Madeleine L’Engle’s Poetry
I’ve been terribly surprised that most people have never even heard of Madeleine L’Engle’s works other than A Wrinkle in Time
. She has written many other books for young adults, fiction and non-fiction for adults, and several volumes of poetry. Her Crosswicks Journals are very special to me, but the bits of the poetry are easier to share with you. Both of these were reprinted in a fairly recent book, The Ordering of Love.
There is a line that haunts me, and I cannot find the source now but I know it was from something Ms. L’Engle wrote. She speaks of reaching out in the dark of night to her sleeping husband, simply to rest her hand upon him in “affirmation of incarnation.” The image is so simple, yet so powerful. If you find the source, I’d very much appreciate it if you would let me know.
To a Long-Loved Love
We, who have seen the new moon grow old together,
Who have seen winter rime the fields and stones
As though it would claim earth and water forever,
We who have known the touch of flesh and the shape of bones
Know the old moon stretching its shadows across a whitened field
More beautiful than spring with all its spate of blooms
What passions knowledge of tried flesh still yields,
What joy and comfort these familiar rooms.
In the moonless, lampless dark now of this bed
My body knows each line and curve of yours;
My fingers know the shape of limb and head:
As pure as mathematics ecstasy endures.
Blinded by night and love we share our passion,
Certain of burning flesh, of living bone:
So feels the sculptor in the moment of creation
Moving his hands across the uncut stone.
I know why a star gives light
Shining quietly in the night;
Arithmetic helps me unravel
The hours and years this light must travel
To penetrate our atmosphere.
I can count the craters on the moon
With telescopes to make them clear.
With delicate instruments I can measure
The secrets of barometric pressure.
And therefore I find it inexpressibly queer
That with my own soul I am out of tune,
And that i have not stumbled on the art
Of forecasting the weather of the heart.
You are still new, my love. I do not know you.
Stranger beside me in the dark of bed,
Dreaming the dreams I cannot ever enter,
Eyes closed in that unknown, familiar head.
Who are you, who have thrust and entered
My very being, penetrated so that now
I can never again be wholly separate,
Bound by shared living to this unkown thou?
I do not know you, nor do you know me,
And yet we know each other in the way
Of our primordial forbears in the garden,
Adam knew Eve. As we do, so did they.
They, we, forever strangers: Austere but true.
And yet I would not change it. You are still new.
Words must be said, and silences be kept,
Yet, that word better left unheard, unspoken,
Like that unsaid, can wound. O Love, I’ve wept
From words, have thought my heart was broken
From the looked-for word unuttered. Where
Silence should speak loud, we speak instead.
Where words of love would heal we do not dare
To voice them: From sound and silence both have fled.
Yet love grows through those quiet deepening hours
When silence fills the empty boundless spaces
Twixt flesh and flesh. Wordlessness is ours
And love is nourished through unspoken graces.
But O my love, as I need daily bread
I need the words of love which must be said.
Neither sadist nor masochist, I still
Must turn to violence: break, be broken.
False image of myself I beg you: kill.
Help me destroy the one of you I’ve spoken
Within my wilful heart. It is no more you
Than I am all that I would wish to be.
I cannot really love you till I hew
All these projections of an unreal me,
An imaged you, to shards. Then death
Will have a chance to free me for creation.
God! All this dying has me out of breath.
How do I understand reincarnation?
But if I burst all bonds of self-protection
Then may I find us both in resurrection.
Silence is dangerous
We never permit it.
Our vocabulary may not be large
But there is no question that we put it
to constant use.
That’s what things are for:
to be used. And used.
If we didn’t talk and chatter from morning
till night (it doesn’t matter
whether or not anybody listens; that’s
not the point),
Words might start using us.
We never allow silence.
If sometimes it catches us unaware,
I am the first to screech across it
And shatter it to echoing fragments.
You never can tell:
if I listened to the silence
I might discover
that I am real.
The sky is strung with glory.
Light threads from star to star
from sun to sun
a living harp.
I rejoice, I sing, I leap upwards to play.
The music is in light.
My fingers pluck the vibrant strings;
the notes pulse, throb, in exultant harmony;
I beat my wings against the strands
that reach across the galaxies
It is not I who play
it is the music
the music plays itself
small part of an innumerable
I am flung from note to note
impaled on melody
my wings are caught on throbbing filaments of light
the wild cords cut my pinions
my arms are outstretched
are bound by ropes of counterpoint
I am cross-eagled on the singing that is strung
from pulsing star
to flaming sun
I burn in a blaze of song.
Hold me against the dark: I am afraid.
Circle me with your arms. I am made
So tiny and my atoms so unstable
That at any moment I may explode. I am unable
To contain myself in unity. My outlines shiver
With the shock of living. I endeavor
To hold the I as one only for the cloud
Of which I am a fragment, yet to which I’m vowed
To be responsible. Its light against my face
Reveals the witness of the stars, each in its place
Singing, each compassed by the rest,
The many joined to one, the mightiest to the least.
It is so great a thing to be an infinitesimal part
of this immeasurable orchestra the music bursts the heart,
And from this tiny plosion all the fragments join:
Joy orders the disunity until the song is one.
Lines Scribbled on an Envelope and Other Poems, Copyright © 1969 by Madeleine L’Engle Franklin, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
The Weather of the Heart, Copyright © 1978 Crosswicks, published by Harold Shaw Publishers
For more Madeleine L’Engle:
- The Tesseract: A Madeleine L’Engle Bibliography in 5 Dimensions
- The Madeleine L’Engle WWW Resource
- Wheaton College’s Madeleine L’Engle Collection
- The Treatment of Religion and the Independent Investigation of Spiritual Truth in Fiction for Adolescents (interesting article which talks about L’Engle and other authors)