Posts in: Poetry by others

Prayer after Eating
Wendell Berry

I have taken in the light
that quickened eye and leaf.
May my brain be bright with praise
of what I eat, in the brief blaze
of motion and of thought.
May I be worthy of my meat.

[published in The Country of Marriage]

An appropriate reading when you’re coming down with some kind of sickness:

It isn’t hard to inhabit Tao’s Way.
Just stop picking and choosing,

stop hating this and loving that,
and you’re there bright and clear.

A hair-width distinction is error
enough to split heaven-and-earth:

to face Tao’s shimmering Way
simply give up like and dislike,

for battling things you dislike
is mind’s great disease.

The Way of Ch’an, “Fact-Mind Inscription”, translated David Hinton.

Many thanks to @johnbrady for calling this to my attention in a comment on my earlier post

Conscientious Objector
Edna St. Vincent Millay

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me
Shall you be overcome.

On Top
Gary Snyder

All this new stuff goes on top
turn it over, turn it over
wait and water down
from the dark bottom
turn it inside out
let it spread through
sift down even.
Watch it sprout.

A mind like compost.

“The Green Man”, a poem by William Anderson

Like antlers, like veins of the brain the birches Mark patterns of mind on the red winter sky; ‘I am thought of all plants,’ says the Green Man, ‘I am thought of all plants,’ says he. The hungry birds harry the last berries of rowan But white is her bark in the darkness of rain; ‘I rise with the sap,’ says the Green Man, ‘I rise with the sap,’ says he.

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“The Reassurer” by Wendell Berry

A people in the throes of national prosperity, who breathe poisoned air, drink poisoned water, eat poisoned food, who take poisoned medicines to heal them of the poisons that they breathe, drink, and eat, such a people crave the further poison of official reassurance. It is not logical, but it is understandable, perhaps, that they adore their President who tells them that all is well, all is better than ever. The President reassures the farmer and his wife who have exhausted their farm to pay for it, and have exhausted themselves to pay for it, and not have not paid for it, and have gone bankrupt for the sake of the free market, foreign trade, and the prosperity of corporations; he consoles the Navajos, who have been exiled from their place of exile, because the poor land contained something required for the national prosperity, after all; he consoles the young woman dying of cancer caused by a substance used in the normal course of national prosperity to make red apples redder; he consoles the couple in the Kentucky coalfields, who sit watching TV in their mobile home on the mud of the floor of a mined-out stripmine; from his smile they understand that the fortunate have a right to their fortunes, that the unfortunate have a right to their misfortunes, and that these are equal rights.

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Nevertheless, I’ll be looking for you tomorrow, Jeffers.

Introductory note: This poem surely lies behind what I’ve written lately about self-consciousness (here, here), even if I didn’t have it in mind at the time. Jeffers describes consciousness here as “unreasonable excess, / Our needless quality”, a characteristic that must arise in some way from our biology but is also outside it. He imagines our bodies and our consciousness as the creations of two gods (hello, Gnosticism!). The “uncalled for God” (demiurge?) adds consciousness on top of the natural beauty created by the “austerer God” (monad?). Consciousness becomes a burden for human beings, the poison in the well that corrupts all our experience.


What catches the eye the quick hand reaches toward
Or plotting brain circuitously secures,
The will is not required, is not our lord,
We seek nor flee not pleasure nor pain of ours.
The bullet flies the way the rifle’s fired,
Then what is this unreasonable excess,
Our needless quality, this unrequired
Exception in the world, this consciousness?
Our nerves and brain have their own chemic changes,
This springs of them yet surely it stands outside.
It feeds in the same pasture and it ranges
Up and down the same hills, but unallied,
However symbiotic, with the cells
That weave tissues and lives. It is something else.


As if there were two Gods: the first had made
All visible things, waves, mountains, stars and men,
The sweet forms dancing on through flame and shade,
The swift messenger nerves that sting the brain,
The brain itself and the answering strands that start
Explosion in the muscles, the indrinking eye
Of cunning crystal, the hands and the feet, the heart
And feeding entrails, and the organs that tie
The generations into one wreath, one strand;
All tangible things or chemical processes
Needs only brain and patience to understand:
Then the other God comes suddenly and says
“I crown or damn. I have different fire to add.
These forms shall feel, ache, love, grieve and be glad."


There is the insolence, there is the sting, the rapture.
By what right did that fire-bringer come in?
The uncalled for God to conquer us all and capture,
Master of joy and misery, troubler of men.
Still we divide allegiance: suddenly
An August sundown on a mountain road
The marble pomps, the primal majesty
And senseless beauty of that austerer God
Come to us, so we love him as men love
A mountain, not their kind: love growing intense
Changes to joy that we grow conscious of:
There is the rapture, the sting, the insolence.
…..Or mourn dead beauty a bird-bright-May-morning:
The insufferable insolence, the sting.