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
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular
As a kid I had to have owls around me. Well, pictures and statues of owls.
Despite having and living with dozens of birds — finches, mynahs, parrots and canaries — my dad wouldn’t let me have an owl as a pet.
Though just recalling and typing that out right now gives me a thrill; thinking what a live owl would have been like. Of course I wouldn’t have kept it in a cage. I would have had a big branch of some sort secured in my bedroom and the owl would have perched there free to do what it wanted to do which is why I could not have an owl as a child.
Note too that childhood was 45 years ago for me, so this was way before any sort of owl meme ricocheted across the internet. After my owl fascination took hold I was also smitten by the astrological logos. So owls and astrology go together for me. You could say the former is a totem for the later; not the most original mascot for an astrologer but at least I made an effort to really secure my own owl when I was a kid.
Fortunately where I live on this island in the Puget Sound we live with owls in the surrounding forests. I’ve only seen three in the twelve years that I’ve lived here. Though at night I will occasionally hear them calling. Their calls are as magnetic and spellbinding as their forward-gaze. You know of course that all birds have their eyes on the sides of their heads. But owls, no! They will stare you right down and hypnotize you, like you were a stock-still rodent.
I’ve a favorite poetry book that I read from time to time, it’s called Bright Wings. It was edited by a poet I admire, Billy Collins, and it has wonderful illustrations by David Allen Sibley of all kinds of birds. And poems that accompany the art. And lots of poems about owls.
Above is one of the paintings for the Great Horned Owl. The text that accompanies this reads:
“The only animal that regularly eats skunks, the Great Horned Owl also preys on birds, including other owls, nestling Ospreys, and adult and nestling American Crows. Flocks of crows congretate from long distances to mob the owls, sometimes cawing at them for hours. A nonmigratory bird, it has an extensive range — almost all of North America, through Central America, and into South America.”
And here is a poem by Annie Finch (her real name) that runs alongside one of the illustrations of the Great Gray Owl (an owl that is the tallest — two to three feet high):
Who knew you would grow from gray bark
So that nothing is separate or new
But your yellow eyes following through
From the mottling brown in the dark,
Spectral Owl — from the spiral, the spark
That the circling feathers lead to?
Who knew you could speak as you do,
Great Gray ghost — who know you could speak?
Nature and its inhabitants can easily cause us to start and pause and fall into wonder; though some creatures more so than others. The owl is one such. His private reverie and intensity is something almost otherworldly. Spectral owl, shuttling us between two worlds while never leaving for a moment this one. How do they do it?