And I was alive

And I was alive in the blizzard of the blossoming pear,
Myself I stood in the storm of the bird-cherry tree.
It was all leaflife and starshower, unerring, self-shattering
And it was all aimed at me.

What is this dire delight flowering fleeing always earth?
What is being? What is truth?

Blossoms rupture and rapture the air,
All hover and hammer,
Time intensified and time intolerable, sweetness raveling rot.
It is now. It is not.

— Osip Mandelstam
(May 4, 1937)

To Natasha Schtempel

As if to limp earth empty and to lift it up
With every hobbled heavened step;
As if to piece and place some delicate wreckage
Freely and fully in the space by which it’s bound;
As if the halt in her were a halt of mind:
Three friends; laughter; landscape locked in time;
And the same gray weather mothering all to nothing
But the will to walk in a world made newly whole
Because the soul of brokenness is the soul.

— Osip Mandelstam
(May 4, 1937)

Not one word

Not one word.
Purge the mind of what the eye has seen:
Woman, prison, bird.

Otherwise some wrong dawn
Your mouth moves
And a sudden pine
Needles through your nerves,

A trapped wasp crazes
In your brain,
And in the old desk’s ink stain
A forest mazes

Inward and inward
To the unpicked
And sun-perfected

Where you now and now always
Must stand,
An infinite inch
Between that sweetness

And your hand.

— Osip Mandelstam
(October 1930)

Our noisy years seem moments in the being

How strange, that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have born a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself!

— William Wordsworth
From “The Prelude”


Not the round natural world, not the deep mind,
The reconcilement holds: the blue abyss
Collects it not; our arrows sink amiss
And but in Him may we our import find.
The agony to know, the grief, the bliss
Of toil, is vain and vain: clots of the sod
Gathered in heat and haste and flung behind
To blind ourselves and others, what but this
Still grasping dust and sowing toward the wind?
No more thy meaning seek, thine anguish plead,
But leaving straining thought and stammering word,
Across the barren azure pass to God;
Shooting the void in silence like a bird,
A bird that shuts his wings for better speed.

— Frederick Goddard Tuckerman

Personal Helicon

For Michael Longley

As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.

One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.

A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.

Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.

Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.

— Seamus Heaney


There is, I know, a science of separation
In night’s disheveled elegies, stifled laments,
The clockwork oxen jaws, the tense anticipation
As the city’s vigil nears its sun and end.
I honor the natural ritual of the rooster’s cry,
The moment when, red-eyed from weeping, sleepless
Once again, someone hoists the journey’s burden,
And to weep and to sing become the same quicksilver verb.

But who can prophesy in the word good-bye
The abyss of loss into which we fall;
Or what, when the dawn fires burn in the Acropolis,
The rooster’s rusty clamor means for us;
Or why, when some new life floods the cut sky,
And the barn-warm oxen slowly eat each instant,
The rooster, harbinger of the one true life,
Beats his blazing wings on the city wall?

I love the calm and custom of quick fingers weaving,
The shuttle’s buzz and hum, the spindle’s bees.
And look — arriving or leaving, spun from down,
Some barefoot Delia barely touching the ground . . .
What rot has reached the very root of us
That we should have no language for our praise?
What is, was; what was, will be again; and our whole lives’
Sweetness lies in these meetings that we recognize.

Soothsayer, truth-sayer, morning’s mortal girl,
Lose your gaze again in the melting wax
That whitens and tightens like the stretched pelt of a
And find the fates that will in time find us.
In clashes of bronze, flashes of consciousness,
Men live, called and pulled by a world of shades.
But women — all fluent spirit; piercing, pliable eye —
Wax toward one existence, and divining they die.

— Osip Mandelstam