The quick sparks on the gorse bushes are leaping,
Little jets of sunlight-texture imitating flame;
Above them, exultant, the pee-wits are sweeping:
They are lords of the desolate wastes of sadness their screamings proclaim.
Rabbits, handfuls of brown earth, lie
Low-rounded on the mournful grass they have bitten down to the quick.
Are you they asleep?—Are they alive?—Now see, when I
Move my arms the hill bursts and heaves under their spurting kick.
The common flaunts bravely: but below, from the rushes
Crowds of glittering king-cups surge to challenge the blossoming bushes;
There the lazy streamlet pushes
Its curious course mildly; here it wakes again, leaps, laughs, and gushes.
Into a deep pond, an old sheep-dip,
Dark, overgrown with willows, cool, with the brook ebbing through so slow,
Naked on the steep, soft lip
Of the bank I stand watching my own white shadow quivering to and fro.
What if the gorse flowers shriveled and kissing were lost?
Without the pulsing waters, where were the marigolds and the songs of the brook?
If my veins and my breasts with love embossed
Withered, my insolent soul would be gone like flowers that the hot wind took.
So my soul like a passionate woman turns,
Filled with remorseful terror to the man she scorned, and her love
For myself in my own eyes’ laughter burns,
Runs ecstatic over the pliant folds rippling down to my belly from the breast-lights above.
Over my sunlit skin the warm, clinging air,
Rich with the songs of seven larks singing at once, goes kissing me glad.
And the soul of the wind and my blood compare
Their wandering happiness, and the wind, wasted in liberty, drifts on and is sad.
Oh but the water loves me and folds me,
Plays with me, sways me, lifts me and sinks me as though it were living blood,
Blood of a heaving woman who holds me,
Owning my supple body a rare glad thing, supremely good.
This poem is in the public domain.
Then said Almitra, Speak to us of Love.
And he raised his head and looked upon the people, and there fell a stillness upon them. And with a great voice he said:
When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.
For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.
Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself
He threshes you to make your naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.
All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.
But if in your heart you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.
When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”
And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.
Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself.
But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
From The Prophet (Knopf, 1923). This poem is in the public domain.
Because I love you, and beneath the uncountable stars
I have become the delicate piston threading itself through your chest,
I want to tell you a story I shouldn’t but will, and in the meantime neglect, Love,
the discordant melody spilling from my ears but attend,
instead, to this tale, for a river burns inside my mouth
and it wants both purgation and to eternally sip your thousand drippings;
and in the story is a dog and unnamed it leads to less heartbreak,
so name him Max, and in the story are neighborhood kids
who spin a yarn about Max like I’m singing to you, except they tell a child,
a boy who only moments earlier had been wending through sticker bushes
to pick juicy rubies, whose chin was, in fact, stained with them,
and combining in their story the big kids make
the boy who shall remain unnamed believe Max to be sick and rabid,
and say his limp and regular smell of piss are just two signs,
but the worst of it, they say, is that he’ll likely find you in the night,
and the big kids do not giggle, and the boy does not giggle,
but lets the final berries in his hand drop into the overgrowth
at his feet, and if I spoke the dream of the unnamed boy
I fear my tongue would turn an arm of fire so I won’t, but
know inside the boy’s head grew a fire beneath the same stars
as you and I, Love, your leg between mine, the fine hairs
on your upper thigh nearly glistening in the night, and the boy,
the night, the incalculable mysteries as he sleeps with a stuffed animal
tucked beneath his chin and rolls tight against his brother
in their shared bed, who rolls away, and you know by now
there is no salve to quell his mind’s roaring machinery
and I shouldn’t tell you, but I will,
the unnamed boy
on the third night of the dreams which harden his soft face
puts on pants and a sweatshirt and quietly takes the spade from the den
and more quietly leaves his house where upstairs his father lies dreamless,
and his mother bends her body into his,
and beneath these same stars, Love, which often, when I study them,
seem to recede like so many of the lies of light,
the boy walks to the yard where Max lives attached to a steel cable
spanning the lawn, and the boy brings hot dogs which he learned
from Tom & Jerry, and nearly urinating in his pants he tosses them
toward the quiet and crippled thing limping across the lawn,
the cable whispering above the dew-slick grass, and Max whimpers,
and the boy sees a wolf where stands this ratty
and sad and groveling dog and beneath these very stars
the boy brings the shovel down
until Max’s hind legs stop twitching and his left ear folds into itself,
and the unnamed boy stares at the rabid wolf whose wild eyes loll white in his head,
taking slow steps backward through the wet grass and feels,
for the first time in days, the breath in his lungs, which is cool,
and a little damp, spilling over his small lips, and he feels,
again, his feet beneath him, and the earth beneath them, and starlings
singing the morning in, and the somber movement of beetles
chewing the leaves of the white birch, glinting in the dark, and he notices,
Darling, an upturned nest beneath the tree, and flips it looking for the blue eggs
of robins, but finds none, and placing a rumpled crimson feather in his mouth
slips the spindly thicket into another tree, which he climbs
to watch the first hint of light glancing above the fields, and the boy
eventually returns to his thorny fruit bush where an occasional prick
leaves on his arm or leg a spot of blood the color of these raspberries
and tasting of salt, and filling his upturned shirt with them he beams
that he could pull from the earth that which might make you smile,
Love, which you’ll find in the fridge, on the bottom shelf, behind the milk,
in the bowl you made with your own lovely hands.
"Bringing the Shovel Down" from Bringing the Shovel Down, by Ross Gay, © 2011. Reprinted by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.