The Poet’s Assent (An Ode to Rilke)

a9f03dab4540ebd5c3e9b4d0165571f2--rainer-maria-rilke-the-birdsThe poet Rainer Maria Rilke has been some sort of koan for me. February is the time of year that was a creative hurricane for Rilke, allowing him to finish The Sonnets to Orpheus and the Duino Elegies in 1922. In one week, Rilke completed the unfinished elegies, and from February 2 to February 23, Rilke completed all the 55 sonnets of the two parts of Sonnets to Orpheus

He then wrote to his long-time friend, the inimitable Lou Andreas-Salomé, that he had finished “everything in a few days; it was a boundless storm, a hurricane of the spirit, and whatever inside me is like thread and webbing, framework, it all cracked and bent. No thought of food.”

In the fall I had thrown myself into trying to understand the heart of Rilke, his poetic motive, as it were. This is a poetic attempt to get at some of what I think he was up to and how he got there. In the meantime, I am still diving in.


“Incline a while,” she said with a smile.
A simple life, simply styled.

So with legs outstretched and peering into
the Poet’s mind and querying:
what’s this queer soul really hearing?
what’s this mirror really mirroring?

Seeing into things and Being
Into emptiness beauty fleeing

The whole of his heart’s work
from the hole in his heart works

because he dug and dug for days
he found upon his tongue a praise

Upon a summer solstice morn
on the eve of World War
a poet bent his inner ear
and found the point drawing near

Descended deep until he found
a limit to his seeing eye
no more secrets could be spied
until he looked with loving eyes

without it there would not be
the Sonnets or the Elegies

Only with that descending tone
could he ascend – not merely up
but with the whole earth on its throne
and with an ear so different bent
with drums began: “ASSENT! ASSENT!”

Only heart bent circling love
could form a praise upon a tongue
could a faithful Yes be a sung
like a song from morning dove

Only then the jailbreak
of those images locked within
and from behind the bars of time
the Poet affirms the world again

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Owl Saint of Night

owl of minerva
“The owl of Minerva takes its flight
only when the shades of night are gathering” – Hegel
___________________________________________________

the crickets howl at dusk
amidst the peace

at the edge of the meadow
a cold hoot stands sentinel

and a great hunger arises
from the center of things

seeking satisfaction
along the perimeter

Rabbit bows her head
in quiet ceremony

safe from shadows swinging
down without a sound

Oh Owl Saint of Night
creamy rhythm in furtive flight

knives from killer sky
piercing jugular, jumping
screaming bunny, heaving
high-pitch horror, bleeding
body kicking, raining
remains of rabbit rapidly
dying into darkness, flying
final thoughts as these:

“hope is not the thing
with feathers, and for all
the feathers fine
a bitter chill it was,
the bitter chill was mine.”
____________________________

the curtain closes with a hoot
on ancient afternoon

as Artemis smiles from the east
a winter silence resumes

On Mosquitoes and Poets

mosquitoEver the gentleman Berry–knowing a thing or two
about sacred things
and forgiveness–bowed and said,
“I beg your pardon, come here and I will kill thee,
holy though thou art.”

That Surface Dweller, Saint of the Dirt,
then murdered the Needle-Nosed Bastard.

Earlier, in the Rock&Roll years
after the Lizard King had died,
they sang a mariachi song through an open Door:
“No me moleste mosquito,
just let me eat my burrito,
why don’t you just go home?”

summing up the sentiment
in most people’s hearts
though it really was just an excuse
to jam for a few minutes.

Ms. Oliver, ever the gentlewoman,
dedicated a poem to the wasp that stung
her; and Neruda with his ode to bees had sung:
“Oh, the multitudes!”

–the dolphin, dogs, hummingbirds, all get their due
elephants and bats, even a spider or two
but lonely mosquito, what can you do?
no one talks about you

all nightingales and mockingbirds
must be quite puffed up by now
with such obsequious herds
offering incessant verses and bows

and so I thought I’d gather them up,
these pesky people, with faces
only a mother could love
alongside the green valley and loons
lavender dawns and full moons
the roses are reds, and all that’s blue,
and sing their praises — or if none be found,
then at least their due.

But that poor cup o’ tea priest
Issa beat me to it
with his rascal haiku feasts:

driven
from
next
door
come
on
in
mosquitos

heat
shimmers–
the
mosquito-breeding
thicket
is
pretty
too

only fleas and flies
compete more for his eyes

But for my money, the mosquito
owes a verse of gratitude first
to First Person Sorrowful Ko Un
–ever the epic democrat (lower case d)

while in prison he made an oath
that every person he had ever met
would be remembered in a poem:

“I’ve been bitten by a mosquito
thanks a million.
Why, I’m really alive,
scratch, scratch.”

nailed it
(the subject, not the insect)

Redemption therein lies
for the mosquitos’ lives

Some facts you can’t improve upon

Ode to Our Sun on Summer Solstice

summer solstice

I have a such a soft spot for You,
our sole solar sidekick and savior

today you linger longer along
Your solo stellar sojourn
sliding so surreptitiously
through the celestial sphere

spinning like samsara
You give solace and sustenance
with spectacular style
You serenade our sleepy souls
shake off our sluggish stupor
and scare away the shadows
to seduce us from our sheets

so today I salute You
and offer this sentiment of celebration

(Image Credit: Source)