Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

day #22 of National Poetry Month ~

I confess to a huge crush on W.S. Merwin, begun long before I met him at a Nimrod Literary Journal weekend. His work is amazing. He’s a Buddhist from way back. And he’s trying very hard to restore & save a palm forest on Maui. Not to mention he’s just a lovely person, when you meet him. Brilliant, wryly witty, contemplative.  He seems particularly appropriate for Earth Day, poetry month, and a  Buddhist blog.

Icing on the cake for me: Merwin met Ezra Pound, a literary hero of mine. He sat with Pound at St. Elizabeth’s, where Pound was institutionalised. And I sat w/ Merwin at Nimrod. :) That felt as much like being part of a literary tradition as anything I’ve had the good luck to enjoy.

And finally — today’s poem has bees in it! Here’s ‘The River of Bees” by W.S. Merwin:

The River of Bees

In a dream I returned to the river of bees
Five orange trees by the bridge and
Beside two mills my house
Into whose courtyard a blind man followed
The goats and stood singing
Of what was older

Soon it will be fifteen years

He was old he will have fallen into his eyes

I took my eyes
A long way to the calenders
Room after room asking how shall I live

One of the ends is made of streets
One man processions carry through it
Empty bottles their
Images of hope
It was offered to me by name

Once once and once
In the same city I was born
Asking what shall I say

He will have fallen into his mouth
Men think they are better than grass

I return to his voice rising like a forkful of hay

He was old he is not real nothing is real
Nor the noise of death drawing water

We are the echo of the future

On the door it says what to do to survive
But we were not born to survive
Only to live

day #21 of National Poetry Month ~

bee on peonyEven though it’s a bit briskish today (as my Aunt Bonnie would say…), you can tell it’s spring. The bees are working their fuzzy striped butts off. And there are fat peony buds in the walled garden, ready to burst open (probably while I’m gone next week).

Because I’m going to.. .Maui! Which is, of course, a kind of Eden. Not only that? I’m going to meet an old girlfriend! And stay with her at her mother’s place. How cool is that? Girls in the tropical ‘hood…

So watching bees is very much not something I can do today, as I’m madly packing, checking my lists (I’m suuuuch a list maker!), trying to anticipate weather, volume of pink suitcase, etc.

But there are sure to be bees — if not peonies — in Maui. And I fully intend to watch them stagger out of exotic flowers, laden w/ pollen & nectar. Wherever you are, you should make time to do the same. It’s a perfect exercise in the now of things. :)

Here’s the amazing Matsuo Bashō, translated by Robert Hass:

A bee

A bee
staggers out
of the peony.

 

day 20 of National Poetry Month ~

bee sketchThe poet Mona Van Duyn is another favourite. This is one of hers I hadn’t known previously — I actually was looking for another poem when I came across it. Being a sucker for bees (my first name, as many readers know, means ‘the bee'; my family might even go so far as to say I think it means the QUEEN bee…), I had to include it in this month’s line-up.

Van Duyn wrote all her life, even met her husband — another poet, at the time — at a writer’s workshop. Her poetry is deceptively quiet. It will sneak up on you. :) She writes about everyday life: marriage (her poem ‘Late Loving’ is the one I was trying to find a copy of online), loneliness, friendship, aging. I think of her as very Buddhist, although I have no idea what — if any — spiritual tradition she followed.

Here’s her poem ‘A Time of Bees':

A Time of Bees

Love is never strong enough to find the words befitting it.
CAMUS

All day my husband pounds on the upstairs porch.
Screeches and grunts of wood as the wall is opened
keep the whole house tormented. He is trying to reach
the bees, he is after bees. This is the climax, an end
to two summers of small operations with sprays and ladders.
Last June on the porch floor I found them dead,
a sprinkle of dusty bugs, and next day a still worse
death, until, like falling in love, bee-haunted,
I swept up bigger and bigger loads of some hatch,
I thought, sickened, and sickening me, from what origin?
My life centered on bees, all floors were suspect. The search
was hopeless. Windows were shut. I never find
where anything comes from. But in June my husband’s fierce
sallies began, inspections, cracks located
and sealed, insecticides shot; outside, the bees’ course

 

watched, charted; books on bees read.
I tell you I swept up bodies every day on the porch.
Then they’d stop, the problem was solved; then they were there again,
as the feelings make themselves known again, as they beseech
sleepers who live innocently in will and mind.
It is no surprise to those who walk with their tigers
that the bees were back, no surprise to me. But they had
left themselves so lack-luster, their black and gold furs
so deathly faded. Gray bugs that the broom hunted
were like a thousand little stops when some great lurch
of heart takes place, or a great shift of season.
November it came to an end. No bees. And I could watch
the floor, clean and cool, and, from windows, the cold land.
But this spring the thing began again, and his curse
went upstairs again, and his tinkering and reasoning and pride.
It is the man who takes hold. I lived from bees, but his force
went out after bees and found them in the wall where they hid.
And now in July he is tearing out the wall, and each
board ripped brings them closer to his hunting hand.
It is quiet, has been quiet for a while. He calls me, and I march
from a dream of bees to see them, winged and unwinged,
such a mess of interrupted life dumped on newspapers—
dirty clots of grubs, sawdust, stuck fliers, all smeared
together with old honey, they writhe, some of them, but who cares?
They go to the garbage, it is over, everything has been said.
But there is more. Wouldn’t you think the bees had suffered
enough? This evening we go to a party, the breeze
dies, late, we are sticky in our old friendships and light-headed.
We tell our funny story about the bees.
At two in the morning we come home, and a friend,
a scientist, comes with us, in his car. We’re going to save
the idea of the thing, a hundred bees, if we can find
so many unrotted, still warm but harmless, and leave
the rest. We hope that the neighbors are safe in bed,
taking no note of these private catastrophes.
He wants an enzyme in the flight-wing muscle. Not a bad
thing to look into. In the night we rattle and raise
the lid of the garbage can. Flashlights in hand,
we open newspapers, and the men reach in a salve
of happenings. I can’t touch it. I hate the self-examined
who’ve killed the self. The dead are darker, but the others have
moved in the ooze toward the next moment. My God
one half-worm gets its wings right before our eyes.
Searching fingers sort and lay bare, they need
the idea of bees—and yet, under their touch, the craze
for life gets stronger in the squirming, whitish kind.
The men do it. Making a claim on the future, as love
makes a claim on the future, grasping. And I, underhand,
I feel it start, a terrible, lifelong heave
taking direction. Unpleading, the men prod
till all that grubby softness wants to give, to give.

day #19 of National Poetry Month (‘we must love one another or die’) ~

compassion

All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie…

Today I tried to eat my lunch beneath a TV set blazing with the latest tragic news from Boston. From Watertown. From hatred.

No one knows why the bombers in Boston chose to murder innocent victims. The home-made bombs certainly haven’t stirred support for Chechnya, or helped to allay American fears of Muslim terrorism. They were acts of hatred, created in hatred, and they will be met, I’m certain, with more hatred. Because so many people in this world believe that compassion is a weakness, and that hate is the only ‘just’ response to evil.

It isn’t, of course. But it’s hard to hear the quiet pleas for restraint, for compassion, above the howls of righteous anger, the keening of loss, the bewildered horror. So today’s poem is one I’ve long loved, timely once again as hate ignites, and political posturing strong-arms genuine attempts at dialogue. It remains the most scathing indictment I know of expedient & reactionary hatred.

Here’s W.H. Auden’s ‘September 1, 1939′:

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September night.

 

Accurate scholarship can

Unearth the whole offence

From Luther until now

That has driven a culture mad,

Find what occurred at Linz,

What huge imago made

A psychopathic god:

I and the public know

What all schoolchildren learn,

Those to whom evil is done

Do evil in return.

 

Exiled Thucydides knew

All that a speech can say

About Democracy,

And what dictators do,

The elderly rubbish they talk

To an apathetic grave;

Analysed all in his book,

The enlightenment driven away,

The habit-forming pain,

Mismanagement and grief:

We must suffer them all again.

 

Into this neutral air

Where blind skyscrapers use

Their full height to proclaim

The strength of Collective Man,

Each language pours its vain

Competitive excuse:

But who can live for long

In an euphoric dream;

Out of the mirror they stare,

Imperialism’s face

And the international wrong.

 

Faces along the bar

Cling to their average day:

The lights must never go out,

The music must always play,

All the conventions conspire

To make this fort assume

The furniture of home;

Lest we should see where we are,

Lost in a haunted wood,

Children afraid of the night

Who have never been happy or good.

 

The windiest militant trash

Important Persons shout

Is not so crude as our wish:

What mad Nijinsky wrote

About Diaghilev

Is true of the normal heart;

For the error bred in the bone

Of each woman and each man

Craves what it cannot have,

Not universal love

But to be loved alone.

 

From the conservative dark

Into the ethical life

The dense commuters come,

Repeating their morning vow;

“I will be true to the wife,

I’ll concentrate more on my work,”

And helpless governors wake

To resume their compulsory game:

Who can release them now,

Who can reach the deaf,

Who can speak for the dumb?

 

All I have is a voice

To undo the folded lie,

The romantic lie in the brain

Of the sensual man-in-the-street

And the lie of Authority

Whose buildings grope the sky:

There is no such thing as the State

And no one exists alone;

Hunger allows no choice

To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.

 

Defenceless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

 

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