Allegiances

american-river-1590010_1280
photo at pixabay

Allegiances

It is time for all the heroes to go home
if they have any, time for all of us common ones
to locate ourselves by the real things
we live by.

Far to the north, or indeed in any direction,
strange mountains and creatures have always lurked –
elves, goblins, trolls, and spiders: – we
encounter them in dread and wonder,

But once we have tasted far streams, touched the gold,
found some limit beyond the waterfall,
a season changes, and we come back, changed
but safe, quiet, grateful.

Suppose an insane wind holds all the hills
while strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.

William Stafford
The Way It Is – New & Selected Poems

A few key dates in William Stafford’s life: born in Kansas in 1914. A conscientious objector in World War II. A man whose habit was to write something daily, who would rise at 4.30am to ‘sit and wait’ for what he knew lay within to be written. His volume West of Your City published by Talisman Press in 1960; Allegiances published by Harper in New York in 1970; the author of over fifty books, he died at his home in Oregon in 1993.

William Stafford thoroughly understood that once we have tasted far streams … / found some limit beyond the waterfall, / a season changes, and we come back, changed …

And therein lies our hope for this old world in our own time and season.

Dreadful elves, goblins, trolls and spiders have always existed. Some of them, some of us too, have sought to be ‘heroes’ – fenced around by their and our own ignorance. It is time for all the heroes to go home.

How then may I and we locate ourselves by the real things / we live by – ?

Perhaps – having tasted – it has always to start with me, with what I now clearly see: that instead of kidding myself it’s my job to change the entire world (whoever I am, whatever my place of birth, gender, skin colour, creed or lack thereof, and wherever on earth I think myself called to be the hero, the unsolicited ‘saviour of the world’) my best contribution to that same world will be to allow seasons and experience to change me.

While strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.

Note sturdy. Not wimps without cogniscence of – or willingness sometimes to act upon – right or wrong. Not people who turn blind eyes to goblins and trolls. Not people who do not grieve, or hope, or offer healing or hospitality, or pray, or live and die. But sturdy. Believing in the possibility of being positively changed. Experienced in the quiet and slow methods and the poetry of seasons.

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I am grateful for …

click photos to enlarge – a second time to zoom further

… lingers awhile along borders for a translator to savor secretly,
borrowing from both sides, holding
for a moment the smooth round world
in that cool instant of evening before the sun goes down

William Stafford
from Walking the Borders
The Way It Is – New and Selected Poems

I write a few lines in my meditation journal each day, and from time to time review what I’ve written – looking for patterns and repetitions. One of the most frequent notes that appears in the ‘I am grateful for …’ sections is what I often describe as ‘nature’s art and light’.

And I realise that the poets I regularly turn to have eyes and ears for the detail in the natural wonders that surround them; some having especial penchant for the sky, or sea, or lakes, or mountains, or sweeping plains, or animals and their particular, chosen, encouraged or given habitats, flora and fauna. I delight in all of these.

But most of all I am entranced by light, always changing, writing, painting, softening, sharpening, defining, reaching, touching, listening – full from earth to sky with metaphor and parable, reaching onwards, upwards, and into the heights and depths of the Universe. And into my soul.

So it was during our after-supper walk this evening. So it was a million aeons ago. So for a million, million more. Meditating in and upon light I stand time and again in awe.

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Listening

listening_porch-1034405_960_720
Photo at Pixabay

My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.

More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.

My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.

William Stafford
Listening
The Way It Is

William Stafford’s Listening is open on my desk – one of my all-time favourite poems – ‘waiting for a time when something in the night / will touch us too from that other place.’ This man’s humanity and sensitivity are boundless.

Often I reflect on the quality of listening that is touched upon here. The quality of my life tilts towards good when I allow space for listening deeply, before food, before prayer, before work, rest and play.

So I’m especially delighted today to find a William Stafford musing I’ve not read before, on writing a poem:

Writing it was like getting a lock on a feeling
and just letting the feeling lead me from one
part to the next.

Poetry leads us somewhere.

Elements of belonging

Last evening I got lost in a reverie with David Whyte’s poem Working Together: master teacher of the arts of evocation and of invocation, his poems “haunt” me, hovering in and around me, in much the same way Mary Oliver’s do, or May Sarton’s, or William Stafford’s. Poets who become our favourites do so, I guess, because something of their form, heart, precision and soul takes up residency somewhere deep, deep, deep within us.

… may we, in this life
trust

to those elements
we have yet to see

or imagine

David Whyte
from Working Together
The House of Belonging

Though I knew of the late John O’Donohue’s sublime works (Anam Cara – soul friend; Divine Beauty etc) before I discovered David Whyte, I wasn’t in the slightest bit surprised when I learned that the two were the closest of friends. Each, consciously or unconsciously, writes blessing. The poetic voice of each – the sound, the timbre, the vibration – are heard once, never to be forgotten … may we, in this life / trust …

Some lovely video footage of John, writing at home, comfortably seated beside an Irish peat fire, has left me with a burning desire some day to visit The Burren [YouTube], perhaps to encounter the soul of the great man in the vast and ancient open spaces there, and maybe, by some miracle, to bump into his old friend David Whyte who, I like to imagine, still walks and remembers there from time to time … to those elements / we have yet to see …

But the actual going there, to The Burren, will not, I think, be necessary, even if someday achieved and delighted in. For the poetry of life has already done its work, and friendships I delight in – some of whom I’ve set eyes on, and some of whom I haven’t, have already been shown to be gifts and graces of that ultimate Oneness for which we instinctively reach. All that’s necessary each day is for me to meditate, remember or imagine.

Come on laughing

I drove by a very elderly couple, clinging on to each other for dear life, on a snow covered pavement today. Even from behind I could see they were laughing. The fleeting glance as I passed them revealed faces creased with that laughter, and tender, and warm-wrapped in colourful woollen gloves and scarves. The tenderness made me think of William Stafford’s

Our Story

Remind me again – together we
trace our strange journey, find
each other, come on laughing.
Some time we’ll cross where life
ends. We’ll both look back
as far as forever, that first day.
I’ll touch you – a new world then.
Stars will move in a different way.
We’ll both end. We’ll both begin.

Remind me again.

William Stafford
The Way It Is – New and Selected Poems

Inviting the quiet

Listening

My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.

More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.

My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.

William Stafford
The Way It Is, New and Selected Poems

Wind in my wheels on today’s ride was welcomed quietness. William Stafford’s Listening is one of my very favourite poems. It speaks to me of lives forever touched for good by the gift of attentive contemplation. “Every far sound called the listening out …”

My longing for the human family tonight is that all of us might learn a tad more gentle reticence, and come to be touched, in the ensuing life-giving hush, “from that other place …”