How could the child see an animal not yet born?
A dark calf clothed in its own white zodiac, still wet
with birth three months since she had dreamt it.
Could she hear it growing with the sensitive ears
of a chantress? Hear where the dark places met
with the white and the hard with the soft? Or did
she feel its warm body as though through a veil
of living light: a young midwife touching
a baby’s head by turning the hips of its mother?
Even then she understood the turning of things,
bodies, voices, and the heavens, but she would
soon learn to hide her talents and the luminous
animals of her dreams. Sick at their conception,
it would be many years before she cried out
with her sisters, answering the rough beast’s call
to worship with strange, ecstatic song.
What was it, truly, to see with the outer eyes
of the flesh? Did it make plain all occult forms?
Or the wheel turn? Did it reveal the liquid voices
of the elements or the divinity of the hours?
In any case, the child could not speak of it,
not to those who broke things just to see what light
they held. Not to men who took the lives of beasts
because they did not have a soul. With all their ears
they could not hear the music: the sound of temple bells
among the grasses or the echo of a form inside a form.
Bethany van Rijswijk, ‘Visions’.
The woman is perfected
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden
Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.
The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.
Green Snake, when I hung you round my neck
and stroked your cold, pulsing throat
as you hissed to me, glinting
arrowy gold scales, and I felt
the weight of you on my shoulders,
and the whispering silver of your dryness
sounded close at my ears.
Denise Levertov, from ‘To the Snake’.
Glancing once, the Indian
Has woven into you an alien strangeness
You die in. It’s as though some burning sky
Had crashed down on you. Then, a crack across
Your face appears, and spices pile up high
Upon your Nordic mind, now at a loss
To help—no power can dispel the charm.
The sun ferments; the fever falls and rakes
You. Shafts rise, joyous with impending harm,
And poison glistens in the snakes.
Rainer Maria Rilke, from ‘Snake-Charmer’, trans. Len Krisak.
The winds that awakened the stars
Are blowing through my blood.
W. B. Yeats, from ‘Maid Quiet’.
If I could have caught up from the earth,
the whole of the flowers of the earth,
if once I could have breathed into myself
the very golden crocuses
and the red,
and the very golden hearts of the first saffron,
the whole of the golden mass,
the whole of the great fragrance,
I could have dared the loss.
Destroy me star
-says the poet-
pierce me with distance’s arrow
Drink me source
-says the drinker-
to the dregs drink me to nullity
Let sharp eyes deliver me
to devouring landscapes
Words meant to save the body
may they bring me precipices
A star will sink its root in my forehead
the source will lend my face humanity
and you’ll awaken silent
in the palms of stillness
at the heart of the thing.
Zbigniew Herbert, ‘Lines of a Pantheist’.
O rough hewn
god of the orchard,
I bring you an offering—
do you, alone unbeautiful,
son of the god,
spare us from loveliness:
these fallen hazel-nuts,
stripped late of their green sheaths,
dripping with wine,
pomegranates already broken,
and shrunken figs
and quinces untouched,
I bring you as offering.
Hilda Doolittle, from ‘Orchard’.
A few red hollyhocks, delicate flower beds, a gathering
of golden sunflowers.
Sitting on the left a young
woman, dark-faced, wearing a white hood.
Above her head green waves
of luxuriant climbing vines.
Nijolė Miliauskaitė, from ‘They Tell of the Warsaw Uprising’.
haunting the groves,
who dwell in wet caves,
for all the white leaves of olive-branch,
and early roses,
and ivy wreaths, woven gold berries,
which she once brought to your altars,
bear now ripe fruits from Arcadia,
and Assyrian wine
to shatter her fever.
Hilda Doolittle, from ‘Acon’.