H. D., "Orchard"

H. D., “Orchard” I saw the first pearas it fell –the honey-seeking, golden-banded,the yellow swarmwas not more fleet than I,(spare us from loveliness)and I fell prostratecrying:you have flayed uswith your blossoms,spare us the beautyof fruit-trees. The honey-seekingpaused not,the air thundered their song,and I alone was prostrate. O rough-hewngod of the orchard,I bring you an offering –do you, alone unbeautiful,son of […]

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Amy Lowell, "Thompson’s Lunch Room—Grand Central Station"

Amy Lowell, “Thompson’s Lunch Room—Grand Central Station” STUDY IN WHITES Wax-white—Floor, ceiling, walls.Ivory shadowsOver the pavementPolished to cream surfacesBy constant sweeping.The big room is coloured like the petalsOf a great magnolia,And has a patinaOf flower bloomWhich makes it shine dimlyUnder the electric lamps.Chairs are ranged in rowsLike sepia seedsWaiting fulfilment.The chalk-white spot of a cook’s capMoves unglossily against the vaguely […]

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Amy Lowell, "The Pike"

Amy Lowell, “The Pike” In the brown water,Thick and silver-sheened in the sunshine,Liquid and cool in the shade of the reeds,A pike dozed.Lost among the shadows of stemsHe lay unnoticed.Suddenly he flicked his tail,And a green-and-copper brightnessRan under the water. Out from under the reedsCame the olive-green light,And orange flashed upThrough the sun-thickened water.So the fish passed across the pool,Green […]

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Delmore Schwartz, “In the Naked Bed, in Plato’s Cave”

Delmore Schwartz, “In the Naked Bed, in Plato’s Cave” In the naked bed, in Plato’s cave, Reflected headlights slowly slid the wall, Carpenters hammered under the shaded window, Wind troubled the window curtains all night long, A fleet of trucks strained uphill, grinding, Their freights covered, as usual. The ceiling lightened again, the slanting diagram Slid slowly forth. Hearing the […]

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T. S. Eliot, “Preludes”

T. S. Eliot, “Preludes” I The winter evening settles down With smell of steaks in passageways. Six o’clock. The burnt-out ends of smoky days. And now a gusty shower wraps The grimy scraps Of withered leaves about your feet And newspapers from vacant lots; The showers beat On broken blinds and chimney-pots, And at the corner of the street A […]

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Thom Gunn, “On the Move”

Thom Gunn, “On the Move” “Man, you gotta Go.” The blue jay scuffling in the bushes follows Some hidden purpose, and the gust of birds That spurts across the field, the wheeling swallows, Has nested in the trees and undergrowth. Seeking their instinct, or their poise, or both, One moves with an uncertain violence Under the dust thrown by a […]

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Yvor Winters, “Time and the Garden”

Yvor Winters, “Time and the Garden” The spring has darkened with activity. The future gathers in vine, bush, and tree: Persimmon, walnut, loquat, fig, and grape, Degrees and kinds of color, taste, and shape. These will advance in their due series, space The season like a tranquil dwelling-place. And yet excitement swells me, vein by vein: I long to crowd […]

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Robinson Jeffers, “Boats in a Fog”

Robinson Jeffers, “Boats in a Fog” Sports and gallantries, the stage, the arts, the antics of dancers, The exuberant voices of music, Have charm for children but lack nobility; it is bitter earnestness That makes beauty; the mind Knows, grown adult. A sudden fog-drift muffled the ocean, A throbbing of engines moved in it, At length, a stone’s-throw out, between […]

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Archibald MacLeish, “Voyage West”

Archibald MacLeish, “Voyage West” There was a time for discoveries — For the headlands looming above in the First light and the surf and the Crying of gulls: for the curve of the Coast north into secrecy. That time is past. The last lands have been peopled. The oceans are known now. Señora: once the maps have all been made […]

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Ted Hughes – “Crow’s Song about God”

Ted Hughes – “Crow’s Song about God” Somebody is sittingUnder the gatepost of heavenUnder the lintelOn which are written the words: “Forbidden to the living.”A knot of eyes, eyeholes, lifeless, in the life-shapeA rooty old oak-stump, aground in the oozeOf some putrid estuary,Snaggy with amputations,His fingernails broken and bitten,His hair vestigial and purposeless, his toenails useless and deformed,His blood filtering […]

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H. D., “Sea Iris,” “Sea Violet”

Sea Iris I Weed, moss-weed, root tangled in sand, sea-iris, brittle flower, one petal like a shell is broken, and you print a shadow like a thin twig. Fortunate one, scented and stinging, rigid myrrh-bud, camphor-flower, sweet and salt – you are wind in our nostrils. II Do the murex-fishers drench you as they pass? Do your roots drag up […]

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Ezra Pound, “Portrait d’une Femme”

Ezra Pound, “Portrait d’une Femme” Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea, London has swept about you this score years And bright ships left you this or that in fee: Ideas, old gossip, oddments of all things, Strange spars of knowledge and dimmed wares of price. Great minds have sought you – lacking someone else. You have been second […]

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W. B. Yeats, “Meru”

W. B. Yeats, “Meru” Civilisation is hooped together, broughtUnder a rule, under the semblance of peaceBy manifold illusion; but man’s life is thought,And he, despite his terror, cannot ceaseRavening through century after century,Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may comeInto the desolation of reality:Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,Caverned in night under the drifted […]

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Carl Sandburg, “Chicago”

Carl Sandburg, “Chicago” Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders: They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys. And they tell me you are […]

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20th Century Poetry #19: Louis MacNeice

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Wednesday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. Louis MacNeice at Wiki, Poetry Foundation […]

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Amy Lowell, “Lilacs”

Amy Lowell, “Lilacs” Lilacs, False blue, White, Purple, Color of lilac, Your great puffs of flowers Are everywhere in this my New England. Among your heart-shaped leaves Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing Their little weak soft songs; In the crooks of your branches The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs Peer restlessly through the […]

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Edith Wharton, “Terminus”

Edith Wharton, “Terminus” Wonderful was the long secret night you gave me, my Lover, Palm to palm, breast to breast in the gloom. The faint red lamp Flushing with magical shadows the common-place room of the inn, With its dull impersonal furniture, kindled a mystic flame In the heart of the swinging mirror, the glass that has seen Faces innumerous […]

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Translating Kafka’s Life: An Interview with Shelley Frisch

I have posted about my love for Franz Kafka’s work many times in these pages. Today I’m lucky enough to talk with Shelley Frisch about translating Reiner Stach’s three-volume biography of Kafka into English. Frisch holds a Ph.D. in German literature from Princeton University, taught at Columbia University and Haverford College, where she served as Chair of the German Department, […]

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20th Century Poetry #18: T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. T. S. Eliot at tseliot.com, […]

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Dante, Through the Fire

Here’s one of the great moments in poetry: Canto 27 of Dante’s Purgatorio, where Dante passes through the fire, and Virgil crowns him on their way up to the summit of Mount Purgatory. This taken from the translation of Allen Mandelbaum, and the Digital Dante site at Columbia University. *** Just as, there where its Maker shed His blood, the […]

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William H. McNeill – History as Myth

A few years ago, the great historian William H. McNeill died. I still have surprisingly endearing memories of reading his A World History one winter, in the middle crowded New York City Wendy’s, surrounded by high school kids just done with their day, his narrative silencing every one and every thing.  His obituary can be found here. Below is a […]

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Adrienne Rich: 4 Love Poems

from 21 Love Poems: 1 Whenever in this city, screens flicker with pornography, with science-fiction vampires, victimized hirelings bending to the lash, we also have to walk . . . if simply as we walk through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties of our own neighborhoods. We need to grasp our lives inseparable from those rancid dreams, that blurt of […]

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20th Century Poetry #17: R. S. Thomas

R. S. Thomas (1913-2000) One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. R. S. Thomas at Wiki, […]

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20th Century Poetry #16: Vernon Watkins

VERNON WATKINS (1906-1967) One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. Vernon Watkins at Wiki, Poetry Foundation […]

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Robert Pinsky, “The Figured Wheel”

The Figured Wheel, by Robert Pinsky The figured wheel rolls through shopping malls and prisons, Over farms, small and immense, and the rotten little downtowns. Covered with symbols, it mills everything alive and grinds The remains of the dead in the cemeteries, in unmarked graves and oceans. Sluiced by salt water and fresh, by pure and contaminated rivers, By snow […]

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20th Century Poetry #15: C. Day-Lewis

C. DAY-LEWIS (1904-1972) One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. C. Day-Lewis at Wiki, Poetry Foundation […]

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The Best of Albert Camus’s Notebooks

A random scattering, some barely aphorisms, from the first two volumes of the notebooks of Albert Camus. They are gold: One must not cut oneself off from the world. No one who lives in the sunlight makes a failure of his life. My whole effort, whatever the situation, misfortune or disillusion, must be to make contact again. But even within […]

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Go Ahead and Fuck Up

  I’m not sure who the equivalent is for you, but Albert Camus was one of the first authors I found outside of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. The high school teacher who introduced me to him also laid an egg it took years to get over: the apparently insurmountable gulf between “popular” and “serious” literature. Even more than other […]

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20th Century Poetry #13: Basil Bunting

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here.   Chomei at Toyama (Kamo-no-Chomei, born at Kamo 1154, […]

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20th Century Poetry #9: Susan Miles

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here.   Microcosmos The brown-faced nurse has murmured something unintelligible […]

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20th Century Poetry #5: Edward Thomas

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. As the Team’s Head-Brass As the team’s head-brass flashed […]

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20th Century Poetry #4: Laurence Binyon

  One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. Here, with Laurence Binyon’s “Hunger,” is the first […]

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William Blake Chooses Eternity

A wonderful paragraph from Peter Ackroyd’s biography of William Blake, where he shows how the poet slowly came to accept that if he was writing for anyone other than himself, it was for posterity; and how he charged ahead nevertheless: His independence meant that he could preserve his vision beyond all taint—and that integrity is an essential aspect of his […]

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20th Century Poetry #3: W. H. Davies

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. The Rat “That woman there is almost dead, Her […]

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20th Century Poetry #2: A. E. Housman

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here.   “Loveliest of trees, the cherry now” Loveliest of […]

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20th Century Poetry #1: Thomas Hardy

  One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. And it’s worth asking, as I start with […]

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Robert Frost: “Out, Out – ”

“Out, Out – ” The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood, Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it. And from there those that lifted eyes could count Five mountain ranges one behind the other Under the sunset far into Vermont. And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and […]

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Nero & His Mother (poem)

Nero & His Mother I arranged to have her murdered at sea but she just swam to shore as the boat sank; I can see her doing that, unsurprised at the attempt but determined to live even the worst life. When the assassins showed up she screamed to put the sword lower, lower, thinking of her months of heaviness with […]

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T. S. Eliot & His Father

Here is a favorite bit from a youthful T. S. Eliot (he’s just turned thirty but that’s young to me now). After leaving America for England and abandoning the job at Harvard his family was expecting of him, he made an unfortunate marriage and started a literary life of day job, essays and reviews. He eventually had enough essays for […]

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Speaking of Short Stories

Back when I used to do a lot of readings, I would start out by sharing somebody else’s work, and I realize that I should do the equivalent of that with the release of my book of stories, The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old. The person that comes to mind is the late William Trevor, whose Last Stories was […]

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Ted Hughes: 2 War Poems

Six Young Men The celluloid of a photograph holds them well – Six young men, familiar to their friends. Four decades that have faded and ochre-tinged This photograph have not wrinkled the faces or the hands. Though their cocked hats are not now fashionable, Their shoes shine. One imparts an intimate smile, One chews a grass, one lowers his eyes, […]

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Emily Dickinson Affirms a Soul

#1142 The Props assist the House Until the House is built And then the Props withdraw And adequate, erect, The House support itself And cease to recollect The Augur and the Carpenter – Just such a retrospect Hath the perfected Life – A Past of Plank and Nail And slowness – then the scaffolds drop Affirming it a Soul –

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Allen Ginsberg, “Paterson”

Paterson What do I want in these rooms papered with visions of money? How much can I make by cutting my hair? If I put new heels on my shoes, bathe my body reeking of masturbation and sweat, layer upon layer of excrement dried in employment bureaus, magazine hallways, statistical cubicles, factory stairways, cloakrooms of the smiling gods of psychiatry; […]

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Robert Frost: “Out, Out – ”

“Out, Out – ” The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood, Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it. And from there those that lifted eyes could count Five mountain ranges one behind the other Under the sunset far into Vermont. And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and […]

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The Poet Speaks #13: Richard Wilbur & John Berryman: “The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him”

Even though I’ve never read a word of his poetry, John Berryman has been haunting me lately. Two friends who are also poets that I admire deeply have both praised his work, and recently I’ve come across remarks from a handful of Berryman’s peers, reflecting on his life and his suicide in 1972. Here are two quotes, the first from […]

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The Poet Speaks #11: George Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Levine, Stephen King, Seamus Heaney: “struggling erring human creatures”

George Eliot, on empathy: The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies…. Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot. The only effect I ardently long to produce by […]

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The Poet Speaks #9: Geoffrey Hill, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, James Merrill, Ursula K. Le Guin: “We are difficult”

On the supposed “difficulty” of his poetry: We are difficult. Human beings are difficult. We’re difficult to ourselves, we’re difficult to each other. And we are mysteries to ourselves, we are mysteries to each other. One encounters in any ordinary day far more real difficulty than one confronts in the most “intellectual” piece of work. Why is it believed that […]

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The Poet Speaks #8: Patti Smith, Toni Morrison, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane: “I shall make every sacrifice toward that end”

As even “nerd culture” and all the rest just becomes another snobby fad and pop culture corner to hide in, Patti Smith suggests where the real “next” actually is, out of view completely:…when people ask me Who’s the new people?, well to me the new people are the unknown people. The new people that I embrace are the people that […]

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Art Must Be Political

Should anyone tell you that the primary duty of art (and of life) is to be political, to constantly choose sides and to turn one another into mere categories and the most minute identities, here are a few replies by Jean Guéhenno, written while living in Nazi-Occupied Paris. All come from his Diary of the Dark Years: December 23, 1940 […]

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Deep History & Old Childhood: 3 New Poems at Isacoustic

Immense thanks to Barton Smock, who just published three of my poems at Isacoustic. You can read them here. They are among my favorites from the past few years, and so it’s wonderful to see them all together; whatever it is I’ve been trying to say with history and mythology, landscape and autobiography, are all there.  Thanks also and obviously and […]

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“Cauldron & Drink” – New Poem at Crannóg

Many thanks to the editors of Crannóg, who published my poem “Cauldron & Drink” in their most recent issue. It’s one of my favorites from my upcoming book of poems from old Europe.  For readers outside of Ireland and the UK, I’ve pasted an image from the journal below, although I would encourage everyone to subscribe.  

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Tao Te Ching #68 “This is the virtue of nonaggression”

Good warriors do not arm, good fighters don’t get mad, good winners don’t contend, good employers serve their workers. This is called the virtue of noncontention; this is called mating with the supremely natural and pristine. – Thomas Cleary   In ancient times the perfect officer wasn’t armed the perfect warrior wasn’t angry the perfect victor wasn’t hostile the perfect […]

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Tao Te Ching #64: “The most massive tree grows from a sprout, the highest building rises from a pile of earth, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step”

What is at rest is easy to hold. What has not shown up is easy to take into account. What is frail is easy to break. What is vague is easy to dispel. Do it before it exists; govern it before there’s disorder. The most massive tree grows from a sprout; the highest building rises from a pile of earth; […]

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Tao Te Ching #63: “Do nondoing, strive for nonstriving, savor the flavorless, regard the small as important, make much of little, repay enmity with virtue”

Do nondoing, strive for nonstriving, savor the flavorless, regard the small as important, make much of little, repay enmity with virtue; plan for difficulty when it is still easy, do the great while it is still small. The most difficult things in the world must be done while they are easy; the greatest things in the world must be done […]

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Tao Te Ching #57: “the people simplify themselves”

Use straightforwardness for civil government, use surprise for military operations; use noninvolvement to take the world. How do I know this? The more taboos there are in the world, the poorer the populace is; the more crafts the people have, the more exotic things are produced; the more laws are promulgated, the greater the number of thieves. Therefore the sage […]

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Two New Poems from Old Europe

Bone Antler Stone: Poems

Many thanks to the editors of the Cumberland River Review, who just published two of my poems from old Europe, on burials in ancient Sweden and Russia. You can read them here. The full collection of these poems will be published next year by the High Window Press in the UK, under the title Bone Antler Stone. You can read more of […]

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Tao Te Ching #51: “this is called Dark Virtue”

The Way gives birth, virtue nurtures, things form, momentum completes. Therefore all beings honor the Way and value its Virtue. The honor of the Way and the value of Virtue are not granted by anyone, but are always naturally so. So the Way gives birth and nurtures, makes grow and develops, completes and matures, builds up and breaks down. It […]

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Tao Te Ching #45: “Clear stillness is right for the world”

Great completeness seems incomplete; its use is never exhausted. Great fullness seems empty; its use is never ended. Great directness seems restrained, great skill seems inept, great eloquence seems inarticulate. Movement overcomes cold, stillness overcomes heat. Clear stillness is right for the world. – Thomas Cleary   Perfectly complete it seems deficient yet it never wears out perfectly full it […]

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Tao Te Ching #39: “Attaining unity”

When unity was attained of old, heaven became clear by attaining unity, earth became steady by attaining unity, spirit was quickened by attaining unity, valley streams quickened by attaining unity, all beings were born filled by attaining unity; and by attaining unity lords acted rightly for the sake of the world. What brought this about was unity: without means of […]

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Tao Te Ching #36: “Flexibility and yielding overcome adamant coerciveness”

Should you want to contain something, you must deliberately let it expand. Should you want to weaken something, you must deliberately let it grow strong. Should you want to eliminate something, you must deliberately allow it to flourish. Should you want to take something away, you must deliberately grant it. This is called subtle illumination. Flexibility and yielding overcome adamant […]

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Tao Te Ching #33: “Those who know others are wise; those who know themselves are enlightened.”

Those who know others are wise; those who know themselves are enlightened. Those who overcome others are powerful; those who overcome themselves are strong. Those who are contented are rich; those who act strongly have will. Those who do not lose their place endure; those who die without perishing live long. – Thomas Cleary   Those who know others are […]

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Tao Te Ching #32: “The Way is essentially nameless”

The Way is essentially nameless. Though simplicity is small, the world cannot subordinate it. If lords and monarchs can keep to it, all beings will naturally resort to them. Heaven and earth combine, thus showering sweet dew. No humans command it; it is even by nature. Start fashioning, and there are names; once names also exist, you should know when […]

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Tao Te Ching #29: “Should you want to take this world”

Should you want to take this world, and contrive to do so, I see you won’t manage to finish. The most sublime instrument in the world cannot be contrived. Those who contrive spoil it; those who cling lose it. So creatures sometimes go and sometimes follow, sometimes puff and sometimes blow, are sometimes strong and sometimes weak, begin sometime and […]

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Tao Te Ching #28: “Know the male, keep the female”

Know the male, keep the female; be humble toward the world. But humble to the world, and eternal power never leaves, returning again to innocence. Knowing the white, keep the black; be an exemplar for the world. Be an exemplar for the world, and eternal power never goes awry, returning again to infinity. Knowing the glorious, keep the ignominious; be […]

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Tao Te Ching #27: “Good works are trackless”

“Good works are trackless” Good works are trackless, good words are flawless, good planning isn’t calculating. What is well closed has no bolt locking it, but cannot be opened. What is well bound has no rope confining it, but cannot be untied. Therefore sages always consider it good to save people, so that there are no wasted humans; they always […]

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Tao Te Ching #26: “Gravity is the root of lightness”

Gravity is the root of lightness; calm is the master of excitement. Thereby do exemplary people travel all day without leaving their equipment. Though they have a look of prosperity, their resting place is transcendent. What can be done about heads of state who take the world lightly in their own self-interest? Lack of gravity loses servants of state; instability […]

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