Something can be incandescently obvious but still utterly unintelligible to us if we lack the conceptual grammar required to interpret it; and this, far from being a culpable deficiency, is usually only a matter of historical or personal circumstance. One age can see things that other ages cannot simply because it has the imaginative resources to understand what it is looking at; one person’s education or cultural formation may have enabled him or her to recognize meaning where others will find only random disorder.
Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far
end of experience; it is the ability to see again what most of us
have forgotten how to see, but now fortified by the ability to
translate some of that vision into words, however inadequate.
There is a point, that is to say, where reason and revelation are one.
All civilizations to this point have grown up around one or another sacred vision of the cosmos, which has provided a spiritual environment and a via impulse for the arts, philosophy, law, public institutions, cultural revolutions, and so on. Whether there will ever be such a thing as a genuinely secular civilization – not a mere secular society, but a true civilization, entirely founded upon secular principles, is yet to be seen.
What is certain is that, to this point, most of the unquestionably sublime achievements of the human intellect and imagination have arisen in worlds shaped by some vision of transcendent truth.
The mist collects to droplets on the leaves,
slight inches from my eye. I stare.
I do not see the force and law that forms
the silver globe. I do not see what’s there,
for spinning wild is how the atoms mean
the world. I stare. Simple, still, and silent
balls, the water drops just make for me
the maelstrom into symbols. And I stare.
All men by nature want to know for sure
and poetry is knowing what is there.
The poem is the end of artifice, I’m sure.
And then suspicion that this thought itself
will wisp into some final sucking fire,
this thought that thought is simultaneous
and simultaneous is how to think.
When I affirm that God is one in essence,
essence still, and silent and indeed so simple,
and yet hypostases three are he and he and he,
the creeds seem end of artifice for me.
I stare, and think too much. Yet grass in blades
is choosing how to shape the tuft of blooms,
yet bees are hyperlinking blooms in air,
yet atmospheres are swirling over continents,
yet continents are spinning, wild, the world
into the artificial silver globe among the drops
He stares. He stares, He finds His thoughts take shapes
as artificial lines yet good, yet very good.
You say you know of love.
You heard there was a man who kept a vow
which cost him songs and woman flesh: you sneered,
and sneer replaced your syntax. Faithfulness
has passed and so has story, so you cannot not
betray and be betrayed. You riddle Raphael,
demand of Gabriel his password, and the blessed
Michael you sequester for his shots. You animate
and warm by devil arts, demanding angel proofs
from pronoun parts contorted in a double helix.
You say you know of love.
You nominate yourselves the chefs of love
with tongues forever virgin of the delicates
of love, unable to obtain old age of love.
So smug, and stupid, and smug about your stupid,
sitting while befouling hind and feet
in excrement so proud to sit and trowel
it round to front, then back, for it is warm.
Adjust, again, the angle of your friction
and engorge, and say you know of love.
I say I know of love
but only pose a naked contradiction
for sublimity can only be reported,
never proved. It flares within a story
framed by rituals and vows, an agon held
as precious for a lifetime, paths where righteous
souls all trip but rise their seven times per day
to say “I do.” And this, Oh this
is plot and character, the grail, the rose, the wind
that spins the sun and all the summer stars.
I say I know a love you do not know:
in sickness and in health,
both warm and cold,
in hunger and in wealth,
nubile, and old:
When you lost this you lost it all.
Down, your house is down. How great the fall.
My sixty-first November carols me.
The stuttered snow, the huddled hawk, the moon
(so bored above the pasture-scape) all wait
the coming Child again, again the church
plays Mary: is the future good? How can it be
the angel’s hail is not a curse, since I’ve
not known a man? Again the carols fling
their seeds, the smallest seeds of all the seeds,
along our deep and dreamless streets.
Overheard in an upper room, before the police came.
1. Song for all
Dark is the room and dark is the wine
and the dark is fine when it whimpers in the cup:
“innocent blood betrayed on the vine”.
But the wine-bibber knows how the cup is cruel,
how the blood-dark wine always blurs the lines
from down to up in daylit minds.
Sweet is the wine, sweet on the tongue;
sweet is the drinkin’ when the night is young
but bitter in the belly when the friends have run.
2. Chugging song
Come now, sing now, happy tunes
and drink, drink, drink — we’re in our youth.
“Fool, fool, deliberate fool:
can you drink the cup?
Or will it drown you?
Down, down, three times down,
take the triple-bath, play the triple-tool.
Fool, fool, deliberate fool…” (repeat)