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A Way to the World

William Stafford and vocational affinity
A Way to the World
WillamStafford and vocational affinity
Randy Higgins
The earth will be going on a long time
Before it finally freezes;
Men will be on it; they will take names,
Give their deeds reasons.
We will be here only
As chemical constituents -
A small franchise indeed.
Right now we have lives,
Corpuscles, ambitions, caresses,
Like everybody had once -
All the bright neige d'antan people,
"Blithe Helen, white Iope, and the rest,"
All the uneasy, remembered dead.
Here at the year's end, and the feast
of birth, let us bring to each other
The gifts brought once west through deserts -
The precious metal of our mingled hair,
The frankincense of enraptured arms and legs,
The myrrth of desperate, invinicible kisses -
Let us celebrate the daily
Recurrent nativity of love,
The endless epiphany of our fluent selves,
While the earth rolls away under us
Into unknown snows and summers,
Into untraveled spaces of the stars.
Lute Music, Kenneth Rextroth
Part I. Find a Way
The Unlimited is the first-principle of things that are. It is that from
which the coming-to-be of things take place, and it is that which they
return when they perish, by moral necessity.
Fragment of Anaximander, Philip Wheelwright, trans.
begin where one is - the middle
Begin in the middle Libraries Labyrinths Journey
The methodical task of writing distracts me from the present state
of men. The certitude that everything has been written negates us
or turns into phantoms. I know of distrcits in which the young
men prostate themselves before books and kiss their pages in a
barbarous manner, but they do not know how to decipher a single
letter. Epidemics, heretical conflicts, peregrinations which lead
inevitably into banditry, have decimated the population. I believe
I have mentioned the suicides, more and more frequent with the
years. Perhaps my old age and fearelessness decive me, but I suspect
that the human species - the unique species - is about to be
extinquished, but the Library will endure: illuminated, solidarity,
infinite, perfectly motionless.
I have just written the word "infinite." I have not interpolated this
adjective out of rhetorical habit; I say that it is not illogical to think
that the world is infinite. Those who judge it to be limited postulate
that in remote places the corridors and stairways and hexagons can
conceivably come to an end - which is absurd. Those who imagine it
to be without limit forget that the possible number of books does have a
limit. I venture to suggest this solution to the ancient problem: The
Library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveler were to cross
it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes
were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be
an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.
And Minos duly paid his vows to Jove,
A hundread bulls, on landing and in the palace
Hung up the spoils of war, but in his household
Shame had grown big, and the hybrid monster-offspring
Revealed his queen's adultery, and Minos
Contrived to hide his specimen in a maze,
A labyrinth built by Daedalus, and artist
Famous in building, who could set in stone
Confusion and conflict, and deceive the eye
With devioius aisles and passages. As Maeander
Plays in the Phrygian fields, a doubtbul river,
Flowing and looping back and sends its waters
Either to source or sea, so Daedalus
Made those innumerable windings wander,
And hardly found his own way out again,
Through the deceptive twistings of that prison.
Here Minos shut the Minotaur, and fed him
Twice, each nine years on tribute claimed fromAthens,
Blood of that city's youth. But the third tribute
Ended the rite forever, Ariadne
For Thesus's sake, supplied the clue, the thread
Of gold to unwind the maze which no one ever
had entered and left, and Thesus too her with him,
Speaking his sails for Dia, and there he left her
his loving aid, and that she be shining
In the immortal stars, he took the chaplet
She wore, and sent it spinning high, its jewels
Still visible, a heavenly constellation
Between the Kneeler and the Serpent-Holder.
Midway in the Journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for
the straight way was lost. Ah, how hard it is to tell what that wood
was, wild, rugged, harsh; the very thought of it renews the fear! It is
so bitter that death is hardly more so. But to treat the good that I
found it, I will tell of the other things I saw there.
I cannot rightly saw how I entered it. I was so full of sleep at the
moment I left the true way; but when I reached the foot of a hill, I
looked up and saw it's shoulders already clad in the rays of the planet
that leads men to aright by every path.
Then the fear was somewhat quieted that had continued in the lake of
my heart through the night I had passed so piteously. And as he who
with laboring breath has escaped from the deep to the shore turns to
look back on the dangerous waters, so my mind which was still fleeing
turned back to gaze upon pass that never left anyone alive.
... Abandon every hope, you who enter.
These words of obscure color I saw over a portal; whereupon I said
"Master, their meaning is hard for me." And he to me, as one who
understands, "Here must all fear be left behind: here let all cowardice
be dead. We have come to the place where I have told you you will see
the wretched people who have lost the good of intellect." And then he
placed his hand on mine, with a cheerful look from which I took comfort
look from which I took comfort, he led me among the secret things.
The Library of Babel, Jorge Luis Borges, Andrew Hurley, trans. Metamorphoses, Ovid, Rolfe Humphries, trans. The Divine Comedy, Dante, Charles S. Singleton, trans.
Reading the classics again, Sometimes I find heroes,
Old sages I dare not emulate, but who stood strong in adversity.
I too will not choose the easy way.
Lu Chi's, Wen Fu: The Art of Writing, Sam Hamill, trans.
Vocation Writing, The Discovery of a Daily Experience Finding What the World is Trying to Be, interview
The Dream the world is having about itself
includes a trace on the plains of the Oregon trail,
a groove in the grass my father showed us all
one day while meadowlarks were trying to tell
something better about to happen.
I deamed of the trace to the mountains, over the hills,
and there a girl who belonged whereever she was.
But then my mother called us back to the car:
she was afraid; she always blamed the place,
the time, anything my father planned.
Now both of my parents, the long line through the plain,
the meadowlarks, the sky, the world's whole dream
remain, and I hear himsay while I stand between the two,
helpless, both of them part of me:
"Your job is to find what the world is trying to be."
It is a whisper. You turn somewhere,
hall, street, some great event: the stars
of the lights hold; your next step waits you
and the firmworld waits - but
there is a whisper. You always live so,
a being that recieves, or partly receives, or
fails to receive each moment's touch.
You see the people around you - the honors
they bear - a crutch, a cane, eye patch,
or the subtler ones, that fixed look, a turn
aside, or even the brave bearing: all declare
our kind, who serve on the human front and earn
whatever disguise will take them home (I saw
Frank last week with his crutch de guerre.)
When the world is like this - and it is -
whispers, honors or penalties discuised - no wonder
art thrives like a pulse wherever civilized people,
or any people, live long enough in a place to
build, and remember, and anticipate; for we are
such beings as interact elaborately with what
surrounds us. The limited actual world we successively
overcome by fictions and by the mind's inventions
that cannot be arbitrary (and hence do reflect the actual) , but can
excape the actual (and hence may become art.)
I was very struck by the final line of "Vocation," the conlcuding
poem in your prizewinnig volume Traveling Trhough the Dark:
"Your job is to try to find what the world is trying to be." Your
father's advice in the poem seems as good a way as any of describing
what you seem to be doing in the book.
Steven Pinsker
Well, the word "vocation" means a calling. It sees writing as an
exploration, a discovery of process. I don't see writing as an
communication of something already discovered as "truths" already
known. Rather, I see writing as a job of experiment. It's like any
discovery job: you don't know what's going to happen until you try
it. All life is like that. You don't make life be what you you've
decided it ought to be. You find out what life is trying to be. And
I'm glad that you feel the book's line is picking up extra benefits. I
certainly had the feeling of going out at the end of Traveling
Through the Dark, of leaving things on an open-ended note.
William Stafford
Vocation in middle work - WTAC
Middle Work: Writing the Australian Crawl
When we take up an obscure dream, our first task is not to
understand and interpret, but to establish the context with
minute care. By this I do not mean unlimited free-associations
but a careful illumination of interconnected associations
objectively grouped around particular images.
The Practice of Psychotherapy, C. G. Jung
Writing the Australian Crawl, William Stafford
Vocatus Argue Non Vocatus Vita "Are you Mr. William Stafford?"
Before life there was a world?
When we take our life away, will fear
be anywhere - the cold? the wind? those noises
darkness tries? We'll take fear
with us. It rides the vast night
carried in our breast. Then, everywhere -
nothing? - the way it was again?
Across a desert, beyond storms
and waiting, air began to make a wing,
first leather stretched on bone
extended outward, shadow - quiet,
then whispering feathers lapped against
each other, and last the air itself,
life taken back, a knife of nothing.
There was a call one night, and a call
back. It made a song. All
the birds waited - the sound they tried for
now over, and the turning of the world
going on in silence. Behind what happens
there is that stillness, the wings that wait,
the things to try, the wondering, the music.
God guided by hand
and it wrote
"Forget my name."
World, please note -
a life went by, just
a life, no claims,
A stutter in the millions
of stars that pass,
a voice that lulled -
A glance
and a world
and a hand.
"Are you Mr. WilliamStafford?'
"Yes, but . . . "
Well, it was yesterday.
Sunlight used to follow my hand.
And that's when the strange siren-like sound flooded
over the horizon and rushed through the streets of our town.
That's when sunlight came frombehind
a rock and began to follow my hand.
"It's for the best, my mother said - "Nothing can
ever be wrong for anyone truly good."
So later the sun settled back and the sound
faded and was gone. All along the streets every
house waited, white, blue, gray: trees
were still trying to arch as far as they could.
You can't tell when strange things with meaning
will happen. I'm (still) here writing it down
just the way it was. "You don't have to
prove anything," my mother said. "Just be ready
for what god sends." I listened and put my hand
out in the sun again. It was all easy.
Well, it was yesterday. And the sun came,
it came.
Last Work: The Way It Is
Unless you are deeply integrated in your vocation, you will not be
able to sustain it. Only the vocation itself will be able to carry you
through the afflictions which will come. Your skills can't do it,
as they have nothing to do with your vocation, which comes from
a different source.
Birth of a Poet, William Everson
The Way It Is, William Stafford
Part II. Follow the Way
All mass movements, slip with the greatest ease down an inclined
plane made up of large numbers. ...Resistence to the organized
mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in
his individuality as the mass itself.
The Undiscovered Self, C. G. Jung
21 March 1961 22 March 1961 23 & 24 March 1961
Ritual of Passage
That women reading a newspaper
folds it in her hand
clenching the shredded day
apart, and in her head,
the way her husband held
an axe handle that time
and looked old as he sprung,
and cruel, an old man to her, foreign -
the last day she was young.
Living by a while in the breast
in the midst of the sleeping spin
What has lost us will find
us again, coming along through a dream
or staing back froma slide.
written on the reverse side
At the Lecture
Thought lead nowhere, straight like the roads to hell
or a dreamthe world was having about itself.
Curl your arm around your head,
inside like you is around and in.
the world, a head begins to think.
Awful dreams are the storms there on.
Storms, a dream the world has, then
wisdom below the rivers find
few spent people down the distant turn.
Storm dreams world have
curl high, lull: you wait;
sleep here long, then come world storm.
Big we will have all we dream
rest curl your head on your bent arm:
the stormdream the world has curls
high, lulls. Holds still, sleep long
in the world storm.
We watch, hold, care for all you told.
Lie still, sleep long in the world storm.
Rest your head on your bent arm;
let the storm curl high, lull
Heaven too, can hide.
This dream the world is having about itself
includes the trace on the plains of the Oregon Trail,
a groove in the grass my father showed us all
one day while meadowlarks wre trying to tell
something better about to happen. Over the hill
I dreamed the trace to the mountains and there a girl
who belonged wherever she was. My mother called
us back to the car: afraid, wrong, but part of me,
And I never have found what the world is trying to be.
Though the day. Between the two I'd stand helpless, both of
them a part of me, and I never have etc.
Always blamed the place, the time, the plan, everything:
but even as father turned
even, my father turned and took my hand.
Both of my parents, the long thru the grass,
the meadowlarks, the sky, the world's whole dream
Daily writing : rise, recieve, record.
To listen to the recital of birth of the world is to become the
contemporary of the creative act par excellence, the cosmogony.
What is important is that man has felt the need to reproduce the
cosmogony in his constructions, whatever be their nature; that this
reproduction made him contemporary with the mythical moment
of the beginning of the world and that he felt the need to returning
to that movement, as often as possible, in order to regenerate himself.
The Myth of Eternal Return, Mircea Eliade
create to receive
Daily Writings, 1961, March 19 - 24, William Stafford Archives
Draft Copy Documentary Copy Published Poem
Vocation: Writer
This dream the world is having about itself
includes a trace on the plains of the Oregon trail,
a groove in the grass my father showed us all
one day while meadowlarks were tyring to tell
something better about to happen.
I dreamed the trace to the mountains, over the hills,
and there a girl who belonged whereever she was.
But then my mother called us back to the car;
and she was afraid; she always blamed the place,
the time, everything my father planned.
He turned, he took my hand through the day to her.
Now both of my parents, the long line through the grass,
the meadowlarks, the sky, the world's whole dream
remain, and I hear himsay while between the two I stand,
Helpless, both of them part of me.
"Your job is to find what the world is trying to be."
The dream the world is having about itself
includes a trace on the plains of the Oregon trail,
a groove in the grass my father showed us all
one day while meadowlarks were trying to tell
something better about to happen.
I dreamed the trace to the mountains, over the hills,
and there a girl who belonged wherever she was.
But then my mother called us back to the car:
she was afraid; she always blamed the place,
the time, anything my father planned.
Now both of my parent, the long line though the plain,
the meadowlarks, the sky, the world's whole dream
remain, and I hear them say while I stand between the two,
helpless, both of them part of me.
"Your job is to find what the world is trying to be."
Published in Poetry in October 1961, accepted on the first
submitted, published six months after first written
First published in book 1962 Traveling through the dark
again in
1977 Stories that could be true
1978 Writing the Australian Crawl,
and the posthoumus 1999 The Way it is.
Editing Poems: revise in order to retain the recieved.
The formation of loci is the greatest importance, for the same set of loci
can be used again and again for rembembering different material. The
images which we have placed on them for remembering one set of things
fade and are effaced when we make no further use of them. But the loci
remain in the memory and can be used again by placing another set of
images for another set of material. The loci are like wax tablets which
remain when what is written on them has been effaced and are ready
to be written on again.
The Art of Memory, Frances A. Yates
Draft Copy, Vocation, William Stafford Archives Document Copy, Vocation, WilliamStafford Archives Traveling Through the Dark, WilliamStafford
Front Cover Proposed additional poems Table of Contents
On 25 October 1960, the year of West of Your City's appearance,
Stafford submitted to the University of Indiana Press a new
manuscript of sixty-one poemarranged in three sections, called
How To Cross a Valley.
One 27 December 1960, Stafford responded to a request from
Harper & Row with another collection of poems called A
Collection of Poems.
Between November 1962 and February 1962, Stafford combined the
two collections into one called Traveling through the Dark. Harper
& Row agreed to publish stating, "they were serious to take one a poet
who what been widely published in all the approved periodicals and is
gaining gratifying recognition here and there. His strong sense of
belongings to a particular countryside, his precise unaffected, unforced
language make his poetry pleasing in the way Frost is pleasing."
On 22 February 1962, Stafford including six poems written since the
beginning of negotiations with Harper, Vocation was one of them.
On April 3, 1962, Harper's responded saying there was only room
for three of the six poems and because of the book design, they would
be placed at the end of each section. Stafford agreed with the positioning
of these poems, which alter the final tone of each section, most notably
the last, where Vocation provides a tender, forward-looking conclusion
to the book - "Your job is to find what the world is tyring to be."
Traveling Through the Dark, was awarded the National Book
Award. The judges were Rolfe Humphries, Henry Rago and Reed
Whittemore. The field of finalist was strong: Besides Stafford, the
judges considered books by Robert Creeley, Donald F. Drummond,
Robert Frost, Kenneth Koch, Howard Nemerov, Winfield T. Scott,
Anne Sexton and William Carlos Williams.
The judge's citation in praise of Traveling Through the Dark reads:
"WilliamStafford's poem's are clean, direct, and whole. They are both
tough and gentle; their music also the value of silence."
The prize was awarded March 12, 1963, in a newly built Times
Square hotel designed by Morris Lapidus. Following a keynote speech
by J. Robert Oppenheimer, Stafford accepted the award for poetry with
the concluding remarks - "Out of the wilderness of possiblity comes a
vine without a name."
After the ceremony, Stafford returned home. He french-folded the
over-sized award and filed it away.
Published Books: share what is received.
Craftsmanship should apply to all of life, and since its core value
is the work itself - the very opposite of the purpose American
corporate consumerism - those genuinely committed to the
monastic option need to stay out of the public eye; to do their
work quietly, and deliberately avoid media attention.
The Twlight of American Culture, Morris Berman
Put Together, Traveling Through the Dark, William Stafford Archives
From, William Stafford Studies Number 1, WilliamStafford and
His First Publishers:The Making ofWest of Your City and Traveling
Through the Dark, Vincent Wixon & Paul Merchant
Part III. Endure the Way
When evening comes, I return to my home, and I go into my study;
and on the threshold, I take off my everyday clothes, which are
covered with mud and mire, and I put on regal and curial robes; and
dressed in a more appropriate manner I enter into the ancient courts
of ancient men and are welcomed by them kindly, and there I taste
the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born; and there I am
not ashamed to speak to them, to ask them the reasons for their actions;
and they, in their humanity, answer me; and for four hours I feel no
boredom, I dismiss every affliction, I no longer fear poverty nor do I
tremble at the thought of death: I become completely part of them.
Letter to Francesco Vettori in Rome, Niccolo Machiavelli
The Soul selects her own Society -
Then - shuts the Door -
To her divine Majority -
Present no more -
Unmoved - she notes the Chariots - pausing -
At her low Gate -
Unmoved - an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat -
I've known her - from an ample nation -
Choose One -
Then - close the Valves of her attention -
Like Stone -
Emily Dickinson, 1862
Embrace affectionate affinity Crossing Kansas The Rescued Year Back Home
Document Copy, Crossing Kansas, William Stafford Archives Document Copy, The Rescued Year, William Stafford Archives Document Copy, Coming Home, William Stafford Archives
A poem is a poet's melancholy at his lack of priority. The failure
to have begotten oneself is not the cause of the poem, for poems
arise out of the illusion of freedom, out of a sense of priority being
possible. But the poem - unlike the mind in creation - is a made
thing, and as such is an acheived anxiety.
The Anxiety of Influence, Harold Bloom
Manage anexity of ffliction Table of Contents Prologue Walking the Wilderness
Put Together, The Rescued Year, William Stafford Archives
As images of "human nature" become more problematic, an
increasing need is felt to pay closer yet more imaginative attention
to social routines and catastrophes which reveal (and which shape)
man's nature in this time of civil unrest and ideological conflict.
... It is a quality of mind that seems most dramatically to promise an
understanding of the intimate realities of ourselves and in connection
with larger social realities.
The Sociological Imaginaion, C. Wright Mills
Actively resolve affliction 18 September 1961 18 September 1961 23 & 24 September 1961
Daily Writings, 1961, September 18 - 24, William Stafford Archives
true as they are far:
and weeds in the vacant lots
were to me what they are:
Headlines are killing the world.
After the biggest war
something that men forgot
will tenderly
for something all men forget
waits here, mild or curled,
to save us or just to last
when headlines have killed the world.
while headlines kill the world
speaks of a part to last
We know the neglected rivers.
waits, mild or curled,
greater then important by our neglect
still, great, important
while, etc.
There is too much caution required of a human being.
Our place deserves regard
for being noncommittal it might:
lines like tree trunks deserve it.
sun will make it all shaggy by August
but we recognize a steady being.
I inadvertently brought a few important
people here. The place did not respond,
That I could see. A boss ordered:
the birds did not hear him. Only
a certain language appeals to the air
the way sunshine does. And what
will grow in a certain air.
We shouldnt have been human beings, Im sorry.
Shen the snake decided to go straight he didnt get anywhere.
What cant be avoided must be endured.
Most people say stories embody ideas, religious, and other
thought patterns already formed, but actually we
learn religions and ideas from stories.
Whitsunday, 1961
I don't know Who - or what - put the question. I don't know when
it was put. I don't even remember answering but at the moment I
did answer Yes to Someone - or Something - and from that hour I
was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life
in self-surrender, had a goal.
From that moment I have known what it means "not to look back,"
and "to take no thought for the morrow." Led by the Ariadne's
thread of my answer through the labyrinth of Life. I came to a time
and a place where I realized that the Way leads to a triumph which
is catastrophe, and to a catastrophe which is a triumph, that the
price for committing one's life would be reproach, and that the
only elevation possible to man lies in the depths of humiliation.
After that, the word "courage" lost its meaning, since then nothing
could be taken fromme.
As I continued along the Way, I learned, step by step, word by word,
that behind every saying in the Gospels stands one man and one
man's experience. Also behind the prayer that the cup might pass
fromhimand his promise to drink it. Also behind each of the words
fromthe Cross.
The Inner Legislation
...The person revealed is one who steadily held to a search inward
that could justify and reinforce the burden of his outward life. The
book demonstrates how the rigors of practical affairs are met by
equally rigorous - and in fact perhaps exactly complementary -
couterparts in mental and emotional experience. Hammarskjold's
book provides evidence for a great interplay between overt decision
and the shimmer of meaning s back of public action. he has provided
a document rich in poetry and comment, and invaluable as marking
existence of that often invisible and unacknowledged inner
legislation which enriches the life of rulers of this world.
... Something has been made of the distance this book preserves
between its author and the events of his life. True, no "world events"
are named in the book. Further, the jottings usually disguise the
writer by saying "he," or "you," but not "I." The displacement,
however is not for disguise, but because for the the inner self identity
is perceived as an aggregate growing from a dialogue. The total
character in the book is consistent, and he has sequential dreams:
in the dreams he says "I walked" etc. And the text speaks of "my bad
dream," "my dreams." To the writer of this book, who had found
his way far inside intentions and judgements, Dag Hammarskjold
was he, and you, and I: his survey rquired a point of view inside a
periphery, multiple sighings toward completeness.
The Concealment: Ishi, The Last Wild Indian
A rock, a leaf, mud, even the grass
Ishi the shadow man had to put back where it was,
In order to live he had to hide that he did.
His deep canyon he kept unmarked for the world,
and only his face became line, because no one saw it
and it therefore didn't make any difference.
If he appeared, he died: and he was the last. Erased
footprints, berries that purify the breath, rituals
before dawn with water - even the dogs roamed a land
unspoiled by Ishi, who used to own it, with his aunt
and uncle, whose old limbs bound in willow bark finally
stopped and were hidden under the rocks, in sweet leaves.
We ought to help change that kind of premature suicide,
the existence gradually mottled away till the heartbeat
blends and the messages all go one way from the world
and disappear inward: Ishi lived. It was all right
for him to make a track. In California now where his opposites
unmistakably dwell we wander thier streets.
And sometimes whisper his name
Mystical contemplation has not always resulted in a flight fromthe
world in the sense of an avoidance of eery contact with the social
milieu. On the contrary, the mystic may also require of himself the
maintenance of his state of grace against every pressure of the
mundane order, as an index of the enduring charecter of that very
state of grace. In that case, even the mystic's position within the
instituional framework of the world becomes a vocation, but one
leading in an altogether different direction fromany vocation
produced by inner-worldly asceticism.
On Charisma and Institution Building, Max Weber
Assert to eliminate the afflictive cause
Markings, Dag Hammarskjold The Inner Legislation, William Stafford The Concealment: Ishi, The Last Wild Indian, William Stafford
Part IV. Share the Way
The pursuit of the modern poet is to the same end as that of a
Christian mystic like Meister Eckhart: pure representation, a
vision unconditioned by the particularity of experience, a will
removed from willfulness and the search for relation, knowledge
with utility. But whereas the older poet, even when extreme as
Meister Eckhart, knew and acknowldeged mediaiton, the modern
either does not acknowledge or does not know a mediator for his
orphic journey. He passes through experience by means of the
unmediated vision. Nature, the body, and human consciousness -
that is the only text.
The Unmediated Vision, Geoffrey H. Hartman
Is this Feeling About the West Real? When I met my muse White Pigeons
What's that -
the trumpet call, the haunting cry of
aching land -
a wild goose passing?
From down the violet sky -
the looming winter sky now edging frozen land -
come circling home
White pigeons.
This is the aching land,
the bleak and desolate.
This is the plains
On this blank loneliness in the huddled clump
a house, a bar, and fences.
A boy, foreshortened, small, wind-buffeted,
his pigeons watched come home.
Herd sky, hard earth.
Soft pigeons.
Grafeful pigeons, rustling, sleepy cluttering.
Soft pigeons.
What's that -
the trumpet, the haunting cry of aching land
a wold goose passing?
From down what violet sky-
the looming winter night now edging frozen land -
White pigeons?
I glanced at her and took my glasses
off - they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew the nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. "I am your own
way of looking at things." She said "When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around will be
a sort of salvation." And I took her hand.
All their lvies out here some people know
They live in a hemisphere beyond what Columbus discovered.
These people look out and wonder: Is it magic? Is it
the oceans of air off the Pacific? you can't
walk through it without wrapping a new
piece of time around you, a readiness for a meadowlark
that brinkmanship a dawn can carry for lucky people
all through the day.
But if you don't get it, this bonus, you can
go home full of denial, and live out your years.
Great waves can pass unnoticed outside your door;
stars can pound siliently on the roof: your teakettle
and cosy life inside can deny everthing outside -
whole mountain ranges, history, the holocaust,
sainthood, Crazy Horse.
Listen - something else hovers out here, not
color, not outlines or depth when air
relieves distance by hazing far mountains,
but some total feeling or other world
almost coming forward, like when a bell sounds
and then leaves a whole countryside waiting.
It is the special fate of modern man that he has a "choice" of spiritual
visions. The paradox is that although each requires complete
commitment for complete validity, we can today generate a context in
which we see that not one of themis the sole vision. We must learn
to be naive but undogmatic. That is, we must take the vision as it
comes and trust ourselves to it, naively, as reality. Yet we must retain
an openness to experience such that the dark shadows deep wihin one
vision are the mute, stubborn messengers waiting to lead us to a new
light and new vision.
...We must not ignore the fact that in this last analysis, commitment
to a specific orientation outweighs catholicity of imagery. One may be a
sensitive and seasoned traveler, at ease in many places, but one must
have a home. Still, we can be intimate with those we visit, and while
we may be only travelers and guests in some domains, they are our host
who are truly at home. Home is always home for someone; but there
is not Absolute Home in general. And reality is a favored base of
operations, a favored place from which to greet the world, not an
Absolute Place in general. With all its discovery of relativism, the West
has been fundamentally absolutist: we claim to tolerate other visions;
we explain them, praise them, enjoy them; and gently, skillfully,
appreciatively, do we not, too often betray them?
The Self in Transformation, Herbert Fingarette
Soft Pigeons, Self-proclaimed first poem, Lawerence, Kansas, Spring, 1937 When I Met My Muse, An Oregon Message, 1987 Is This Feeling About the West Real?,The Menrow River Poems , 1995
The Philosopher says "We should repay those who are gracious to us,
by being gracious to them in return," and this is done by repaying
more than we have received. Therefore gratitude always inclines,
as far as possible, to pay back something more.
Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas Aquinas
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