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Half-full, Half-empty?

Today’s NaBloPo­Mo prompt: “Is the glass half-full or half-empty?”

It’s half-full, and things are get­ting bet­ter all the time. 

Last night as I was sleeping
I dreamt — mar­velous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the gold­en bees
were mak­ing white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.
Anto­nio Machado

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 © 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:

Poetry: Jane Kenyon

The Blue Bowl
by Jane Kenyon

Like primitives we buried the cat
with his bowl. Bare-handed
we scraped sand and gravel
back into the hole.
                               They fell with a hiss
and thud on his side,
on his long red fur, the white feathers
between his toes, and his
long, not to say aquiline, nose.

We stood and brushed each other off.
There are sorrows keener than these.

Silent the rest of the day, we worked,
ate, stared, and slept. It stormed
all night; now it clears, and a robin
burbles from a dripping bush
like the neighbor who means well
but always says the wrong thing.

Otherwise: New & Selected Poems

Poetry Question

In honor of National Poetry Month, the Academy of American Poets has been sending out a poem a day via email to subscribers. I'm enjoying them, but one of them just…

Have you ever found the form of a poem to be so weird that it gets into the way of the meaning? I'm finding that to be the case with "Ferrum" by M. NourbeSe Philip. I did get the words, but the format was so distracting as to make reading a chore, rather than a pleasure.

Poetry: Edna St. Vincent Millay

I want­ed to do some­thing dif­fer­ent for today’s Thing-a-Day, and I signed up to be part of Live Read­ings a while back but hadn’t record­ed any­thing yet, so I’m post­ing this is both (all three?) places.

“What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why (Son­net XLIII)”
by Edna St. Vin­cent Millay

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have for­got­ten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morn­ing; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and lis­ten for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a qui­et pain
For unre­mem­bered lads that not again
Will turn to me at mid­night with a cry.
Thus in win­ter stands the lone­ly tree,
Nor knows what birds have van­ished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I can­not say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that sum­mer sang in me
A lit­tle while, that in me sings no more.

From Col­lect­ed Poems by Edna St. Vin­cent Millay

Music is “Cel­e­bra­tion” by Mark Hei­mo­nen from the Pod­safe Music Network

Reading Matters

You must read, Alice, before it's too late. You must fill your mind with the invented images of the past; the more the better. These images, apart from anything else, will help you put the two and twos of life together, and the more images your mind retains, the more wonderful will be the star-studded canopy of experience beneath which you, poor primitive creature that you are, will shelter; the nearer you will creep to the great blazing beacon of the Idea which animates us all.
- Fay Weldon, Letters to Alice: On First Reading Jane Austen

I read. I read a lot. I read while standing in line anywhere, while eating (unless I have someone to talk to, of course), any time my eyes aren't required to do something else. I almost always have several books in progress and love the fact that I can carry an entire library in my hand now, thanks to ebooks! I don't read as many periodicals as I once did, but with blogs and such, I read more than ever!

I learned to read fairly early, thanks to my wonderful mother who read to me and my siblings (and my daughter!). After finding me puzzling over her old high school literature book at age 6, trying to make sense of Beowulf, 1 she began patiently carting me back and forth to the library at least once a week. She encouraged a love of the written word that drove me to improve my reading skills, and I credit any academic (or other) success to that skill more than any other. Katie and I spent a lot of time reading together when she was younger, until she became a confident reader on her own. She's an avid reader now, and takes a book with her everywhere just as I do.

Since the written word is so important to me, it's only reasonable that I have parts of my site dedicated to it. I've listed most of the books (and music and movies) I own in a Readerware database. I just can't recommend that software highly enough! It can export a nice list of the books, which I keep intending to upload here. If I were smarter, I'd figure out how to make it work with GoodReads. Someday! I've let go of many of my books (and CDs) over the last few years and moves, since I've switched almost entirely to digital media anyway.

Because I read almost all ebooks now, Calibre is vital to managing my book collection. It runs on Mac, PC, and Linux boxen.

I used to write a lot of poetry and short stories, but most of that has been lost to time. If anyone out there has any fiction or poetry that I shared with you at some time, I'd really appreciate a copy.

There are a few authors who I love so much that I've made pages with samples of their poetry. I post pieces by other poets from time to time in my blog here. There are also a fair number of poetry posts in my LiveJournal that haven't been posted here (yet).

Finally, these are some pieces I find inspirational.


1 What can I say? I was really bored during summer break between first and second grades. Unfortunately, my parents' home contains very few books other than the Bible, children's books, and (when I was little, at least) a couple of Mom's old textbooks and an set of World Book encyclopedias from around 1960. The encyclopedias are long gone. They don't even own bookshelves!

Poetry: Michael Blumenthal

For my Sam

A Marriage
You are holding up a ceiling
with both arms. It is very heavy,
but you must hold it up, or else
it will fall down on you. Your arms
are tired, terribly tired,
and, as the day goes on, it feels
as if either your arms or the ceiling
will soon collapse.

But then,
unexpectedly,
something wonderful happens:
Someone,
a man or a woman,
walks into the room
and holds their arm up
to the ceiling beside you.

So you finally get
to take down your arms.
You feel the relief of respite,
the blood flowing back
to your fingers and arms.
And when your partner's arms tire,
you hold up your own
to relieve him again.

And it can go on like this
for many years
without the house falling.

From Against Romance: Poems by Michael Blumenthal, Penguin Books, 1988

R.I.P. Madeleine L’Engle

I started this post on September 7, the day after the grand lady moved on to find out what's next. I find myself certain that she wasn't afraid, that she looked forward to a reunion with her husband Hugh and others who had gone before. And yet I, who never even met her in person, was too upset to finish the post or even look at it again for two months.

Read more

Poetry: Robert Frost

The Arm­ful
For every par­cel I stoop down to seize
I lose some oth­er off my arms and knees,
And the whole pile is slip­ping, bot­tles, buns,
Extremes too hard to com­pre­hend at once.
Yet noth­ing I should care to leave behind.
With all I have to hold with hand and mind
And heart, if need be, I will do my best.
To keep their build­ing bal­anced at my breast.
I crouch down to pre­vent them as they fall;
Then sit down in the mid­dle of them all.
I had to drop the arm­ful in the road
And try to stack them in a bet­ter load.

By Robert Frost