Seamus Heaney, “The Strand at Lough Beg” (An Elegy from the Troubles)

Seamus Heaney, “The Strand at Lough Beg” In Memory of Colum McCartney All round this little island, on the strand Far down below there, where the breakers strive Grow the tall rushes from the oozy sand. – Dante, Purgatorio, I, 100-3 Leaving the white glow of filling stations And a few lonely streetlamps among fields […]

Genevieve Taggard, “To One Loved Wholly Within Wisdom”

Genevieve Taggard, “To One Loved Wholly Within Wisdom” Someone will reap you like a field, Pile your gathered plunder, Garner what you bring to yield, Turn your beauty under; In cruel usages, in such Sickle-cutting, heaping; Certain women toil too much, Wearing of their reaping; Someone else may winnow you; Someone else may plunder; I […]

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 […]

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 […]

Heaney on Writing

Here’s Seamus Heaney talking about writing, from Dennis O’Driscoll’s book-length interview with him, Stepping Stones: On Inspiration On the week in May 1969 when he wrote “about forty poems”: It was a visitation, an onset, and as such, powerfully confirming. This you felt, was “it.” You had been initiated into the order of the inspired. […]

The Great Myths #53: Thor Goes Fishing for the Serpent that Surrounds the World (Norse)

Read the other Great Myths here Long ago the slaughter-gods were eating their hunting-prey in the mood for a drink, before they were full; they shook the sticks and looked at the lots: they learned that at Ægir’s was a fine crop of cauldrons. The cliff-dweller [Ægir] sat there, child-cheerful, much like Miskorblindi’s boy; the […]

Harold Bloom Discovers That What Writers Work Hardest On Isn’t What Readers Remember Most

from Bloom’s 1991 interview with The Paris Review: You know, I’ve learned something over the years, picking up copies of my books in secondhand bookstores and in libraries, off people’s shelves. I’ve written so much and have now looked at so many of these books that I’ve learned a great deal. You also learn this […]

Kafka’s Sisters & The Remains of Old Yeats (2 poems)

Kafka’s Sisters With thanks I was tubercular and dead by early summer nineteen twenty-four, long in the grave with my intensity before those three sisters rose to follow, Ellie and Ottla and Valli dragged through the cattle-car years down to forty-five. Ellie and Ottla and Valli I sing, deported to Poland, deported to Łódź or […]

Bone Antler Stone: Poems

“Bone Antler Stone” reviewed in the Big Windows Review

Many thanks to Tom Zimmerman at The Big Windows Review for his review of Bone Antler Stone. I’ve pasted an excerpt below, and you can read the entire review here. Excerpts and reviews from the book are here. “… [Bone Antler Stone] is an act of powerful sympathetic imagination that forges a connection between lost cultures […]

Female Figurines and a Shipwreck: Two Poems from “Bone Antler Stone”

Here are two of my favorite poems from Bone Antler Stone: one on the famous ice age “Venus” figurines from 20-30,000 years ago, and another on a shipwreck from 1300 BC. You can order the entire collection here, or find more poems from the book here. Female Figurines for Evie Hum the words with me and […]

The Great Myths #46: Sacred Language & Homer’s Poets (Greek)

Here are two passages from Homer’s Odyssey featuring the common household bard of prehistoric Greece. The first poet, the description of which probably lent to the legend that Homer himself was blind, performs stories of the Trojan war before a disguised Odysseus, bringing him to tears. The second is the bard at Odysseus’ own home […]

The Great Myths #43 Sacred Language & the Story of Gwion Bach & Taliesin (Welsh)

One of the longer myths I’ll post here, the following story is well worth it, and is indeed a master-class in mythology and folklore. Containing shape-changes, chase scenes, mysterious births, borrowed identities, and competitions of all kinds, it is in the best sense a holy mess, including its sudden and (to us) perhaps unsatisfying ending. […]

The Great Myths #42: Sacred Language & the Story of Caedmon (Christian)

A brother of the monastery is found to possess God’s gift of poetry [A. D. 680] In this monastery of Streanaeshalch lived a brother singularly gifted by God’s grace. So skilful was he in composing religious and devotional songs that, when any passage of Scripture was explained by interpreters, he could quickly turn it into […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 13: “The perfect image of a mighty mind, of one that feeds upon infinity”

Here are excerpts from the last book of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude.  Other excerpts  are here.   In one of these excursions, travelling then Through Wales on foot and with a youthful friend, I left Bethkelet’s huts at couching-time, And westward took my way to see the sun Rise from the top of Snowdon. Having reading […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 12: “making verse deal boldly with substantial things”

Throughout the summer I hope to post my favorite bits from Wordworth’s 1805 Prelude. Book 12 continues his meditations in Book 11, which was titled “Imagination, How Impaired & Restored.” Other excerpts are here.   Such benefit may souls of humblest frame Partake of, each in their degree; ’tis mine To speak of what myself […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 11: “Habits of devoutest sympathy”

Excerpts from Book 11 of  Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, which he calls “Imagination, How Impaired and Restored.” Other excerpts are here.   Long time hath man’s unhappiness and guilt Defained us: with what dismal sights beset For the outward view, and inwardly oppressed With sorrow, disappointment, vexing thoughts, Confusion of the judgement, zeal decayed – And […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 10: “In the very world which is the world of all of us, the place in which, in the end, we find our happiness, or not at all”

Excerpts from Book 10 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, where he concludes his story of being in France during the Revolution. Other excerpts are here.   A poor mistaken and bewildered offering, Should to the breast of Nature have gone back, With all my resolutions, all my hopes, A poet only to myself, to men Useless, […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 9: “I saw the revolutionary power toss like a ship at anchor”

Excerpts from Book 9 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, where he begins his story of being in France during the Revolution. Other excerpts are here.   ’Tis mine to tread The humbler province of plain history, And, without choice of circumstance, submissively Relate what I have heard. Book 9, 642-645 Oft then I said, And not […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 8: “A weight of ages did at once descend upon my heart”

Excerpts from Book 8 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, which he titles “Love of Nature Leading to Love of Mankind.” Other excerpts are here.   With deep devotion, Nature, did I feel In that great city what I owed to thee: High thoughts of God and man, and love of man, Triumphant over all those loathsome […]

On “Bone Antler Stone”: Ancient Europe, the Narrow Book & Finding Poetry Again

My poetry collection Bone Antler Stone—a panorama of ancient Europe from the painted caves of Lascaux to contact with Greece and Rome—comes out on Thursday. You can order it here. Here’s an essay on how it came to be written: The poems of Bone Antler Stone go way back, as a book about ancient history […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 7: “This parliament of monsters”

  Excerpts from Book 7 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his time living in London. Other excerpts are here.   Above all, one thought Baffled my understanding, how men lived Even next-door neighbours, as we say, yet still Strangers, and not knowing each other’s names. Book 7, 117-120   Shall I give way, Copying the […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 6: “No absence scarcely can there be, for those who love as we do.”

Excerpts from Book 6 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his friendship with Coleridge. Other excerpts are here.   There is no grief, no sorrow, no despair, No languor, no dejection, no dismay, No absence scarcely can there be, for those Who love as we do. Book 6, 253-256 I too have been a wanderer, but, […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 4: “Need I say, dear friend, that to the brim my heart was full?”

  Excerpts from Book 4 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his time home from college. Other excerpts are here.   Why should I speak of what a thousand hearts Have felt, and every man alive can guess? Book 4: 33-34 Delighted did I take my place again At our domestic table; and, dear friend, Relating […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 3: “Unknown, unthought of, yet I was most rich”

Excerpts from Book 3 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his years at Cambridge. Other excerpts are here.   Things they were which then I did not love, nor do I love them now: Such glory was but little sought by me, And little won. But it is right to say That even so early, from […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 2: “The self-sufficing power of solitude”

Excerpts from Book 2 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude. Other excerpts are here.   Thus the pride of strength And the vainglory of superior skill Were interfused with objects which subdued And tempered them, and gradually produced A quiet independence of heart. And to my friend who knows me I may add, Unapprehensive of reproof, that […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 1: “Invigorating thoughts from former years”

Excerpts from Book 1 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude. Other excerpts are here.   Time, place, and manners, these I seek, and these I find in plenteous store, but nowhere such As may be singled out with steady choice – No little band of yet remembered names Whom I, in perfect confidence, might hope To summon […]

“the shining days when the world was new”: Virgil Greets the Spring

From the second of Virgil’s Georgics, translated by David Ferry: It’s spring that adorns the woods and groves with leaves; In spring the soil, desiring seed, is tumid, And then the omnipotent father god descends In showers from the sky and enters into The joyful bridal body of the earth, His greatness and her greatness […]

“All I know is a door into the dark”: 2 Poems by Seamus Heaney

A young Seamus Heaney recalls a blacksmith from his boyhood, while a much older Seamus Heaney illustrates the sometimes excessive power of retributive force (he says he was inspired by the U. S. military response to 9/11) by the swinging of a sledgehammer.   The Forge All I know is a door into the dark,Outside, […]

Tao Te Ching #81: “True words are not beautiful, beautiful words are not true”

True words are not beautiful, beautiful words are not true. The good are not argumentative, the argumentative are not good. Knowers do not generalize, generalists do not know. Sages do not accumulate anything but give everything to others, having more the more they give. The Way of heaven helps and does not harm. The Way […]

Tao Te Ching #79: “Therefore sages keep their faith and do not pressure others”

When you harmonize bitter enemies, yet resentment is sure to linger, how can this be called good? Therefore sages keep their faith and do not pressure others. So the virtuous see to their promises, while the virtueless look after precedents. The Way of heaven is impersonal it is always with good people. – Thomas Cleary […]

Tao Te Ching #78: “So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful”

Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it. This is why […]

Tao Te Ching #77: “The Way of heaven reduces excess and fills need, but the way of humans is not so”

The Way of heaven is like drawing a bow: the high is lowered, the low is raised; excess is reduced, need is fulfilled. The Way of heaven reduces excess and fills need, but the way of humans is not so: they strip the needy to serve those who have too much. – Thomas Cleary   […]

Tao Te Ching #76: “Let strength and might be put below, and tender, gentle in control”

When people are born they are supple, and when they die they are stiff. When trees are born they are tender, and when they die they are brittle. Stiffness is thus a companion of death, flexibility a companion of life. So when an army is strong, it does not prevail. When a tree is strong, […]

Tao Te Ching #75: “Only those who do not contrive to live are wise in valuing life”

When people are starving, it is because their governments take too much, causing them to starve. When people are hard to control, it is because of the contrivances of their governments, which make them hard to control. When people slight death, it is because of the earnestness with which they seek life; that makes them […]

Tao Te Ching #74: “If people usually don’t fear death, how can death be used to scare them?”

If people usually don’t fear death, how can death be used to scare them? If people are made to fear death, and you can catch and kill them when they act oddly, who would dare? There are always executioners. And to kill in place of an executioner is taking the place of a master carver. […]

Tao Te Ching #73: “But which man knows what heaven condemns, what precedents it’s guided by?”

Boldness in daring means killing; boldness in not daring means life. These two may help and may harm. Who knows the reason for what heaven dislikes? This is why even sages find it hard for them. The Way of heaven win well without contest, responds well without speech, comes of itself uncalled, relaxed yet very […]

Tao Te Ching #71: “To presume to know what you don’t is sick”

To know unconsciously is best. To presume to know what you don’t is sick. Only by recognizing the sickness of sickness is it possible not to be sick. To sages’ freedom from ills was from recognizing the sickness of sickness, so they didn’t suffer from sickness. – Thomas Cleary   To understand yet not understand […]

Tao Te Ching #69: “No fate is worse than to have no enemy”

There are sayings on the use of arms: “Let us not be aggressors, but defend.” “Let us not advance an inch, but retreat a foot.” This is called carrying out no action, shaking no arm, facing no enemy, wielding no weapon. No calamity is greater than underestimating opponents. If you underestimate opponents, you’re close to […]

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 […]

Tao Te Ching #67: “What Heaven creates let compassion protect”

Everyone in the world says my Way is great, but it seems incomparable. It is just because it is great that it seems incomparable: when comparisons are long established it becomes trivialized. I have three treasures that I keep and hold: one is mercy, the second is frugality, the third is not presuming to be […]

Tao Te Ching #66: Because they do not contend, no one in the world can contend with them”

The reason why rivers and seas can be lords of the hundred valleys is that they lower themselves to them well; therefore they can be lords of the hundred valleys. So when sages wishes to rise above people, they lower themselves to them in their speech. When they want to precede people, they go after […]

Tao Te Ching #65: “The ancient masters of the Way tried not to enlighten but to keep people in the dark”

In ancient times, good practitioners of the Way did not use it to enlighten the people, but to make them unsophisticated. When people are unruly, it is because of sophistication. So to govern a country by cunning is to rob the country. Not using cunning to govern a country is good fortune for the country. […]

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 […]

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 […]

Tao Te Ching #61: “A great nation wants no more than to include and nurture people”

A great nation flows downward into intercourse with the world. The female of the world always prevails over the male by stillness. Because stillness is considered lower, by lowering itself to a small nation a great nation takes a small nation; by being lower than a great nation a small nation takes a great nation. […]

Tao Te Ching #60: “Governing a large nation is like cooking little fish”

Governing a large nation is like cooking little fish. When the world is ruled by the Way, the ghosts are powerless. It is not that the ghosts are powerless; their spirits do not harm the people. Not only do the spirits not harm the people; sages do not harm the people either. Because the two […]

Tao Te Ching #59: “The Way of extended life and sustained reflection”

To govern the human and serve the divine, nothing compares to frugality. Only frugality brings early recovery; early recovery means buildup of power. Build up virtue, and you master all. When you master all, no one knows your limit. When no one knows your limit, you can maintain a nation. When you maintain the matrix […]

Tao Te Ching #58: “happiness rests in misery, misery hides in happiness”

When the government is unobtrusive, the people are pure. When the government is invasive, the people are wanting. Calamity is what fortune depends upon; fortune is what calamity subdues. Who knows how it will all end? Is there no right and wrong? The orthodox becomes unorthodox, the good also becomes ill; people’s confusion is indeed […]

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 […]

Tao Te Ching #56: “Those who know do not say, those who say do not know”

Those who know do not say; those who say do not know. Close the senses, shut the doors; blunt the sharpness, resolve the complications; harmonize the light, assimilate to the world. This is called mysterious sameness. It cannot be made familiar, yet cannot be estranged; it cannot be profited, yet cannot be harmed; it cannot […]

Tao Te Ching #55: “Knowing how to be balanced we endure, knowing how to endure we become wise”

The richness of subliminal virtue is comparable to an infant: poisonous creatures do not sting it, wild beasts do not claw it, predatory birds do not grab it. Its tendons are flexible, yet its grip is firm. Even while it knows not the mating of male and female, its genitals get aroused; this is the […]

Tao Te Ching #54: “What you plant well can’t be uprooted, what you hold well can’t be taken away”

Good construction does not fall down, a good embrace does not let go; their heirs honor them unceasingly. Cultivate it in yourself, and that virtue is real; cultivate it in the home, and that virtue is abundant; cultivate it in the locality, and that virtue lasts; cultivate it in the nation, and that virtue is […]

Tao Te Ching #53: “The Great Way is quite even, yet people prefer byways”

Causing one flashes of knowledge to travel the Great Way, only its application demands care. The Great Way is quite even, yet people prefer byways. When courts are extremely fastidious, the fields are seriously neglected, and the granaries are very empty; they wear colorful clothing and carry sharp swords, eat and drink to their fill […]