Let this darkness be a bell tower

“Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower”

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

–Rainer Marie Rilke

from Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29

translation by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows


and every stone on the road precious to me

Hello again, readers. Sorry it’s been awhile. This first post of June also happens to be my 200th post on this humble poetry blog. So in honor of that nicely rounded, seemingly significant number, I thought I’d re-post the Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006) poem that inspired the name of this blog in the first place.

I like to dig up this piece during turning points and find that each reading offers something new, a different layer if you will. Tonight, the poem’s nimbus-clouded voice reminds me of the difficulty, and the necessity, of living deeply–of moving forward while remaining anchored, of collecting each obstacle as a precious stone of experience, of loving people who are also perpetually changing…

The Layers

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written,
I am not done with my changes.