.


My thought returns like Noah's dove

to seek the storm-tossed ark of love --

Stretch forth thy hand and take me in!

There's no dry land where I have been.











                                                                        for Ruth Blumert


Beyond the next ridge, the next valley,

the dissected plain recedes in blue unmoving waves,

ridge beyond ridge beyond ridge.  Six.  Seven.

The earth seems to hold still, the sun seems to be falling


very slowly toward a slot in the horizon

until another day is in the bank.

Another day.  The Messiah did not come,

the word was not spoken, nor the riddle solved,


nor any denouement arrived at.

Soon daylight tugged away will reveal above us

the unchanged scoreboard of night.

What time is it now in our home?








The stars come shyly late, as long ago

In childhood days.

The plane-tree tops in sunset's afterglow

So purely blaze

As if to take no stain, as then not ever.

The sea, a green bronze on the shore ashiver

As then gives praise:

How full of grace the flowering moments flow.


My soul, you have not sinned! As full and strong

In childhood days

Your moments' naked wonder pulsed along,

That pulse now says

That it can take no stain, as then so ever.

See that black bird at the horizon hover:

At dawn she'll raise

Your muted wonders in revealing song.


                                                            Simon Halkin

                                                            translated from the Hebrew by Esther Cameron






That sentence which, you said,

was not clear


writhed in the space between our minds,

gasping for air,

swallowing its predicates,

turning itself inside



till I wondered if indeed there was

a way

to say it.











                                                            from the German of Rainer Maria Rilke


This is the beast of which there is none such.

But this they didn't know; and anyway

they loved it, with its gait of prancing play

and the light in its eyes, soft as a touch.


Of course it wasn't. Yet because they loved

it took pure shape. They always left a space,

and in the clear distinctness of that place

it lifted up its head and lightly moved


careless of nonexistence.  Wheat nor corn

it took not; just their thought that it might be;

and such great vigor did that thought confer


that from its brow there grew the unique horn.

Until one day a virgin knew that he

was in the silver mirror and in her.


                                                                                                translated 1988








The trees have on their final green,

Likewise such weeds whose roots are deep.

I walk where waters moved, and crows

Share their new-found land with me,

Above the cracks cawing aloud.


A current in the sea, they say,

Has dragged the global winds off course:

That makes the grass to crackle so

And yon chokecherry's leaves to curl

And farmers to bewail their loss.


The birds are singing still, although

For all we know the current may

Decide it likes its present bed

And no rain fall here ever again

Until the mountains shift their weight.

What do you say to that, Redwing?


Even so the current of men's will

Has set against my deep desire,

And since the bottom of the heart

Is clearer known than ocean floor,

I do not hope to see it turn.


That I was born to make lament

For this, seems merely accident.

Yet I give thanks for that in me

That will not know of what I know

And, ignorant as a bird, sings on.




                                                                        Madison, 1988







(on completing a commentary to Celan's "Meridian" speech)


We lived on a dead end street,

at the city limit,

and I walked alone in the field

where the overturned tree

upreared its root.


This you saw and did not see

and I was and was not

the one you saw

seeing it,


but the road I walked

from the dead end

led me to where I saw it again

as if through your eyes


(or as if you saw

through mine).


Come back then

from wherever you are

from nowhere if that's

where you are,


and walk with me and whoever

will follow

this way I have gone through the landscape

of your words


(can you see it again, is it strange

to you, are these

bearings on points

you sighted?)

so as to remain

at the place

of the meeting,


so as to retrace

my steps,


to walk with others

who have walked here,


to arrive

where we might be

all in free.


                                                Madison, 1988







Sister Morningtwilight, is it time?


Shall the nerve of an oath

connect our nights,

shall they be



The house our hands built: is it

habitable, here, will it

shine, from afar --


the house of all roads?


And will you stay, go on,

when the ambiguous crab

straddles the path,


when the serpent calls "Come here,

I have found the Tree of Life,"


when the scorpion waits for the poem?


Will the names, will the signs

hold, will the bird

not cease to sing for us two, can we

begin the world?



sister of the rainbow and the dove,

is it time?













An irised gleam by unknown arts is cast

Across this image of leaf, flower and sky;

Like to it, but far fairer, is the gleam

Your love casts on my life.











Another friend's friend

gone back.


Another clod washed away

from our main.


A center, trying to hold,

cries out.







I am writing to you from the betrayed city

writing to you   but the pen

goes on writing and writing

on the same


as if the words that I think

approached a certain threshold, then

were pulled back in

as at the border

of a black hole nothing

can escape, no light,

no signal, no

message.  Unless it is

that all outside are fleeing from us, faster

than light can overtake,

and within also

everything is fleeing outward,


the center.  Only the words,

as I write, are pulling me inward,

as if the center were

the mouth of a tunnel that comes out


as if I could tell you

I am writing to you

from the betrayed

city --









                        (after reading Donne's "The Anniversaries")


Donne! let the half-souls of this age dislaud

Whom you praised sight unseen, and, little awed

By what you in her (not the world) discerned,

Put down the book, the lesson still unlearned.

The world is busy now digging its grave

For want of that which I, poor steward, have

By Heaven's last grace, yet can nowise bestow,

For deafness which upon the world does grow:

Poetry's banished, which alone could draw

Dispersion back to harmony of Law;

So human speech, so human thought declines,

That Apes out-reason those who taught them Signs.

The name of Virtue men have made a sneer.

By faithlessness all bonds will discohere --

'Tis tautological; yet serves them not

To know why Character and State do rot,

Far less to learn the lonesome She to prize

Who offers them again what they despise.

But as the contents of a vial cast forth

On a foul stream, if sealed will keep their worth,

So that balm Wisdom did in me distill

From all ill and (it seemed) against all ill,

Is still preserved in me, though cast away

And powerless Earth's fever to allay

(If it could truly cure, for the world's sake

This vessel gladly would consent to break!),

So in my thoughts is no corruption shown,

Though I be mortal, and my end unknown.

If (Donne) you dwell now where all is designed,

In th'all-begetting, -comprehending Mind,

You know now for what purpose there may be

These few pure drops in a vast tainted sea.

Was it for this that Israel saw divide

The Sea of Reeds; that your Redeemer died

And rose again; that by a midnight flame

So many a poet strove for earthly fame

And for the vision of a higher good

Half shown, half hid by his wit's hardihood?

And when the end to my account is writ

Shall there be any left to ponder it

And for my soul a funeral dirge intone?

But this kind office you, my friend, have done,

Who ere I was conceived did ring my knell,

And advent heralded with passing-bell.

Henceforth where I in solitude lie hid

I'll think your words are written on my lid

And more intently strive, beneath that seal,

To be that which, outspeaking, they conceal;

I'll hope your further word may prove as true,

That the true soul shall in its death renew,

And though degeneracy submerge the land,

I'll not confess that such end was the end,

Nor give, with Time, our better hopes the lie.

Graved on th'eternal Rock the victory

We gained by what we were, and what we wrought,

O'er Nothingness; and all the rest is naught.








Love passed through us and left us empty.

We turn the pages of years gone by:

summers of thought after springs of plenty --

love passed through us and left us empty.

A look, a kiss were sweet at twenty --

the leaves they rustle and they sigh.

Love passed through us and left us empty;

we turn the pages of years gone by.









I am weary -- not with this day's work alone:

A column I have hewn of purest air

And on that column chiseled up and down

The generations of all those that fare

So queasily upon our circling stone;

What can I utter more, now this is done?


The lemming-track lies beaten to the sea;

you follow in your fathers' steps along;

with a side-glance as toward some distant tree,

at most, you mark the signpost of my song,

then turn eyes front and plod on steadily --

To gain your ear must I be in the throng,

marching upon the road I know is wrong?


Far liefer would I mutely take my ease

beneath the lofty column I have reared,

yea, close my senses one by one, and cease

the painful breath I drew but for the word,

so lie from consciousness at last released

while the years bring to pass what I had feared

far from that monument to thoughts unheard.







Weary and self-dissatisfied, I walked,

between one visit and another visit,

some hundred paces on the unbuilt domain

beside the Monastery of the Cross.

The autumn crocuses were gone; instead,

I found one winter crocus, then another,

each snow-white cup, no bigger than my thumbnail,

filled up with yellow pollen.  As I counted

six petals to one flower, and noted how

each tapered to a point, I heard the stillness

and in that, the faint cheeping of a bird,

and just for a fraction of a second was

outside myself.  And later on at twilight

over the roofs in deepening sky the crescent

moon with her pendant of a single star --

almost one could forget what one had learned

about our satellite and sister-planet --

]the burning whirlwind and the airless waste --

and see only irrefutable beauty.

I saw it, and I strained to see the sight

through veils of weariness, of memory

and fear, against that in my breast which knows

my errand, and the path I must pursue,

and which had urged my inner sight away

before I passed again beneath the trees.

-- So, that world is still there: no nearer now,

nor farther, than when struggling youth obscured

that shining-forth, as ebbing years do now.

Youth, with its high hopes and its mighty words,

has passed; its wine is spilt, and tears will not

refill that cup; there is at best one spring

in which we figure as participants.

Yet stepping to the borders of their lives,

I've heard, the wisest find a further season,

not numbered in the cycles of the Four,

where, wandering in a world that is not theirs,

they are the guests of everything that is.

They being motionless within themselves

receive and transmit motions from the stars

and with sage courtesy, whenever met,

through one another greet that world again.









Van Gogh is back,

wandering among the homeless

through the streets of New York,


nothing in his hands,

nothing in his pockets

save for an earlobe no one will accept,

least of all at the art auction –

he can’t prove it’s authentic.


He has forgotten the night sky at Arles,

the cypress, the apple trees in blossom,

even that last storm of crows over the cornfield.

All he can see now are faces,

they are dumped into him like rubbish onto the landfill

and lie there in heaps, wasted.


He does not dream about painting them.

At most with an edge of stone from a crumbling façade

on a wall covered with the names of Nobody

he signs his name






This book of verse is like a ruined grove

Whose trees were mowed by profiteers with chains,

On which now vainly fall the tropic rains,

Hardening the red soil where the tractors drove.


What name is written on the leaf? Oh, none.

Manifold are the forms and names of love,

But where love's bonds break, all comes down to one.





I stood among the sleepers, yet apart,

upon a little pier. A boat came gliding by.

Near me it paused, inviting to depart.

None stirred to say goodbye.






Spirit -- whatever name You may prefer --

of song and blessed sight, inhabitant

of the sole eternity I can desire,

from whom the ones I call upon as fathers

and mothers, drew the breath that winged their words,

if ever I have heard and truly spoken

from You one word that does not shame their dust,

if I have listened also to each voice

that claimed to be of Yours; if I have striven

to hail each light, and spurn dark envy's sting;

then hearken to my fear and my petition.

It was at a poets' meeting that a man,

no longer young, detained me in the hall,

on hand upon my arm, the other hand

held a journal open to the page

on which his poem was printed; this he thrust

into my face, and bade me read. The words

were words of love, yet the words spoke of love

less than of impotent conceit that sought

to clutch someone's attention, as if that

could save it from the obscure pit that waits

for mortal things, and in which groundless pride

perhaps sinks deepest.  In dismay I gazed

upon that page, and from it to the face

whose avid desperate look is etched upon

the photographic plate of memory

and doubtless will remain there until Lethe's

solutions mildly soothe its lines away.

Spirit, of all the prayers which I have framed,

let this be granted, and if only this,

so be it: may that image not be mine!

Sooner than that one look of mine resemble

that thing I saw, let every line I writ

be clean deleted, and I nameless go

to whatsoever lot awaits the soul

released from self.





Next Chapter