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

(i)

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.

(ii)

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.

(iii)

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.

(iv)

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.

(v)

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.

(vi)

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.

The Mon­key

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.
And used.
Who knows?
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.

Instru­ments (1)

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
I play

NO

It is not I who play
it is the music
the music plays itself
is played
plays me
small part of an innu­mer­able
unnum­ber­able
orches­tra.
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
to

I burn in a blaze of song.

Instru­ments (2)

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 &#169 1969 by Madeleine L’Engle Franklin, pub­lished by Far­rar, Straus and Giroux

The Weather of the Heart, Copy­right &#169 1978 Cross­wicks, pub­lished by Harold Shaw Publishers

For more Madeleine L’Engle:

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