All passes and all remains,
and ours is to pass by,
to pass by making roads,
roads over the sea.
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last, and I sing it.
As we sing, the day turns,
the trees move.
Say you have seen something. You have seen an ordinary bit of what is real, the infinite fabric of time that eternity shoots through, and time's soft-skinned people working and dying under slowly shifting stars. Then what?
this is a beggar's knife.this is a tulip.this is a soldier marchingthrough Madrid.this is you on yourdeath bed.this is Li Po laughingunderground.this is not a god-damnedpoem.this is a horse asleep.a butterfly inyour brain.this is the devil'scircus.you are not reading thison a page.the page is readingyou.feel it?it's like a cobra.it's a hungry eagle circling the room.this is not a poem. poems are dull,they make you sleep.these words force youto a newmadness.you have been blessed, you have been pushed into ablinding area oflight.the elephant dreamswith younow.the curve of spacebends andlaughs.you can die now.you can die now aspeople were meant todie:great,victorious,hearing the music,being the music,roaring,roaring,roaring.–Charles Bukowski
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
–Edna St. Vincent Millay
Who are you, reader, reading my poems an hundred years hence? I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the spring, one single streak of gold from yonder clouds. Open your doors and look abroad. From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished flowers of an hundred years before. In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning, sending its glad voice across a hundred years. –Rabindranath Tagore
here's to opening and upward, to leaf and to sap
and to your(in my arms flowering so new)
self whose eyes smell of the sound of rain
and here's to silent certainly mountains;and to
a disappearing poet of always,snow
and to morning;and to morning's beautiful friend
twilight(and a first dream called ocean)and
let must or if be damned with whomever's afraid
down with ought with because with every brain
which thinks it thinks,nor dares to feel(but up
with joy;and up with laughing and drunkenness)
here's to one undiscoverable guess
of whose mad skill each world of blood is made
(whose fatal songs are moving in the moon
–E. E. Cummings
silently if, out of not knowable
night's utmost nothing,wanders a little guess
(only which is this world)more my life does
not leap than with the mystery your smile
sings or if(spiralling as luminous
they climb oblivion)voices who are dreams,
less into heaven certainly earth swims
than each my deeper death becomes your kiss
losing through you what seemed myself,i find
selves unimaginably mine;beyond
sorrow's own joys and hoping's very fears
yours is the light by which my spirit's born:
yours is the darkness of my soul's return
-you are my sun,my moon,and all my stars
–E. E. Cummings
Between going and staying the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
The circular afternoon is now a bay
where the world in stillness rocks.
All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can’t be touched.
Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.
Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.
The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theater of reflections.
I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.
The moment scatters. Motionless,I stay and go: I am a pause.
Sometimes, underneath deep sleep
is a certain diffused glow,
as, in the rainforest, luminous toadstools
glow green among the leaf litter
and beetles crawl about with winking abdomens.
One night when I followed this glow
I came to an upturned tree
that was a kind of cathedral for glowworms
and the light beat against my face, my chest and my hands.
At the end of the corridor of sleep, a dream stands.
It may be that at the end of the corridor of death
there is the walking slightly uphill
through the green fields;
and then the light underneath sleep
is both in front and behind.
when god lets my body be
From each brave eye shall sprout a tree
fruit dangles therefrom
the purpled world will dance upon
Between my lips which did sing
a rose shall beget the spring
that maidens whom passions wastes
will lay between their little breasts
My strong fingers beneath the snow
Into strenous birds shall go
my love walking in the grass
their wings will touch with their face
and all the while shall my heart be
With the bulge and nuzzle of the sea
–E. E. Cummings
hanging over a pause,
apparitions neither named
nor thought, wind-forms,
insubstantial as time
and, like time, dissolved.
Made of time, they are not time;
they are the cleft, the interstice,
the brief vertigo of between
where the diaphanous flower opens:
high on its stalk of a reflection
it vanishes as it turns.
Never touched, the clarities
seen with the eyes closed:
and the crystalline fall
in the instant of this instant
that forever is still here.
Outside the window, the desolate
rooftops and the hurrying clouds.
The day goes out, the city
lights up, remote and near.
Weightless hour. I breathe
the moment, empty and eternal.
Eliot Weinberger translation
It’s all like a dream. Everything is ecstasy, inside. We just don’t know it because of our thinking-minds. But in our true blissful essence of mind is known that everything is alright forever and forever and forever.
Close your eyes, let your hands and nerve-ends drop, stop breathing for three seconds, listen to the silence inside the illusion of the world, and you will remember the lesson you forgot, which was taught in immense milky way soft cloud innumerable worlds long ago and not even at all.
It is all one vast awakened thing.
I call it the golden eternity.
It is perfect.
We were never really born, we will never really die. It has nothing to do with the imaginary idea of a personal self, other selves, many selves everywhere: Self is only an idea, a mortal idea. That which passes into everything is one thing. It’s a dream already ended. There’s nothing to be afraid of and nothing to be glad about.
One of 25 video poems in Four Seasons Productions' Moving Poetry Series - RANT * RAVE * RIFF. This selection is from William Shakespeare's The Tempest, Act IV, written in 1612 and recited by Dr. Allen Dwight Callahan. All of those smiling faces, those spirits are gone -- melted into thin air -- we are such stuff as dreams are made of. But what is on the other side of our sleep? Learn more about this provocative series, featured poems, poets and readers at
What if you slept?
And what if, in your sleep, you dreamed?
And what if, in your dream, you went to Heaven
and there plucked a rare and beautiful flower?
And what if, when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand?
Ah, what then?
–Samuel Taylor Coleridge
More incredible than a celestial flower or the flower of a dream is the flower of the future, the unlikely flower whose atoms now occupy other spaces and have not yet been assembled.
—Jorge Luis Borges
The Flower of Coleridge
since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a foolwhile Spring is in the world
my blood approves,and kisses are a far better fatethan wisdomlady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry—the best gesture of my brain is less thanyour eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for eachother: thenlaugh, leaning back in my armsfor life’s not a paragraph
And death i think is no parenthesis
–E. E. Cummings
All this dying is not the death of the physical form:
this body is only an instrument for the spirit.There is many a martyred soul that has died to self in this world,
though it goes about like the living.The animal self has died, though the body, which is its sword, survives:
the sword is still in the hand of that eager warrior.The sword is the same sword; the person is not the same person,
but this appearance of identity bewilders you.
“The body’s judgment is as good as the mind’s, and the body shrinks from annihilation.
We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking.”
“If the universe is meaningless, so is the statement that it is so… The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance,” Alan Watts wrote in his 1951 meditation on how we wrest meaning from reality. But if to dance or not to dance is the central question of existence, are both choices endowed with equal validity, dignity, and moral courage?
Not so, argued Albert Camus (November 7, 1913–January 4, 1960) a decade earlier in The Myth of Sisyphus (public library), which begins with what has become one of the most famous opening sentences in literature and one of the most profound accomplishments of philosophy.
A decade and a half before becoming the second-youngest recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, awarded him for the “clear-sighted earnestness” with which he “illuminates the problems of the human conscience,” 28-year-old Camus writes:
There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer. And if it is true, as Nietzsche claims, that a philosopher, to deserve our respect, must preach by example, you can appreciate the importance of that reply, for it will precede the definitive act. These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.Camus, whose entire sensibility was predicated on the notion that our search for meaning and happiness is a moral obligation, argues that this elemental question — a question, to be clear, posed as a philosophical thought experiment and not in the context of mental health in a medical sense — must be judged “by the actions it entails.” He writes:
I see many people die because they judge that life is not worth living. I see others paradoxically getting killed for the ideas or illusions that give them a reason for living (what is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying). I therefore conclude that the meaning of life is the most urgent of questions.In a sentiment that Carl Sagan would come to echo nearly half a century later in his increasingly necessary case for mastering the vital balance of skepticism and openness, Camus considers how we might go about answering that ultimate question:
On all essential problems (I mean thereby those that run the risk of leading to death or those that intensify the passion of living) there are probably but two methods of thought: the method of La Palisse and the method of Don Quixote. Solely the balance between evidence and lyricism can allow us to achieve simultaneously emotion and lucidity.That the answer should necessitate such contradictory orientations of mind and spirit, Camus argues, is simply a reflection of the fact that contradiction — or, rather, complementarity — is the essence of the question itself:
A priori and reversing the terms of the problem, just as one does or does not kill oneself, it seems that there are but two philosophical solutions, either yes or no. This would be too easy. But allowance must be made for those who, without concluding, continue questioning. Here I am only slightly indulging in irony: this is the majority. I notice also that those who answer “no” act as if they thought “yes.” As a matter of fact, if I accept the Nietzschean criterion, they think “yes” in one way or another. On the other hand, it often happens that those who commit suicide were assured of the meaning of life. These contradictions are constant. It may even be said that they have never been so keen as on this point where, on the contrary, logic seems so desirable.In a testament to his lifelong conviction that we have in us the ability to overcome even the most difficult conditions, Camus considers our irrepressible creaturely will to live:
In a man’s attachment to life there is something stronger than all the ills in the world. The body’s judgment is as good as the mind’s, and the body shrinks from annihilation. We get into the habit of living before acquiring the habit of thinking. In that race which daily hastens us toward death, the body maintains its irreparable lead.In this sense, he argues, the act of choosing nonexistence over existence requires a willingness for absurdity:
One must brush everything aside and go straight to the real problem. One kills oneself because life is not worth living, that is certainly a truth — yet an unfruitful one because it is a truism. But does that insult to existence, that flat denial in which it is plunged come from the fact that it has no meaning? Does its absurdity require one to escape it through hope or suicide — this is what must be clarified, hunted down, and elucidated while brushing aside all the rest. Does the Absurd dictate death? This problem must be given priority over others, outside all methods of thought and all exercises of the disinterested mind. Shades of meaning, contradictions, the psychology that an “objective” mind can always introduce into all problems have no place in this pursuit and this passion. It calls simply for an unjust — in other words, logical — thought. That is not easy. It is always easy to be logical. It is almost impossible to be logical to the bitter end.Camus examines the layered emotional realities out of which these considerations arise in the first place:
At that last crossroad where thought hesitates, many men have arrived and even some of the humblest. They then abdicated what was most precious to them, their life. Others, princes of the mind, abdicated likewise, but they initiated the suicide of their thought in its purest revolt. The real effort is to stay there, rather, in so far as that is possible, and to examine closely the odd vegetation of those distant regions. Tenacity and acumen are privileged spectators of this inhuman show in which absurdity, hope, and death carry on their dialogue. The mind can then analyze the figures of that elementary yet subtle dance before illustrating them and reliving them itself.
Like great works, deep feelings always mean more than they are conscious of saying… Great feelings take with them their own universe, splendid or abject. They light up with their passion an exclusive world in which they recognize their climate. There is a universe of jealousy, of ambition, of selfishness, or of generosity. A universe — in other words, a metaphysic and an attitude of mind.In a sentiment of piercing relevance to our golden age of productivity, where we vacate our own lives under the spell of busyness, Camus considers how the sense of meaninglessness sets in as we find ourselves in an existential hamster wheel of our own making:
A man defines himself by his make-believe as well as by his sincere impulses. There is thus a lower key of feelings, inaccessible in the heart but partially disclosed by the acts they imply and the attitudes of mind they assume.
One day the “why” arises and everything begins in that weariness tinged with amazement. “Begins” — this is important. Weariness comes at the end of the acts of a mechanical life, but at the same time it inaugurates the impulse of consciousness. It awakens consciousness and provokes what follows. What follows is the gradual return into the chain or it is the definitive awakening. At the end of the awakening comes, in time, the consequence: suicide or recovery. In itself weariness has something sickening about it. Here, I must conclude that it is good. For everything begins with consciousness and nothing is worth anything except through it.Echoing his previous assertion that “there is no love of life without despair of life,” Camus writes:
Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable. If in order to elude the anxious question: “What would life be?” one must, like the donkey, feed on the roses of illusion, then the absurd mind, rather than resigning itself to falsehood, prefers to adopt fearlessly Kierkegaard’s reply: “despair.” Everything considered, a determined soul will always manage.He turns to the ultimate answer to this ultimate question
I draw from the absurd three consequences, which are my revolt, my freedom, and my passion. By the mere activity of consciousness I transform into a rule of life what was an invitation to death — and I refuse suicide… Obeying the flame is both the easiest and the hardest thing to do. However, it is good for man to judge himself occasionally. He is alone in being able to do so.
But it is bad to stop, hard to be satisfied with a single way of seeing, to go without contradiction, perhaps the most subtle of all spiritual forces. The preceding merely defines a way of thinking. But the point is to live.