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’s­not 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 dis­cover­that 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
unnumberableorchestra.
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 L’Engle: