The Life-Energy and
In due course,
The instrument’s purpose is fulfilled
The Life-Energy and
The cycle is completed.
Understand this thoroughly and
There is nothing else to do.
Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose
from all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.
Arbitrary, a sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell you where it is and you
can slide your way past trouble.
Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path -- but that's when
you get going best, glad to be lost,
learning how real it is
here on earth, again and again.
May your soul be happy, journey joyfully.
You have escaped from the city full of fear and trembling;
If the body’s image has gone, await the image-maker; if the
body is utterly ruined, become all soul.
If your face has become saffron pale through death, become a
dweller among tulip beds and Judas trees.
If the doors of repose have been barred to you, come, depart
by way of the roof and the ladder.
If you have been secluded from water and bread, like bread
become the food of the souls, and so become!
Drifting pitifully in the whirlwind of birth and death,
As if wandering in a dream,
In the midst of illusion I awaken to the true path;
There is one more matter I must not neglect,
But I need not bother now,
As I listen to the sound of the evening rain
Falling on the roof of my temple retreat
In the deep grass of Fukakusa.
—Eihei Dōgen (1200 - 1253)
It is time to lose your life,Even if it isn't over.It is time to say goodbye and try to die.It is October.The mellow celloAllee of trees is almost lost in sweetness and mistWhen you take off your watch at sunriseTo lose your life.You catch the plane.You land again.You arrive in the place.You speak the language.You will live in a new house,Even if it is old.You will live with a new wife,Even if she is too young.Your slender new husband will love you.He will walk the dog in the cold.He will cook a meal on the stove.He will bring you your medication in bed.Dawn at the city flower market downtown.The vendors have just opened.The flowers are so fresh.The restaurants are there to decorate their tables.Your husband rollerblades past, whizzing,Making a whirring sound, winged like an angel--But stops and spins around and skates backTo buy some cut flowers in the early morning frost.I am buying them for you.I am buying them for your blond hair at dawn.I am buying them for your beautiful breasts.I am buying them for your beautiful heart.
You have been gone a month today
and have missed three rains and one nightlong
watch for tornadoes. I sat in the cellar
from six to eight while fat spring clouds
went somersaulting, rumbling east. Then it poured,
a storm that walked on legs of lightning,
dragging its shaggy belly over the fields.
Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever.
Delights & Shadows
Friend, hope for the Guest while you are alive.
Jump into experience while you are alive!
Think… and think… while you are alive.
What you call “salvation" belongs to the time
If you don’t break your ropes while you’re alive,
do you think
ghosts will do it after?
The idea that the soul will rejoin with the ecstatic
just because the body is rotten—
that is all fantasy.
What is found now is found then.
If you find nothing now,
you will simply end up with an apartment in the
City of Death.
If you make love with the divine now, in the next
life you will have the face of satisfied desire.
So plunge into the truth, find out who the Teacher is,
Believe in the Great Sound!
Kabir says this: When the Guest is being searched for,
it is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that
does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.
Translation by Robert Bly
In July of 1883, Henry James, the famed novelist responsible for writing, most notably, The Portrait of a Lady, received a worryingly emotional letter from Grace Norton, a friend of some years and successful essayist who, following a recent death in the family, had seemingly become depressed and was desperate for direction. James, no stranger to depression himself, responded with a stunning letter which, despite beginning, “...I hardly know what to say to you,” contains some of the greatest, most compassionate advice ever put to paper—a feat made all the more impressive on learning that it was written just months after the deaths of his own parents.
For more information about depression, visit Mind.
(Source: Henry James: Selected Letters; Image: Henry James in 1912, via.)
131 Mount Vernon St.,
My dear Grace,
Before the sufferings of others I am always utterly powerless, and the letter you gave me reveals such depths of suffering that I hardly know what to say to you. This indeed is not my last word—but it must be my first. You are not isolated, verily, in such states of feeling as this—that is, in the sense that you appear to make all the misery of all mankind your own; only I have a terrible sense that you give all and receive nothing—that there is no reciprocity in your sympathy—that you have all the affliction of it and none of the returns. However—I am determined not to speak to you except with the voice of stoicism.
I don't know why we live—the gift of life comes to us from I don't know what source or for what purpose; but I believe we can go on living for the reason that (always of course up to a certain point) life is the most valuable thing we know anything about and it is therefore presumptively a great mistake to surrender it while there is any yet left in the cup. In other words consciousness is an illimitable power, and though at times it may seem to be all consciousness of misery, yet in the way it propagates itself from wave to wave, so that we never cease to feel, though at moments we appear to, try to, pray to, there is something that holds one in one's place, makes it a standpoint in the universe which it is probably good not to forsake. You are right in your consciousness that we are all echoes and reverberations of the same, and you are noble when your interest and pity as to everything that surrounds you, appears to have a sustaining and harmonizing power. Only don't, I beseech you, generalize too much in these sympathies and tendernesses—remember that every life is a special problem which is not yours but another's, and content yourself with the terrible algebra of your own. Don't melt too much into the universe, but be as solid and dense and fixed as you can. We all live together, and those of us who love and know, live so most. We help each other—even unconsciously, each in our own effort, we lighten the effort of others, we contribute to the sum of success, make it possible for others to live. Sorrow comes in great waves—no one can know that better than you—but it rolls over us, and though it may almost smother us it leaves us on the spot and we know that if it is strong we are stronger, inasmuch as it passes and we remain. It wears us, uses us, but we wear it and use it in return; and it is blind, whereas we after a manner see.
My dear Grace, you are passing through a darkness in which I myself in my ignorance see nothing but that you have been made wretchedly ill by it; but it is only a darkness, it is not an end, or the end. Don't think, don't feel, any more than you can help, don't conclude or decide—don't do anything but wait. Everything will pass, and serenity and accepted mysteries and disillusionments, and the tenderness of a few good people, and new opportunities and ever so much of life, in a word, will remain. You will do all sorts of things yet, and I will help you. The only thing is not to melt in the meanwhile. I insist upon the necessity of a sort of mechanical condensation—so that however fast the horse may run away there will, when he pulls up, be a somewhat agitated but perfectly identical G. N. left in the saddle. Try not to be ill—that is all; for in that there is a future. You are marked out for success, and you must not fail. You have my tenderest affection and all my confidence.
Ever your faithful friend—
It is old age, rather than death, that is to be contrasted with life.
Old age is life’s parody, whereas death transforms life into a destiny: in a way it preserves it by giving it the absolute dimension.
Death does away with time.
—Simone de Beauvoir
Thank you my life long afternoon
late in this spring that has no age
my window above the river
for the woman you led me to
when it was time at last the words
coming to me out of mid-air
that carried me through the clear day
and come even now to find me
for old friends and echoes of them
those mistakes only I could make
homesickness that guides the plovers
from somewhere they had loved before
they knew they loved it to somewhere
they had loved before they saw it
thank you good body hand and eye
and the places and moments known
only to me revisiting
once more complete just as they are
and the morning stars I have seen
and the dogs who are guiding me
–W. S. Merwin
First sight of water through trees
glimpsed as a child
and the smell of the lake then
on the mountain
how long it has lasted
whole and unmoved and without words
the sound native to a great bell
never leaving it
paw in the air
ancient curlew not recorded
flying at night into
the age of night
sail sailing in the dark
so the tone of it
still crosses the years
through death after death
and the burnings the departures
carrying its own
song inside it
of bright water
—W. S. Merwin
I wake with my hand held over the place of grief in my body.
“Depend on nothing,” the voice advises, but even that is useless.
My ears are useless, my familiar and intimate tongue.
My protecting hand is useless, that wants to hold the single leaf to the tree
and say, Not this one, this one will be saved.
A man finds himself, to his great astonishment, suddenly existing, after thousands and thousands of years of non-existence: he lives for a little while; and then, again, comes an equally long period when he must exist no more.
The heart rebels against this, and feels that it cannot be true. The crudest intellect cannot speculate on such a subject without having a presentiment that Time is something ideal in its nature.
This ideality of Time and Space is the key to every true system of metaphysics; because it provides for quite another order of things than is to be met with in the domain of nature.
On The Vanity of Existence
My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling soundOf load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtiredOf the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.
There is no thing that keeps its shape; for nature,
the innovator, would forever draw
forms out of other forms. In all this world—
you can believe me—no thing ever dies.
By birth we mean beginning to re-form,
a thing’s becoming other than it was;
and death is but the end of an old state;
one thing shifts here, another there; and yet
the total of all things is permanent.
Metamorphoses, Book XV
Allen Mandelbaum translation
From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed. That’s all
There was to it. No more than a solemn waking
To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly,
A time between times, a flowerless funeral. No more than that
Except for the feeling that this piece of the storm,
Which turned into nothing before your eyes, would come back,
That someone years hence, sitting as you are now, might say:
“It’s time. The air is ready. The sky has an opening.”
For Sharon Horvath
With all its eyes the natural world looks out into the Open. Only our eyes are turned backward, surrounding plant, animal, child like traps, as they emerge into their freedom.We know what is really out there only from the animal's gaze; for we take the very young child and force it around, so that it sees objects - not the Open, which is so deep in animals' faces. Free from death.We, only, can see death; the free animal has its decline in back of it, forever, and God in front, and when it moves, it moves already in eternity, like a fountain.Never, not for a single day, do we have before us that pure space into which flowers endlessly open. Always there is World and never Nowhere without the No: that pure unseparated element which one breathes without desire and endlessly knows.A child may wander there for hours, through the timeless stillness, may get lost in it and be shaken back. Or someone dies and is it.For, nearing death, one doesn't see death; but stares beyond, perhaps with an animal's vast gaze. Lovers, if the beloved were not there blocking the view, are close to it, and marvel...As if by some mistake, it opens for them behind each other... But neither can move past the other, and it changes back to World.Forever turned toward objects, we see in them the mere reflection of the realm of freedom, which we have dimmed. Or when some animal mutely, serenely, looks us through and through.That is what fate means: to be opposite, to be opposite and nothing else, forever.–Rainer Maria Rilke
Before the beginning of years
There came to the making of man
Time, with a gift of tears;
Grief, with a glass that ran;
Pleasure, with pain for leaven;
Summer, with flowers that fell;
Remembrance, fallen from heaven,
And madness risen from hell;
Strength without hands to smite;
Love that endures for a breath;
Night, the shadow of light,
And Life, the shadow of death.
–Algernon Charles Swinburne
War of the Foxes
Two rabbits were chased by a fox, of all the crazy shit in the world, and the fox kept up the chase,
circling the world until the world caught up with them in some broken-down downtown metropolis.
Inside the warren, the rabbits think fast. Pip touches the only other rabbit listening.
Pip: We’re doomed.
Flip: Oh Pip!
Pip: I know where you can hide.
Flip: Are you sure?
Pip: Yes. Here, hide inside me.
This is the story of Pip and Flip, the bunny twins. We say that once there were two and now there is
only one. When the fox sees Pip run past, he won’t know that the one is inside the other. He’ll think Well, there’s at least one more rabbit in that warren. But no one’s left. You know this and I know this.
Together we trace out the trail away from doom. There isn’t hope, there is a trail. I follow you.
When a rabbit meets a rabbit, one takes the time to tell the other this story. The rabbits then agree
there must be two rabbits, at least two rabbits, and that in turn there is a trace. I am only repeating
what I heard. This is one love. There are many loves but only one war.
Bird 1: This is the same story.
Bird 2: No, this is the rest of the story.
Let me tell you a story about war. A man found his life to be empty. He began to study Latin.
Latin was difficult for the man to understand. I will study Latin, even though it is difficult, said the man. Yes, even if it is difficult.
Let me tell you a story about war. A man had a dream about a woman and then he met her. The man
had a dream about the woman’s former lover. The former lover was sad, he wanted to fight. The
man said to the woman I will have to comfort your former lover or I will always be fighting him in my dreams. Yes, said the woman. You will need to comfort him, or we will never be finished with this.
Let me tell you a story about war. A fisherman’s son and his dead brother sat on the shore. That is my
country and this is your country and the line in the sand is the threshold between them, said the dead brother. Yes, said the fisherman’s son.
You cannot have an opponent if you keep saying yes.
Bird 1: This is the wrong story.
Bird 2: All stories are the wrong story when you are impatient.
Let me tell you a story about war. A man says to another man Can I tell you something? The other man
says No. A man says to another man There is something I have to tell you. No, says the other man. No, you don’t.
Bird 1: Now we are getting somewhere.
Bird 2: Yes, yes we are.
Let me tell you a story about war:
A boy spills a glass of milk and his father picks him up by the back of the shirt and throws him
against the wall. You killed my wife and you can’t even keep a glass on the table. The wife had died of sadness, by her own hand. The father walks out of the room and the room is almost empty.
The road outside the house lies flat on the ground. The ground surrenders.
The father works late. The dead wife’s hand makes fishsticks while the boy sits in the corner where
he fell. The fish in the fishsticks think to themselves This is not what we meant to be.
Its roots in the ground and its branches in the air, a tree is pulled in two directions.
The wife has a dead hand. This is earlier. She is living and her dead hand feeds her pills that don’t
work. The boy sleeps on the roof or falls out of trees. The father works late. The wife looks out the
window and thinks Not this.
The boy is a bird, bad bird. He falls out of trees.
Let me tell you a story about war:
The fisherman’s son serves drinks to sailors. He stands behind the bar. He listens closely for news of
his dead brother. The sailors are thirsty. They drink rum. Tell me a story, says the fisherman’s son.
“There is nothing interesting about the sea. The water is flat, flat and calm, it seems a sheet of glass.
You look at it, the more you look at it the more you feel like you are looking into your own head,
which is a stranger’s head, empty. We listen to the sound with our equipment. I have learned to
understand this sound. When you look there is nothing, with the equipment there is sound. We sit in
rows and listen down the tunnels for the song. The song has red words in it. We write them down on
sheets of paper and pass them along. Sometimes there is noise and sometimes song and often there is
silence, the long tunnel, the sea like glass...
You are a translator, says the fisherman’s son. Yes, says the sailor. And the sound is the voice of the enemy.
Yes, yes it is.
Let me tell you a story about war:
They went to the museum and wandered the rooms. He saw a painting and stood in front of it for
too long. It was a few minutes before she realized he had gotten stuck. He was stuck looking at a
painting. She stood next to him, looking at his face and then the face in the painting. What do you see?
she asked. I don’t know, he said. He didn’t know. She was disappointed, then bored. He was looking at
a face and she was looking at her watch. This is where everything changed. There was now a distance
between them. He was looking at a face but it might as well have been a cabbage or a sugar beet.
Perhaps it was something about yellow near pink. He didn’t know how to say it. Years later he still
didn’t know how to say it, and she was gone.
Let me tell you a story about love:
There was a place on the floor where they could lie together, on the floor together, backs pressed to
the carpet, where they could look out the window together and see only the tops of the trees. They
would do this. They would lie on the floor and say things like Now we are in the country! or Oh, what a far away place this is! Then they would stand up and look out the window the way they usually did, the
houses reappearing in the window frame.
She had a soft voice and strong hands. When she sang she would seem too large for the room and
she would play guitar and sing which would make his chest feel huge. Sometimes he would touch her
knee and smile. Sometimes she would touch his face and close her eyes.
Fox rounds the warren but there are no bunnies, jumps up with claws but there are no bunnies,
moves down the road but there are no bunnies. There are no bunnies. He chases a bird instead. All
wars are the same war. The bird flies away.
The fisherman’s son knows nothing worth stealing. Perhaps, perhaps.
He once put a cat in a cardboard box but she got out anyway. He once had a brother he lost to the
sea. Brother, dead brother, who speaks to him in dreams. These are a few things worth saying.
He knows that when you snap a mast it’s time to get a set of oars or learn how to breathe
underwater. Rely on one thing too long and when it disappears and you have nothing... well, that’s
just bad planning. It’s embarrassing, to think it could never happen.
A man does work. A machine can, too. Power of agency, agent of what. This is a question we might
ask. An agent is a spy or not. A spy is a promise to God, hidden where only God can find it.
The agents meet at the chain link fence and tell each other stories. A whisper system. To testify
against yourself is an interesting thing, a sacrifice. Some people do it. Some people find money in the
street but you cannot rely on it. The fisherman’s son is at the fence, standing there, waiting to see if
he is useful.
You cannot get in the way of anyone’s path to God. You can, but is does no good. Every agent
knows this. Some say God is where we put our sorrow. God says Which one of you fuckers can get to me first?
You cannot get in the way of anyone’s path to happiness, it also does no good. The problem is
figuring out which part is the path and which part is the happiness.
It’s a blessing, every day someone shows up at the fence. And when no one shows up, a different
kind of blessing. In the wrong light anyone can look like a darkness.