The Seven Deadly Sins

Fragment of a Cantata 
Scene: Before God's Throne 
                    CHORUS I 
How long, how long, how long? 
Destroy us! Destroy us! 
                    CHORUS II 
A little time, a little time, a little time! 
Have mercy! 
Have mercy! 
                    THE ACCUSER (recitative) 
It is time to speak. It is truly time to speak. 
                    CHORUS II 
Have mercy! 
                    CHORUS I 
Destroy us! 
                    THE ACCUSER (recitative) 
Out of the darkness I rise before your throne, 
I, the Accuser. 
From generation to generation we saved our madness's hope. 
As a newly conceived child lies hidden and is scarcely there, 
so you lay hidden in our inner being, O great madness. 
From generation to generation we were ready to deny what we  
                                    heard and saw. 
Who wants to be evil? Who wants to be what man in reality is? 
From generation to generation we were nothing but our secret 
our unborn. 
O Lord, how near you are to that which does not exist!  
But look after us! We cannot endure any longer. 
Destroy the evil that does not care to deny itself. 
Destroy our madness's dream that is not able to make itself
Destroy us. 
                    CHORUS I 
How long, how long, how long? 
Destroy us! 
Destroy us! 
                    CHORUS I 
We are your flock,  
Lord,whom you failed - 
Have trust! was your command - 
and worse we fared. 
From evil's mists 
no light rose aloft, 
out of the thunder 
no murmur soft. 
We quaked in the desert 
abandoned, alone 
with harsh commandments 
written in stone. 
They became our water, 
they became our bread. 
But around our piety 
night lay dead. 
We travelled the roads, 
struck by God's ire, 
messengers we.  
laved in fire. 
Judgement, expiation, 
the voice bade thus. 
And the judgement came true, 
but never the trust. 
We sang in the fields 
in rejoicing turned 
towards new stars 
that like signals burned. 
O dream, o hope, 
hoiw richly you flowed, 
O promise's promise, 
so fraudulent, broad. 
One prayer, one only 
remains to us: 
strike even harder, 
you that cause pain to us! 
Fold space together 
and extinguish time, 
annihilate all 
and make peace come! 
How long, how long, how long! 
Destroy us! 
Destroy us! 
                    SOLO (from Chorus I) 
We know that the bitter fates 
did not come to us first. 
Who will say in suffering's flood: 
ours is greatest! 
Against times of plague and hunger's years 
and the mothers' cry 
in abandoned towns - 
what do we weigh! 
Oh, we were used to making 
bolder demands, 
but sensed that good was what life gave 
with merciful hands. 
The dead know, they rest in peace, 
how much the heart can thole. - - - 
But we despair of man 
and of man's goal. 
We believed that by its own power 
the truth won through. 
But a stronger lure is lies' 
inciting brew. 
The drunken souls maim themselves 
for the idol State, 
and trust drowns in mistrust 
and love in hate. 
So we are the shreds that were wasted, 
the hammer that broke. 
Come, sweep your smithy empty and clean 
with broom and rake! 
Light the forge again to create 
that which is not us! 
A gleam was your spirit in man, 
a gleam - and gone past. 
                    CHORUS I 
Destroy us! 
Destroy us! 
                    CHORUS II 
A little time, a little time, a little time! 
Have mercy! 
Have mercy! 
It must not end so 
cruelly unreconciled. 
Not so long as on earth still 
life is spared, used mild. 
Grant one more brief term 
for the world's wheel to turn! 
So dark the night persists, 
perhaps a new one may burn! 
If this is said presumptuously, 
then forget all words 
but let us be silent and endure our way, 
like grass close to earth's swards. 
Too deep the shame we saw, 
too meaningless the agony. 
On expectancy we lived - 
waiting let us die! 
Have mercy! 
Have mercy! 
SOLITARY VOICE (from Chorus II) 
Lord of the macrocosm, 
lord of the microcosm, 
you who burst all measures, 
great and small, 
you alone know 
how measures and figures defraud, 
you know that life is 
what life always was. 
He that walks over battlefields 
and hears distress's cry, 
the more he sees and hears, 
grows his agony. 
But there is no sum to be had 
of the world's woe: 
he only slowly draws near to 
the contents of one soul. 
The world's life is no sum, 
but the way that souls came, 
no goal in sight, 
but conquered in clear-eyed shame. 
You smile at our numbers and figures. 
Let earth's purgatory go on burning! 
Let us preserve all all 
for the joy of overcoming!  
CHORUS I (dying away)           CHORUS II (dying away) 
Destroy us!                     Have mercy! 
Destroy us!                     Have mercy! 
               THE ACCUSER 
To you first, you who believe you are innocent, 
you slothful ones! 
A heavy burden binds you to yourselves, 
heavier than coarse bread and heavier than the earth can
On you the guilt for all the evil that was not prevented! 
On you the guilt for all the good that was not done! 
A heavy burden! Because of you 
the world is going under. 
By our own hearts we were forsaken. 
By their steep walls is our bed for the night. 
We are those doomed by life to a living death, 
thirsting in trance for the springs' water bright. 
Our arms we twine hard around our knees, 
stilled by tension and not by repose. 
Above the wall's crest float the fresh trees. 
Beneath their roots we hear the springs ooze.  
There are our lives. There are our souls. 
You who come punishing, what will you do to deliver us? 
If you know the way in, then all will be well. 
But if we go away from the springs, the desert storm will
Bring no pitchers to those hot, dry mouths! 
Never will we raise our hands for action, 
never - until we drink from the innermost wells. 
By our hearts' walls shall await transformation. 
You cry out. Within me echoes 
an answer faint. 
but deep in all my valleys 
abhorrence remains. 
Someone there is, one solitary 
out of all my folk, 
willing to serve you, crier, 
to interpret, support.  
But you see, I fear attack 
in the soul's world, 
the stupidity of the strong 
who conquer by the sword. 
Let my manifoldness 
slowly heal away, 
then one day perhaps each drop of blood 
may answer your cry. 
How inconquerable would he be 
in self-clear belief, 
who could grow into one 
in ripening peace. 
How powerless from his living skin 
would the day's dust fall. 
How mighty in silence he would glide 
from the great noise of it all. 
All that is split and scattered 
yearns to be healed and made better 
and asks for faithfulness yet. 
You live in our midst, around us. 
Yea, though our doubting bound us, 
Lord, you were hidden in it. 
The daylight land is the alien land. 
There we go clad in mask and armour. 
There we go wrapped in name and past, 
the cloaks of shame and the crowns of honour. 
Here in the only and most extreme act 
we shed the nine skins of the ego, 
rise with closed eyes in the spring, 
naked as foetuses and gods we go.  
Naked as foetuses. The transfiguring night  
beneath the human we touch, shivering, 
follow in the tracks of primordial ancestors  
deep sea dim and phosphorous-glimmering. 
The year-millions' copulatory hunger 
swallows and carries all earthly fate. 
Human forms and names are transient 
drops from the ecstasies' spate. 
Stunned, I awake - from what bosom's greeting? 
What I perceived was no human meeting.  
I led a life on my self's sediments, 
and I belonged to the elements. 
Darkness-blinded , in torpor I sank 
violated by phantoms, not by any man. 
They made me burn, the desires of earth's ghosts, 
and I gave birth to myth's monstrous hosts. 
THE CHORUS (continues) 
Naked as gods. In formless dawn 
risen from the sea on the shore they stand. 
Without knowing their way and their realm 
they take one hesitant step across the sand. 
Without knowing what strength they possess 
they breathe gently, stop and turn around quite. 
The worlds awake from the touch of their breath, 
the depths and the heights come flaming alight. 
How humbly immense a pride can be. 
I am a holy image, a mere sign to see, 
but translucent because a Power needs me. 
Your worship fills and far exceeds me. 
What became of our earthly being's weight? 
You reveal what life does not yet create. 
I myself am fire. No one am I. 
Our realm deludes. Behind objects we lie. 
Do you mean to close the final way? 
Do you mean to dam the final spate, 
where our arid essence is watered by 
the worlds beyond all earthly fate? 
Do you mean to choke in names all nameless 
timeless fire from the creative pyre 
until the consuming miracle yields before 
the will and the goal to which you aspire? 
O Lord, how you will judge us yet 
make never us forget, 
how wide your kingdoms reach. 
In crowding here and dearth 
lust was, the same as death, 
a sigh from depths that none can reach. 
How could you exist without us, 
you great, slow one. 
Where had you space to rise up from, 
if not in our pride begun. 
Your shelter and your rock-grave 
are here our hands, tight-wrenched. 
And hear, we pray, though not for mercy, 
with teeth together clenched: 
I can manage. 
Around us clinging tough and blind 
are lives, swarming and riven. 
To man alone, highest and lowest, 
was empty despair given. 
That made most wondrously 
has much too easy to blast. 
Oh, bless our pride, 
that holds to the last: 
I can manage. 
What had we else, that would endure 
in lifeless wastes 
and solace dare itself create 
from unreal mists - 
from chaos compel form 
born of burning homelessness, 
give tones to tears and words to screams 
and save itself in this: 
I can manage. 
Here weighs a scale to give justice 
to life and death. 
How heavy it hangs, the cup of pain, 
with our mutilated fates. 
How light the other, with what is worth 
our aspiration's call. 
Put our holy pride in it, O Lord, 
then gently it will fall. 
I can manage. 
Not even evil 
can you destroy, 
O heart of ours, 
but that you die, 
not one base demon 
to nothing lead, 
but that you smite yourself, 
eternal seed. 
Eternal seed. 
for no one has seen you flower, 
only grow, 
always and many times over. 
All the way 
to meaning in all the void! 
Life's long yearning 
grant to us unalloyed.  
Grant to us unalloyed 
the day's heaviest hour, 
its stifling agony, 
for you are the morning star, 
gleaming solace cool, 
within the mist a spark, 
borne on seven clouds, 
seven dragons dark. 
A form am I, 
but the stuff the primordial flame. 
Fire is my gaze 
and flames my hands. 
In drunkenness that creates 
twine the fire's tongues 
insatiably around that play of lines 
that is your being. 
Form also you, 
but form that is through-annealed, 
raised from the depths' sea of fire - 
mirage and image, 
half-created and growing 
- like all gods - 
bubble above chaos. 
Of all things  
the gods are most transient, 
of all things  
worship is most enduring. 
O bubble bubble 
moment and delusion 
and through the fire 
the goal of eternity! 
Bind me, you warriors, 
to the vessel's mast, 
draw tight the ropes 
secure and fast! 
Commands nor prayers 
shall none harken to. 
Death's temptation for me, 
The wax for you. 
Wax in your ears, 
the oar in your hand - 
no songs can reach you 
from danger's land. 
Until you are past and you 
set me free again, 
you have no chieftain 
and I have no men. 
King Agamemnon, 
hope of Hellas' dugs, 
would have steered - with silent wave 
and firm earplugs. 
Ajax would have sailed 
near the monsters' call 
boldly among his bold ones 
to his ruin and fall.  
They all remain kings 
for as long as they can. 
None but me is a  
lonely man. 
Stronger than honour 
and power and control 
it lures me, the knowledge 
I riskily stole. 
It cannot be used 
for every day's need, 
it cannot be given away 
cannot be bequeathed. 
Bind me well, you warriors, 
but leave my ears alone! 
All that's heard, seen and felt 
shall become my own. 
In despair you cry: 
Where is the wise word, 
that alone will cure the world's 
poisoned sores? 
And where is the thought, 
oh, give us the thought, 
that leads out of time 
where death's spirit soars! 
Be silent. Have trust. 
Our being is creation. 
We are in a deep league 
with that which wants to be. 
Your great despair 
Is not an empty dread 
sometimes in the depths it has 
a note of agony. 
The blind dark suffers agonies 
from secret dreams 
that no one sees, and yet 
they are near in all's storm. 
They cannot be told. 
They cannot be thought. 
They must first be lived through 
to being and form. 
Do not ask for words, 
do not ask for thoughts, 
but ask for a share in the agony 
from our root in earth interred. 
The Silent is thinking 
in flesh and blood and will, 
and will hurl perhaps at last like fire 
to you - your word. 
Alive as we are 
and far far away, 
so our word 'understand' 
becomes empty smoke and wind. 
Deeply inaccessible 
to thought and sense, 
though against our cheeks 
your bark feels harshly kind. 
Eyeless you shine 
in delight and flowers. 
Through what instruments 
do you know your magnificence? 
Through what secret, 
creating knowledge 
have you a share in the power 
of visions and scents? 
Leaning against the trunk 
we are hardly noticed, 
do not slip in to your 
inner world's ring. 
Or reach you, mirrored, 
a scrap of our being, 
to ourselves unknown 
and frightening? 
Though no doubt we were born 
of the same ancestors, 
not a glimpse of shared hours 
our eyes have found. 
Too many adventures 
have divided us since, 
too unknowable 
is our simple ground. 
Perhaps we still have 
a meeting to expect, 
on the road where life 
to soil has returned. 
Yet one more hand outstretched 
between divided kin. 
And we thank death  
because of that bond. 
Our stuff, always borrowed, 
we give it back. 
Melt it down to your form, 
and take and give! 
Exchanged between us 
like friendly gifts, 
deep beautiful unknown 
sister life! 
Around us all collapses, 
and more will collapse yet, 
until no stone is left 
to support our foot. 
How can you still believe, 
who have nothing to believe in? 
How can reliance live 
so lacking any root? 
Is it itself a root? 
Is it itself the seed? 
and does the tree of the world itself 
grow out of it, then? 
Then our fate is stored 
with taciturn hearts. 
Because of their silence 
it may be day again. 
Because of their wholeness 
chaos may flower 
from miracles' power - that says nothing 
but wants to be believed. 
All things may be smashed asunder. 
Again they may be healed, 
as long as it is living, 
our innermost seed. 
Come, all that grows whole, 
transparently self-evident, 
to us, we who reckon 
and are on watch each hour, 
and learn that the day 
we cease to reckon, 
that is our lives' fulfilment 
and our future power! 
When Christmas Eve tautens 
then creak floor and door. 
The dead since times primordial 
seek us as before. 
In our homes they take their seats 
and us they remind 
that in that olden time 
for them too Christmas was a feast, 
'We come not with fear, 
with solace we come. 
We saw your desertion 
one dark autumn long. 
How good to be with you in here.  
Sit by the fire with us a while 
We knew the horror, we as well, 
it was like yours, our despair. 
We stood with frozen mouths 
in the world's night at our post, 
and the sky's stiffened wells 
lay ice blue with frost. 
Death's sting we came to know. 
And death's snow lay wide. 
Then someone said: Wait - 
a morning star I saw. 
We heard. We believed, 
We lit flares in our distress. 
And we stood up for the light-feast 
in darkness and death. 
You say: "Fools' flares!" 
And if you can, then douse them. 
But lift them rather and give them 
from us to the new race!' 
-  -  - 
The empty winter skies 
have smothered every cry. 
But the souls listen endlessly, 
the dead and we. 
In some corner hidden away 
by a world to destruction worn, 
there is a child being born, 
a promised child on straw and hay. 
Beautiful is a strong body, 
that cleaves a hard wave, 
Beautiful, beautiful is the child's sleep 
after tension playing gave. 
Beautiful is the day of work 
- hard bread, broken and blest - 
and beautiful an hour that forgets in wine 
the future and the past. 
We were born of mothers of heaven and earth 
and of powers with no end in view, 
nocturnal wills and wills of light 
with names that no one knew. 
May one of the many 
not gain power over us, 
though she be of heaven's race 
and shine in magnificence. 
In us a multiplicity lives. 
It fumbles towards unity. 
Its capturing, gathering burning-glass 
we were born to be, 
Great is man's striving, 
great the goals it has set - 
but much greater is man himself 
with roots in universal night. 
So give, that we shield a secret room 
and never a flame do lack 
on the altar of an unknown god, 
that may tomorrow wake. 
The few who dared to be 
- blessed may they be! - 
have been maimed and slain all over again 
by us who dare not see. 
Darkened icons 
equal, the same in size 
hang images of the living who burn 
cramped among much that is less. 
The centuries have smoothed 
their strange features away, 
as we ourselves zealously smooth 
day after day. 
We file and embellish 
as best we can and may, 
until nothing distinguishes spirit now 
from respectability. 
The young go in search 
of the fire that burned, 
They go with empty eyes 
that nothing have found. 
They must suffer it all again. 
Poor ones, they! 
We squandered the gains of the holy - we 
who did not dare to see. 
Give me the dead part of your life. 
I will be sure to wake it. 
The nights wait for our pastime. 
We will be sure to break it. 
Though your day was so bloodlessly empty, 
I can compel it to bleed, 
compel it, in shame and judgement, 
to rise up from the dead. 
So, when day dawns and again you take hold, 
you will see what you have earned, 
you will see the mark of a living night 
into your temple burned - 
witness that the time you wanted to cheat 
from mercy back you have got 
and got it full to its flowing brim -  
whether torment or joy, matters not. 
They stole your thought from you? - You frighten me,           
Who wants to own the mind is the mind's treacherous         
Deep must the soul bow down to enter the kingdom's doors. 
Perhaps you can become truth's - but truth can never be     
Over rough red wine heavy foreheads bow. 
It is not wine that weighs them down. 
The wine that frees our thoughts the most, 
it frees the least our tongue. 
Like a secret blaze, sacrificial fire 
is rough red wine. 
I alone know before what powers 
that smoke arises fine. 
I alone know from what worlds 
I derive my drunkenness. 
Each and all stare past the rest 
and listen to distant sighs. 
Each and all raise their glasses to things 
that none of the others see, 
in dark lands where rejoicing and grief 
scarce have meaning finally. 
So in secret I raise here my red wine, 
my sacrificial blaze, 
to a pain that is mine and resembles most 
the eternal consuming gale from the sea's waves. 
Dark is my land. 
Wanderer, who are you? 
Marsh wanderer! 
Blind lies my land. 
Wanderer, who are you? 
I feel footprints fill themselves 
with blood from my inner self. 
I would like to know your hands. 
If they are of fire that burns, 
let me feel it. 
I would like to know your hands. 
If they are like cool leaves, 
then stroke them over the trees' pain 
and let the dead awake. 
Flower flower Bitterness, 
how stand you now so full 
of ripe gold honey 
for all your bitter pall. 
How sag you now with gifts, 
the meadows' almond flower 
the modest, gently swathed, 
could surely never bear, 
Torment and blessing - 
each has his own. 
I do not know life's measure, 
but know that you became mine. 
Your cup was like fire. 
Your drink was like gall. 
You offered seven sorrows, 
and I drank them all. 
Flower flower Bitterness, 
how rich at last you grow 
in heat-golden honey 
resembling sunlight's flow. 
Here,sated with sweetness, 
I stand in your clear gift's rays. 
I will rejoice with Adam. 
With Job I will praise. 
Never is the forest happy as now in sun and rain, 
never so overflowing with delicate scents and glitter, 
never so playfully consoling - only me it does not reach, 
though I seek and pray. My pain is too bitter. 
Drink, my eyes, gold lights I myself do not see. 
Breathe deeply, my lungs, the wet moss's vapour. 
I am a dead stone. Forget me, live for yourselves, 
gather in golden chambers all that you can capture. 
Inaccessible that room where day's harvest will ripen 
soft with shimmers and scents and sighs. When the hour is      
a thickened splendour will burst its cell. Over me will     
fresh and wild as a waterfall, pain's memory. 
How is it possible? 
How did such a glorious multiplicity grow, 
such a fresh and fine and airy cloud of flowers, 
such a forest of twisted wild boughs, 
such a rough bark with green lichen 
all of it only 
from one and the same dark little kernel? 
There it lay, all of it,  
trunk, branches, leaves and bark and airy flowers, 
pressed together in a heart-shape. 
But we are the wild apple's reflection in water. 
From riches without boundary and bottom, 
from young days' airy light fruit-blossom, 
from a hundred roads' forest of clinging branches, 
from the simple bark of a simple life, 
we gather slowly, 
until it all lies still, condensed, closed 
within the kernel of a heart... 
How is it possible.                                            
Now is the time of immense waiting  
before the leafing time,
now the trees tremble in their inadequate glory,
the birches in purple, the aspens in green
and in gold-red the willows of the streams -
time of invisible forces,
when all is only bearing wombs -
souls go pantingly heavy,
and the twilight excites and wearies
like insatiable trysts.
Now creation crouches, yearning's leap in store -
before disappointment happens,
when the forest is as green as possible
and the world is as complete as possible
the trees and the people mumble as in sleep:
'We wish for more.'
How can I say if thy voice is beautiful.
I only know that it pierces 
and makes me tremble like a leaf
and tears me into rags and pieces.
What do I know of thy skin and thy limbs.
It only shakes me that they are thine,
so that for me there is no sleep or rest,
till they are mine.
You my despair and my strength,
you took all the life I controlled,
and because you demanded everything,
you gave back a thousandfold.
Afraid of the dark, my poor young thing,
who met spirits of another kind,
among the white-clad ever noticing
others of evil mind,
now I want to sing gentle songs to you,
they deliver from fear, cramp, coercion rude.
They do not ask that the evil should rue,
They do not ask for the fight of the good.
Then you shall know that all that lives
deep inside is of the same kind.
As trees and plants it can grow hesitantly,
by its own law upwards inclined.
And trees may be felled and flowers be broken
and branches die with their strength dried up,
but the dream is concealed -  wills to be awoken -  
in every living drop of sap.
You are the resurrection of my soul
to ecstasy in what is real,
so the air touches me hot as fire
like a sea of glass that I feel,
and the power of my eyes,
so that numbly they catch a glimmer
of how all the colours flame out
in a drunken shimmer.
You are the strength of my will,
you give me a fortitude
to wait and to act,
that I have never had,
Yes my senses' hunger,
that incite me and pursue,
becomes rejoicing every day
because it is for you.
You are the ripeness of my life.
You make me whole.
Out of my past now gathers
each thread and smallest dole.
On a hundred different roads
I have walked and strived.
Now they meet. It is towards you
That I have lived.
Many voices speak.
Yours like water calls,.
Yours is like rain,
when through the night it falls.
Softly purls
in a fumbling dive,
slowly, hesitantly,
torturedly alive.
Trickles and strains,
trembling like a ground,
towards my skin,
behind every sound,
wraps itself softly,
closes me in,
fills my ears, whispering
memory's refrain.
I want to sit silent
where I can't disturb you.
I want to dwell and live
where I can hear you.
Many voices speak.
Through them all
I hear only yours
like the night rain fall.
           YOUR VOICE...
Your voice: in an old orchard a path half overgrown
with deep shadows and bright sun and birdsong sudden                                                                                                                    thrown,
a path of untamed secret life and breeze and 
                                                                         loneliness -
how strangely lone and wild, it is I alone who knows.     
And when I wake at night, in it I waken then,
and I grow lost in green transparent shadow play again.
There I dwell for hours and hours and know that whom
you will follow and where you listen, here is my                                                                                         home.
Your voice: I have heard it for twenty years, and all                                                                                    that you have said
has lain sunk in me, but charged with power yet.
Now I hear it word for word as yesterday, it fills night                                                                                             and day.
It was the warmth of my veins. It was my heart, beating                                                                                                      away.
What are these depths in us, where the past exists, all?
Or is it only your being, your voice I recall?
You were my life's fulfilment. How has its ripening                                                                                                                                     passed? 
A choked tree, a tree of agony, burst into leaf at last.
All say it: your time is short, I know.
I cannot imagine that you will ever go. 
There is no world to live in, where you do not live.
My mind rejects the miracle. In my heart, belief.
All things you contain, more than a mortal can thole.
You are light and darkness in a double bowl.
How the one shimmers, naked and cool.
Mother-of-pearl air over water of pale opal.
Seeing, seen,
ready for day's gleam
dawns slowly open their mussel shell.
But dim and still does the other brood,
also a mussel, though deeply there, where the sea is                                                                                                mute.
since creation closed
it protects the mother-sleep's secret room.
All things you are, the whole of my being's goal.
You are the day and the night in a double bowl.
February 1938
The Altar Painting
Do not seek here the silence of the dead.
The walls drip with the vigil of the ages.
The vaults tremble with living spirits
on their way back.
The centuries' ring 
turns slowly around them.
All things are near. Past 
is nothing. 
The spirit that raised stone upon stone
like the driving sap of temple pillars,
has sprung a new bough.
From the images comes a flashing brilliance
of inexorable demand for sacrifice,
which our fathers heard and obeyed.
That man there with the narrow mouth
never sat happily by the evening well,
as the herds billowed wearily home
and a sorrow-dissolving twilight burned.
He is fire. The conflagration he bodes,
god as much as young man.
All that is secret he sees through
sternly as only the young can.
High in the bright arches of his purity
he offers war.
Over his forehead flame
Middle Ages, young and hard.
Centuries in kindred train,
prophet next to prophet,
darkly real towards skies
of silver air and nothing.
So solitarily essential
in the phantom of creation
man bears his heavy soul
to stone in the epochs' cathedral. -
And their gaze is distant
among what does not die,
and their features are closed shrines
with frozen passion for a lock.
So heavily strikes the light
that no dust can bear it.
Go hence, light! You crush
the clay you take as dwelling.
How many have you visited
since primeval days -
and all all
prayed the same prayer: mercy!
How many have you wrestled with
and triumphed over
and consoled only with visions'
confusing promises.
How many went in the dawn
from the Jabbok’s ford
with the sum of their life
in their maimed hips.
We saw their movements
of ugly deformity
and thought: Are they implements
for the light to use?
See, health's sunlight,
that gently cures the world,
is powerful in the healthy,
but these are sick. -
We saw their smile
and could not decipher it,
we saw their tracks,
which the legends relate.
Splendour of their heaven
and splendour of their hell
seized us like a drunkenness.
Who knows what he will choose?
Yes, who knows it still,
who knows the ways
that lead to the stone of the wise
and life's red kernels.
They risked their souls.
Then say, the Jabbok's mighty one,
have you a cure for the race
under the stars of the fear of death?
                        The Tapestries
But as the plants unfold
where the fields of late lay empty,
the earth awoke in space's spring
and slowly began to flower.
From fern forests and lizard slime 
life crept up the precipice.
There a human child kneels
and looks out over the depths.
How did wings grow there in the birds' feathers?
How was the chestnut's stick raised,
which carefully and proudly bore the finest candles
high above serpent and dragon?
We know of the spring, that the power of the depths
cannot have drained its source.
So let us perceive in all that is
the creating wellsprings' rising
and let go like Job on his torment's heap
of justice's tricks
and lean our sick and tough hope
against the miracle that is still a miracle.
There are courtyards and lawns that have rung so long
with cries and laughter and noisy games,
with shrill small voices and voices breaking,
that even in solitude the stones echo.
There are rooms where the walls themselves have absorbed
so much raw healthy young life that it will never go,
and perhaps some yawns and perhaps some fear,
and perhaps some of the excitement that makes the hours                                                                                       too short -
and perhaps the times of endless listening
and the joy of discovery at old new wonders.
There are staircases that have been worn by generations                                                                                          of feet
in countless schools in countless lands
What a torrent has run between the school's walls
like a river rushing mightily between resting shores!
A river of young spring energy and new opportunities,
still seething with unrest and fermenting questions,
goes forth between banks which itself did not form,
with the future's seeds in its rumbling waves.
And the walls ask: Are we only the past?
Are we the obstacle that makes the energy break and be                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               checked?
Is the inheritance we leave so overwhelming 
that perhaps the future itself lets itself be dammed?
But then there is a murmur from trees and grass and rain:
That which is truly future, nothing can dam!
What we have gathered of experience, of dream and hope                                                                                        and will
is too costly to die when our lives are over.
We bore it to the river, the young, strong river,
which will perhaps take it towards the coming time.
And among all that we leave and all that it takes with us
there is much that will sink to the bottom and be                                    
but the best we found and the richest we lived
are the seeds that have energy and will be preserved and                                                                                          kept.
Thus in the great stream thought is bound to thought 
and will to will, as the hours stride on,
until generation after generation lets go of hands they
and goes to take up its task at last.
So they are bound here among games and lessons and dreams                                                                                              -
like links in the great community,
that stretches out seeking towards all that we dare to                                                                                              hope -
the children of men to the whole of mankind.
All too clearly, frighteningly clearly
we hear the crash of the Spanish shells.
Groaning in the wind, weeping in the rain
breaks the peace on silent evenings.
In the midst of self-sufficient states
people are bitterly forced to learn:
the earth has shrunk and become small;
never was all Europe so close.
From the unending horizon
space closes tighter and tighter.
Soon when our children have grown,
there will be no recesses or distances left.
Full of fear, with lips closed,
we wish luck on their future. - -
Children whose eyes have drowned in horrors
will grow to become their shadow and times.
Centuries of plague, times of pestilence
will one day roll across the lands.
Give that one day we may endure
where the health of our souls is concerned!
Terror and hate and the froth of the wild animal
creep like plague-poison over our minds.
He may be thankful who has managed to heal
some wound among the most painful memories.
Roof over the head, shelter against the cold,
the bread that relieves the naked distress,
the warmth in the hand, the light in the voice -
these are weapons in a struggle against death.
They are all like circles around a stone: they spread 
far out across the water's surface.
No one can know how far he will reach,
only that he is fighting on the side of life.
No worm, no seed in the wind
is armed more weakly against life's peril,
no baby bird is exposed
more helplessly to the mercy of the strong.
What daring of the hidden powers
to let themselves be born by human children
and pour the wine above all wines
into this bowl of thin temple-cork!
But in timid fear we approach
the eyes of the child, scarcely awake,
in which forms and colours are reflected
overwhelming, new, naked -
creators' eyes that will tame the visions
and slowly order the cosmos's home,
divide the waters from the vault above
and set earth's fastness between them.
And in fear and trembling we approach
those volcanic dawns
whose eruptions of fire and geysers
still rock us on slow swells:
then the day was deep and eternal,
strangely sated with a violent spring;
life burned intolerably,
like a sun in its blue veins.
Remorsefully they draw near to us,
the sunken lands, thoughtlessly abandoned,
that hide our royal sceptres
and all that the Mothers intended as a miracle -
the earth's magic healings,
spiders' webs in morning dew,
and the sacred energy of growth -
all buried under the slag of the years.
Among the blind who seek power
in dead destruction,
the child walks like a sorrowless smile
of what makes alive.
On the day when the steel fails
and the peoples cry for the Primordial Flood -
on that day the child will have won,
on that day fate will change.
If I listen, I can hear life flying
ever faster now -
Those quiet footsteps behind me -
death, it is you.
Before, you were far away -
I held you all too dear.
Now, when I long no more,
now you are there.
Dear death, there is in your being
something that comforts strife:
what do you care if one's grown great,
or wasted the whole of one's life?
Dear death. there is in your being
something that clears the air:
all that's the same in the good and the bad
you lay open, naked and bare.
Follow me and let me hold your hand,
it calms one deep and well.
The beautiful you make indispensably great,
The ugly you make small.
It's as though you wanted something of me,
I present you want, I guess:
a strange, small curious key -
the little word 'yes'.
Yes, yes, I want to!
Yes, yes, I will!
My piety I lay down at your feet
so life may grow more, still.
I read in the newspaper that someone had died, someone
                               I knew by name.
She lived, like me, wrote books, like me, grew old,
                               and now she is dead.
Think, to be dead and have left everything behind;
dread, terror and loneliness, and the  unforgiving guilt.
But a great justice lies hidden at the bottom of things.
We all have a grace to expect - a gift of which no one                                                                                             can rob us.                                        
Where the divining-rod descends
goes forth the water's vein.
a centre for fate,
a serious one.
Do not flee into dreams
of richer sward.
Here is your ground, and the powers
have said their word.
It may bcome to pass, if you dig here,
that the heather's mark
may be watered to a pleasure-garden
and leaf-rich park.
It may also come to pass
that your toil will be repaid
with a few dark cracks
that winter green has made.
The one and the other
have meagre weight
against your touching your own fate's
living plate,
where evil power is broken,
where creation takes place,
where you and the world grow
to a greater space.
Do not think your dreams
will come true at last.
Do not think you will regain
those meadows you lost.
Where the divining-rod descends
stern mystery dwells below.
There happens nothing of what
you expect and know.
Take the shoe from your foot.
Be still, and watch the earth.
Here you are granted a meeting
with the power of birth.
How deep the earth ferments.
Her soul is like yours.
Here a way is opened for you
into hers.
Thus do we drift, lost souls,
from camp-fire hole to camp-fire hole,
know nothing of our next rest
and nothing of the journey's goal -
know that night and day here alternate,
heavy eve and sunrise great in song,
and that our journey still seems short
and yet too mercilessly long.
Yes, we know more: one sleepless night
we listen quiet in fear unseen
to our inner being, to a murmur
as of a subterranean stream
or of a shell's faint roar
in which the whole sea's heard,
and in our trembling we cease
to ask which way we are led.
Thus do we drift, lost souls,
from camp-fire hole to camp-fire hole,
know nothing of our next rest
and nothing of the journey's goal,
but know that our hearts are drawn
inexorably, without choice
in towards the sea of an unknown home
that murmurs deep in the seashell's voice.
Those dark angels with blue glames
like flowers of fire in their black hair
know answers to strange blasphemous questions -
and perhaps they know where the bridge goes 
from night's depths to daylight -
and perhaps they know the haven of all unity -
and perhaps in the father's house there is
a bright dwelling that has their name.
'What does it feel like when one gets wings, when one is                                                                          dead, say, mother?'
'First your back bends, it grows broad and great.
Then it grows heavier and heavier. It is as if one                                                                                         carried a mountain.
There's a shaking and breaking in ribs and backbone and                                                                                                                  marrow.
Then it straightens up with a jerk and bears all, all.
Then one knows that one is dead now and lives in a new                                                                                                      form.'

translated by David McDuff


Copyright ) 1997 David McDuff

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