Wild Gratitude

- 1950-
Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey, 
And put my fingers into her clean cat's mouth, 
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens, 
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air, 
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight, 
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart, 
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing 
In every one of the splintered London streets,
 
And was locked away in the madhouse at St. Luke's 
With his sad religious mania, and his wild gratitude, 
And his grave prayers for the other lunatics, 
And his great love for his speckled cat, Jeoffry. 
All day today—August 13, 1983—I remembered how 
Christopher Smart blessed this same day in August, 1759, 
For its calm bravery and ordinary good conscience. 

This was the day that he blessed the Postmaster General 
"And all conveyancers of letters" for their warm humanity, 
And the gardeners for their private benevolence 
And intricate knowledge of the language of flowers, 
And the milkmen for their universal human kindness. 
This morning I understood that he loved to hear—
As I have heard—the soft clink of milk bottles 
On the rickety stairs in the early morning, 

And how terrible it must have seemed 
When even this small pleasure was denied him. 
But it wasn't until tonight when I knelt down 
And slipped my hand into Zooey's waggling mouth 
That I remembered how he'd called Jeoffry "the servant 
Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him," 
And for the first time understood what it meant. 
Because it wasn't until I saw my own cat 
 
Whine and roll over on her fluffy back 
That I realized how gratefully he had watched 
Jeoffry fetch and carry his wooden cork 
Across the grass in the wet garden, patiently 
Jumping over a high stick, calmly sharpening 
His claws on the woodpile, rubbing his nose 
Against the nose of another cat, stretching, or 
Slowly stalking his traditional enemy, the mouse, 
A rodent, "a creature of great personal valour," 
And then dallying so much that his enemy escaped. 

And only then did I understand 
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him— 
Who can teach us how to praise—purring 
In their own language, 
Wreathing themselves in the living fire. 

More by Edward Hirsch

In Memoriam Paul Celan

Lay these words into the dead man's grave
next to the almonds and black cherries---
tiny skulls and flowering blood-drops, eyes,
and Thou, O bitterness that pillows his head.

Lay these words on the dead man's eyelids
like eyebrights, like medieval trumpet flowers
that will flourish, this time, in the shade.
Let the beheaded tulips glisten with rain.

Lay these words on his drowned eyelids
like coins or stars, ancillary eyes.
Canopy the swollen sky with sunspots
while thunder addresses the ground.

Syllable by syllable, clawed and handled,
the words have united in grief.
It is the ghostly hour of lamentation,
the void's turn, mournful and absolute.

Lay these words on the dead man's lips
like burning tongs, a tongue of flame.
A scouring eagle wheels and shrieks.
Let God pray to us for this man.

The Widening Sky

I am so small walking on the beach 
at night under the widening sky. 
The wet sand quickens beneath my feet 
and the waves thunder against the shore. 

I am moving away from the boardwalk 
with its colorful streamers of people 
and the hotels with their blinking lights. 
The wind sighs for hundreds of miles. 

I am disappearing so far into the dark 
I have vanished from sight. 
I am a tiny seashell 
that has secretly drifted ashore 

and carries the sound of the ocean 
surging through its body. 
I am so small now no one can see me. 
How can I be filled with such a vast love?

I'm Going to Start Living Like a Mystic

Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater 
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall. 

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field, 
each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering. 

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies 
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation. 

I will examine their leaves as pages in a text 
and consider the bookish pigeons, students of winter. 

I will kneel on the track of a vanquished squirrel 
and stare into a blank pond for the figure of Sophia. 

I shall begin scouring the sky for signs 
as if my whole future were constellated upon it. 

I will walk home alone with the deep alone, 
a disciple of shadows, in praise of the mysteries. 

Related Poems

Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary. 
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel 
            from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest. 
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion. 
For he is of the Lord's poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry!
            poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better. 
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection. 
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the 
            bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.