Sunday, June 23, 2013

the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning

You don't make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved. 

- Ansel Adams

I love the quotation by Ansel Adams so much. And really, it applies to writing as well, and painting. Well, to so many things then. Everything we are and have been, everything that we have seen and all the paths we have travelled, these are in us and come to bear on those things we create. Looking at a great work of art, we can feel the vibrations of those places to which the artist has travelled, the books she has read, the poems she has absorbed, the paintings she has memorized inch by inch. 

You'll remember the lines by Rilke:

“For the sake of a few lines one must see many cities, men and things. One must know the animals, one must feel how the birds fly and know the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning. One must be able to think back to roads in unknown regions, to unexpected meetings and to partings which one had long seen coming; to days of childhood that are still unexplained, to parents that one had to hurt when they brought one some joy and one did not grasp it (it was joy for someone else); to childhood illness that so strangely began with a number of profound and grave transformations, to days in rooms withdrawn and quiet and to mornings by the sea, to the sea itself, to seas, to nights of travel that rushed along on high and flew with all the stars-and it is not enough if one may think all of this. One must have memories of many nights of love, none of which was like the others, of the screams of women in labor, and of light, white, sleeping women in childbed, closing again. But one must also have been beside the dying, one must have sat beside the dead in the room with the open window and the fitful noises. And still it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them when they are many, and one must have the great patience to wait until they come again. For it is not yet the memories themselves. Not until they have turned to blood within us, to glance, to gesture, nameless and no longer to be distinguished from ourselves-not until then can it happen that in a most rare hour the first word of a verse arises in their midst and goes forth from them.” 

- Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

"the gesture with which the small flowers open in the morning."

How lovely that line is to me.

And then, this poem by Milosz, which I must have talked about on this blog, maybe a couple of years ago. It's one I circle back to, maybe when I'm thinking of what to write next. "I have always aspired to a more spacious form...."

Ars Poetica?

by Czeslaw Milosz 
transl. Czeslaw Milosz and Lillian Vallee

I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though it’s an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?

It’s true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I’ve devised just one more means
of praising Art with the help of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read,
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity,
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I'm saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

The photos were taken on the morning of the solstice.

The leaves of the mock plum in our front yard:

The front yard again, poppies:

We have peonies both in the front and back yard:

And here's the back yard, weeds and all:

Parts of our back porch need replacing, but that's for next year.

The flower pots I sit among while I write this and that. They'll fill out and flower more, but here they are at the beginning of summer:


  1. "The purpose of poetry is to remind us/ how difficult it is to remain just one person" I like that, it will keep me thinking for a little while. Thanks for sharing, I never would have really paid attention to this before if not for your blog. Time to take Milosz off the shelf again...

    1. Thanks, Leigh. I like that line as well.


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