Kizer’s Summer Near the River


Here Carolyn Kizer has appropriated themes from the Midnight Songs, (both a genre and anthology, “Tzu Yeh”) and also the Book of Songs anthology, both from the Classical Chinese tradition.  However her work is as fresh as the best direct translations of Classical Chinese poetry I have read.  (The Chinese and Japanese translations of Kenneth Rexroth I recommend wholeheartedly.)  Best to just read her poem instead of my prattling.

Hempel’s The Transfer


Here is a lovely poem by Elise Hempel. She has a page at Poetry Foundation with another poem here. This poem expresses a fleeting and rarely captured sentiment, so it took me hours to find the image featured here, a painting by Alice Neel.

The Transfer

His car rolls up to the curb, you switch
your mood, which doll to bring and rush

out again on the sliding steps
of your shoes half-on, forgetting to zip

your new pink coat in thirty degrees,
teeth and hair not brushed, already

passing the birch, mid-way between us,
too far to hear my fading voice

calling my rope of reminders as I
lean out in my robe, another Saturday

morning you’re pulled toward his smile, his gifts,
sweeping on two flattened rafts

from mine to his, your fleeting wave
down the rapids of the drive.

Hopkins’ To Seem The Stranger


To Seem The Stranger
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life
Among strangers. Father and mother dear,
Brothers and sisters are in Christ not near
And he my peace my parting, sword and strife.

England, whose honour O all my heart woos, wife
To my creating thought, would neither hear
Me, were I pleading, plead nor do I: I wear-
y of idle a being but by where wars are rife.

I am in Ireland now; now I am at a thírd
Remove. Not but in all removes I can
Kind love both give and get. Only what word

Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban
Bars or hell’s spell thwarts. This to hoard unheard,
Heard unheeded, leaves me a lonely began.


Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote this “Terrible Sonnet” seeming strangely filled with inspiration, and I hope it brought him deep relief.  At the outset he declares he is a stranger removed from his family, close to God but drawn by Him into conflict and perhaps estrangement. The first stanza, like a number of Davidic hymns, can also be read from the perspective of Christ, in this case, on the cross. The author really heats up as he goes along and becomes more and more intimate with the reader.

In the second stanza, Hopkins is acting as a Catholic priest, giving all his heart to England, who ‘all his heart woos’. Does he not know to love the Lord with all his heart? I believe Hopkins here is expressing a desire to fight for the salvation of England. Therefore he writes for her, and he preaches for her, and he serves as a school teacher for her, to win souls.

Not only a soul he woos, but the wife of his “creating thought,” meaning he is created in a sense by the thoughts he has for her. (As a poet there are overtones that these thoughts are those of his poetic creativity.) So in this sense he is even created by her. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some.” This sublimation of his natural being is the key to the trickiest part of the poem, its last stanza.

Hopkins says he woos England, but he does not plead with her. Christ is Hopkins’ peace and sad parting (here we see a hint that Hopkins parted from home and the Anglican faith of his family in order to serve Christ). Christ is also here his sword and strife. (line 4) This is a references to the fact that Christ did not come to bring peace, but a sword, and that by Him is the rising and falling of many. In addition, winning souls requires the wise use of the Word, which is compared to a sword. (Ephesians 6:!7, Hebrews 4:12, Proverbs 11:30)

This priest goes where wars are rife, at once saying that he is weary of idle people (meaning I think, idle Christians), so goes to war for religious purposes, to save souls, and at the same time the syntactic flexibility permits a reading like “weary of the idle except in war zones,” (where the active often seek to harm.)

In the third stanza Hopkins speaks of being at the “third remove,” meaning Ireland. I believe he is centering himself at Christ on the cross in Jerusalem. The first remove is Rome, the second remove is England, and the third remove is Ireland.

Now these two sentences are the heart of the poem and should be read together.

Not but in all removes I can
Kind love both give and get. Only what word//
Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban
Bars or hell’s spell thwarts.

In the first sentence Hopkins is saying that where love face a difficulty or extremity of circumstance, perhaps a lack of acceptance or welcome or some persecution, that is where kind love can be found. Christ did not accept loving others in the easiest of ways as virtuous because even sinners did that.

“And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:32-36)

But there is also a reality to the ideality that only in the greatet remove from the broad way of the world, the most instinctive way, can one give the greatest love. Where love has traveled furthest to save, love gives and receive kindness best. In the true extremity of love is the backbone of love that it possesses when dwelling in peace. By His deep descent and His exalted loftiness ascended, we understand best the infinite love, which was incarnate on the Cross in Truth. Also, only when our love is unconditional, universal, and all consuming, are we lovers because love is by its nature unstinting, and total. Moreover, in all removes with love present Hopkins witnesses to a kindness, and as Paul says, “love is kind.” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

In these ways love is not found but in the nakedness of “all removes.” This line (10) also illuminates lines 1 and 2, which read,

To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life
among strangers.

This lot in life, to be among strangers, is reminiscent of the lot that the Roman soldiers cast at Jesus feet.  They were true strangers to Him, to the extent possible, and while they were humans acting so oddly they lost their humanity and relevance to the cosmos, no one treated them as strange, but God was dying on the Cross, bearing the wrath of His Father against all sin, and He retained so much humanity, that he makes human suffering imbued with his holiness and piteous tenderness.

Hopkins is saying by praising limitless removes, that he would like his missionary activity to bring him to the farthest reaches of the globe. This is where a poor stranger can receive and be shown great love. When men are separated by pain and ostracized by enmity or old guilt, then love can be most fully expressed.

This next sentence is a doozy but I believe it can be rewritten “what word my heart most wisely breeds, either dark heaven’s baffling ban does bar, or else hell’s spell will thwart.” So below I want to search out the meaning Hopkins here expresses, that his best efforts are sublimated into the blessings and energies of others, or are spread through the body of Christ.

Paul spoke of this in several places to teach us about the interpenetration of the body of believers. From scriptures like Romans 6:6, Galatians 2:20, and 5:24, and 6:14, and 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, we are taught about how we are crucified with Christ and die with Him and so live with Him, being united in His effort.  2 Corinthians 11:29, and 1 Corinthians 12:23-26 take this idea another logical step, asserting that being united in the life of Christ means being united in the lives of other believers.  And so in a mystical and powerful sense, blessings from God, and His intricate and holy work, flows between one part of the body of believers to another part. And this means that to live and die with Christ, we do not do what we would do, but are made new creatures through a kind of strange sublimation that benefits the world and the body. We desire new and wonderful things but are not in control of how they turn out, but we trust God and can often see His hand at work. The following passage makes this clear.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-7)

Again, Hopkins wrote,

Only what word//
Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban
Bars or hell’s spell thwarts.

This I believe is properly, but more easily understood as, “what word my heart most wisely breeds, either dark heaven’s baffling ban does bar, or else hell’s spell will thwart.” This turns on the ironic idea that the best fruit of Hopkins heart is barred by Heaven. This best fruit is described as his wisest words. It may be Hopkins feels his work is languishing in anonymity and has no impact. But what is “dark heaven”? I believe this refers to the storm clouds over Christ on the Cross, and certainly refers to the baffling mysteries of how a merciful God frustrates our hopes. But these best fruits of service are the ones that Christ would take in the Temple of sacrifice as most sweet and useful.

The idea is that in God’s wrath upon His sweet and tender Son – all sin at once being met with God’s wrath – we also know that sweet wisdom has its worshiping place. And so under the baffling ban of Calvary’s wrath, that love which is foolishness to unbelievers, (also baffling was the ban of the favor that Jesus enjoyed,) Hopkins finds his wisest words silenced by being removed from intimacy with others, because he became a stranger. (1 Corinthians 1:23) That silent cross, having a mission of love, but no intimates, remains true in his poetic life (having almost no readers.)  Also, as I have been arguing, it may be that Hopkins is barred precisely for the work, and for the service of sweet worshiping words in production, since that is how his life in the interpenetrating body is Christ-like.

But the alternate outcome is that if Satan succeeds in keeping a man blind; to use the New Testament figure, if the bird comes and eats the seed of the Gospel before it can work, then the soul is not saved, but Hell has thwarted the good work.

The next and final sentence is also wonderful.

This to hoard unheard,
Heard unheeded, leaves me a lonely began.

If Hopkins hoards what he hears but does not share; if a hearer of the word hoards the hearing, and does not really hear with heart; or if someone hears but does not do, that leaves a great loneliness in this priest. He is comparing Himself with the loneliness of Christ on the Cross, whose people did not know Him, who as the first Living One, the only immortal One, in whose dawn we have all found life, was nonetheless rejected even in His very kindness and innocence. (John 1:10,11) And so the Alpha and Omega at the center saved us at the extremity of loneliness; there He began, but from there He continues and marches on and brings an end of the race to all those He has made.

(The picture below is Caravaggio’s other scene of Paul’s conversion on the way to Damascus.  Here is some of that strife Hopkins speaks of, as Jesus is reaching for Paul and a Jewish soldier fends Him off with a spear. This makes no sense at all on a mundane level but is spiritual, and irrational to the understanding of the flesh.)

Caravaggio Conversion Paul 1

Asher Blake’s Talking With Michael Black


Talking With Michael Black

I don’t just love you in your kimono
rage, your outfit for oriental jazz.
Constancy, sweet constancy, your head
within our fridge. My child, love
is yours not for blowing piles
of Miles in a cocaine fusion,
cocksure in your shoulder pads,
the wolf-geist in my guest house.
Because you are my son.
That is why I love you.

Not for the way you read Ginsberg’s Howl
with the actual pride of your daemon,
attempting some crystal adage
but lacking even the Hebrew School
knowledge of that Devil Moloch
who took you hostage. We still
ransom ourselves mad, and build
bridges over Gehenna ravines
inside your everyday mind,
for you, my little one, are still in sight.

You emerged in an aureole of perplexity,
of misery. We never travail
in your worm-like misery, but I stoop
in the dark in my attorney suit,
my silken fencing mask, and burn
real money in sprawling Texan
wastebaskets because
I truly love you, far more
than you love Ginsberg.

When you heard you had a son, the lightning
flew, ran with golden feet on each stone
vertebrae, that was how you said you knew.
Though you crush on Coltrane’s chakras,
that thrum and moan with vibraphone ease,
remember the greater liberation:
being born in flesh and bone
as generations more of living beings.

Dear Michael, music of the trees,
monster of epiphany, I see through
the forest, I know the field.
I’ve cleared the path in pain, in part
by cleaning up your child mess and vomit.
The tragic song to me is always klezmer,
like some carousel of ecstatic clarinet;
like my old arena: I know the field.
Your path comes through Michael,
come and I will lead you.

The real thing can cost
in fire; surely some flames
may touch the original Nordic
boat, even you, the gambler’s
wisely crooked dice.
Not for any tenderness
of youth, but in your grizzled
cheek as you resist the mental
ward – we love you.

A baby, already you brought
the doctors of the void to sound
their “ah’s.” They make the
illness the oracle. By now
you realize that real inference
appears by sessions looking
in the mirror, and if you cast reflections
twice, thrice weekly, send the bill
to me; grow a full, luxurious
beard. Just comply with us
on this: please take your meds;
I beg you to take your meds.

I have swallowed your horror
since you emerged into this world
from the areola, burst out from
a bison side. Your pills now the whole
horror swallow. Eat them
and take what we give in silence.

Take a chair beside me; my chair
into your room when I am gone.
Grow almost like me; grow almost
as ancient beside me, full of the throat
that throws wishbones of law,
and sets down pillowed cushions
for the rabbis in the synagogue.

Asher Blake’s Praise Poem #17


Praise Poem #17

Walking beneath the cherry trees
he fell in love with the Phillipines.
Young sapling roots hug the tidal basin.

When the wind is stronger than the flower,
weak aching heads relinquish their beams.
Ripe they fall in a frenzy
of the five senses every spring.
Our heads look
to the spin,

the eye and skin brush the whirling dress,
but our mouths hold back
Clouds are blooming like slow dancing
thinkers on the rain.

He was well seeded with his trees,
sprouted in the spring.
But he died in love beneath
the Filippino cherry trees,
passed Lethe in the floating arms
of uncut flowers
like children’s teeth.

His last hope was the breath
of a Filipino medic
that is still within his lungs.
Hopes hanging in his pulse,
life, then living death,
life, then dying all the death.

He holds his heart eyes open,
they stay eternally in windy breath,
when unshaken blossoms remain beholding Him,
in that very wind that is the vigor of the root.
In salted islands, and the eagle nest D.C.,
we take His body, preach His wounds,
for the Lord more beautiful
than cherry blossoms
rises first,
and keeps me clinging,
heart to beating heart.

Cherry Tree

Asher Blake’s Praise Poem #18


Praise Poem #18

Dread goes high, higher, Avraham,
how I’m dead and fear’s fatal gleam
meets my eye. And the final lick
of light in me has shut,
gone in raised harvest of hair and knowledge
off my body. Now I know the certain
darkness feels for something there,
smothered by the weight
of the night-fell-angel
forced the other way, to swear
by that boy, Struggle, getting blessings
for himself, the prince, so that
the horn of Israel did get it,
and his shaggy twin by bullish power
was thrown, his assumptions,
my son to starlight multiplies,
and saves Israel, the caravan light of Israel.

Oh august Lord God above,
please accept
my hand is coming,
your water, we wash always in your
water, you are why I always wash
the feet first and hands, then dishes,
the couches and the counters after.

Oh great Father, please accept my child,
the holy fruit of steady prayer.
Even father Avraham said,
Lord, let Ishmael live before you!

Dear Lord, Holy One Hashem,
please accept my son for love,
favor him and bind him
in your sign, cut off his foreskin
in the power of your knowledge.
By dread of you, we gain relief
and live, and read a sentence of
graven letters and are written –
in the Book of Life.

There is a surgeon’s skull cap,
pulling back the tenderness,
it lends him greater manhood,
so there is a foreskin for the circumcised,
something nails, some immodesty, a brazen
camouflage bandanna against the head,
the band of men appearing to take God,
Lord of stars, and nail Him,
kill your breath, then curse.

But there is also the call irrevocable,
and the fair song, singing,
praising breath.
We find through a little
side angled door, a seal
in Him forever. Go
past the fear of rejection;
go into the luscious manhood
of the vine and branches heavy pruned
by the Father who counted His Son’s blood
sacred, who created this means of worship
strong enough to bear the weight of rescue.

Edward Thomas’ Old Man


Let’s have another poem by Edward Thomas.  This lyric amounts almost to song not through sound but through the movements of the mind, recurring, wistful, and meditative.  He dwells upon a mystery: how can a man long for a bitter knowledge, loving what he does not like?  How sweet these modern English garden poems of his.  Click on this link to read the Old Man.