“No poet ever wrote a poem to dishonor life, to compromise high ideals, to scorn religious views, to demean hope or gratitude, to argue against tenderness, to place rancor before love, or to praise littleness of soul. Not one. Not ever.
“On the contrary, poets have, in freedom and in prison, in health and in misery, with listeners and without listeners, spent their lives examining and glorifying life, meditation, thoughtfulness, devoutness, and human love. They have done this wildly, serenely, rhetorically, lyrically, without hope of answer or reward. They have done this grudgingly, willingly, patiently, and in the steams of impatience.
“They have done it for all and any of the gods of life, and their record of so doing belongs to each one of us.
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
happens! Nothing … Silence …Waves…
— Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and we are standing now, quietly, in the new life?
–Juan Ramón Jiménez
Rumi composed a small eruption of a poem about love’s most beguiling and dangerous qualities. This gem of verse marks out, like a Morse code, the action, the alchemy of love. I’ve revisited this poem many times, and with each close reading new facets are revealed, sharper insights gleaned. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Love comes sailing through and I scream.
Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.
Love puts away the instruments
and takes off the silk robes. Our nakedness
together changes me completely.
The opening conveys abrupt immediacy. Things are one way one minute and then — a surge: “Love comes sailing through…” Sailing evokes being on an ocean, perhaps the Sargasso Sea where we often drift in the humdrum trance of our day-to-day life. But then the majesty of love glides in. Also, the word ‘sailing’ connotes a particular sound, the movement of Cupid’s arrow perhaps?
Love’s entrance — and then: a scream. Not a yell or a shout. A scream. A kind of fright or terror. The shock of love. Rumi is writing about the ego’s perception and reaction to love. Unnerving, startling — a harbinger for what exactly?
P.D. Ouspensky wrote in Tertium Organum: “Love is the potent force that tears off all masks, and men who run away from love do so in order that they may preserve their masks.” I guess that would explain the screaming.
Should we endure, there’s the promise of an intimate alignment, a regulation that calms the initial shock: “Love sits beside me like a private supply of itself.” This line enchants me, the image it calls forth. “…like a private supply of itself.” This speaks to the notion that we are each a localized, unique expression of love — and when we experience love we’re given the opportunity, through the mirror of the Beloved, to remember, to see this condition. We relax, perhaps unaware of the disarming that will follow.
“Love puts away the instruments and takes off the silk robes.” Now Rumi’s describing another love action — the revealing, the stripping — making naked. The initial reading is a prelude to sex, and this can work in the poem too. But there’s something more; the instruments, the clothing — the ways the ego displays its talents, or how it hides behind a facade — all of that’s got to go in the presence of love. Nakedness implies as much. Read more
This poem? I’m stunned, in the same way that you want to follow and retain a shooting star’s trajectory (but can’t), with the way Levertov forces silence into place, between the words, merging both sides of your brain while you absorb the essence of her secret code — honestly, a transcendental incantation.
All which, because it was
flame and song and granted us
joy, we thought we’d do, be, revisit,
turns out to have been what it was
that once, only; every initiation
did not begin
a series, a build-up: the marvelous
did happen in our lives, our stories
are not drab with its absence: but don’t
expect now to return for more. Whatever more
there will be will be
unique as those were unique. Try
to acknowledge the next
song in its body-halo of flames as utterly
present, as now or never.
Everything is far
and long gone by.
I think that the star
glittering above me
has been dead for a million years.
I think there were tears
in the car I heard pass
and something terrible was said.
A clock has stopped striking in the house
across the road…
When did it start?…
I would like to step out of my heart
an go walking beneath the enormous sky.
I would like to pray.
And surely of all the stars that perished
one still exists.
I think that I know
which one it is–
which one, at the end of its beam in the sky,
stands like a white city…
–Rainer Maria Rilke
Photograph by Carl Wooley