Monday, March 2, 2015

gentleness and despair

This Moment

by Eavan Boland

A neighbourhood.
At dusk.

Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.

Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.

But not yet.

One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.

A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.

Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

- {source}

- from In a Time of Violence

This is going to be one of those blog posts full of mainly stuff I need to hear myself, though isn't it always that way. I love the poems of Eavan Boland. I've been reading her since my undergrad days. Her spare elegant lines, and the way she writes about what is ordinary with such simple radiance, such sturdiness, as she says, is what continues to attract me to her work.

From an interview on

Schmidt: In your books of poems and certainly in your autobiographical prose, certain ordinary images are repeated and lingered upon. Is this a way of making the ordinary emblematic?

Boland: It wasn’t that much of a strategy. I just wanted to find a way of conveying how things change from the ordinary to the familiar, from the familiar to the known, from the known to the visionary. How the same thing can be seen differently over and over again. I was in a flat in Dublin when I was a student for a few years. It had a table in one room, a window over a garden. There was nothing remarkable about any of it, except that remarkable things happened to me there: I wrote my first real poems in that room and began to believe and hope I was a poet there. When you go back to find those feelings in memory, you can often only draw the map in terms of place and it has to be the perceived place, not the actual one: the way a room looked, for instance, the hour after you wrote your first sturdy poem in it.

You might remember reading this here before, and I re-post it because I need to remember that the light re-surfaces, the sacred emerges, there all the time:

"Here life goes on, even and monotonous on the surface, full of lightning, of summits and of despair, in its depths. We have now arrived at a stage in life so rich in new perceptions that cannot be transmitted to those at another stage - one feels at the same time full of so much gentleness and so much despair - the enigma of this life grows, grows, drowns one and crushes one, then all of a sudden in a supreme moment of light one becomes aware of the sacred."

- May Sarton

This next one, to remind me how good napping is:

A Person Protests to Fate

by Jane Hirshfield

A person protests to fate:

“The things you have caused
me most to want
are those that furthest elude me.”

Fate nods.
Fate is sympathetic.

To tie the shoes, button a shirt,
are triumphs
for only the very young,
the very old.

During the long middle:

conjugating a rivet
mastering tango
training the cat to stay off the table
preserving a single moment longer than this one
continuing to wake whatever has happened the day before

and the penmanships love practices inside the body.


And this poem reminds me that I'm not alone, that this is the artistic state. What we most long to achieve is always ahead, beyond, near but far.

And here. A shot of magazines, collected from Rob's latest series of paintings. Validation for a love of fashion magazines.

My reading has moved lately from fashion magazine, to Barbara Pym novels, to essays and interviews by David Foster Wallace. Isn't it amazing that that's even possible?

Here's the trailer for Death Comes to Pemberley which we watched this weekend and which I adored. Not just because of my love for Austen but because this is one of those spin-off things which actually works and isn't painful in any way. The actors are wonderfully cast, the P.D. James novel the story was based on is excellent. But the cinematography, I think that's the right word - I'm no film buff - is splendid. I've been looking online to find a clip of the forest scenes to no avail. But the light in the forest scenes, and as the carriage drives on the road through the woods....heaven. I really just want to watch it over again with the sound off, paying attention to how it's filmed.

"Of all the pitfalls in our paths and the tremendous delays and wanderings off the track I want to say that they are not what they seem to be. I want to say that all that seems like fantastic mistakes are not mistakes, all that seems like error is not error; and it all has to be done. That which seems like a false step is the next step." 

So, I've been thinking, have I been wandering off my path, or lost my way, or footing, or am I just generally lost, or is the lost path the path after all, the erring, messy, frustrating, path. Well. And maybe it's just that the light has been missing for so many months. However, behold: the light in my kitchen which hasn't made it to my kitchen table since October, or so it seems. One of the strange and brutal side effects of living at latitude 53.

I know I'm not alone in finding this past winter a difficult one. A SAD one, or bordering on SAD. I've heard from my readers on this, and thank you for understanding.

On the weekend at work, I had two separate conversations with people who confided, very tenderly and delicately, about how difficult it's been for them mentally, without mentioning any of the other factors, which there likely is, because in life, there are always what we might call 'factors.'

But to just consider the effects of winter on their own on our state of being, no matter how beautiful we find the season, no matter how much we embrace it and let it be, to just consider the harshness of it and sit with that, is important. What it puts us through! And how brittle it's possible to feel near the end of it.

The Good News

by Thich Nhat Hanh

They don’t publish
the good news.
The good news is published
by us.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
and the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen! You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow
and preoccupation
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.

The good news is that the end of winter light now reaches my kitchen table in the morning. Outside, the trees are standing firm in winter. I have arms for hugging.

The good news is if there is despair, there is also gentleness and tenderness. If winter has made us brittle, it means we have felt it all the way to our bones, and we know winter because we have looked at it carefully and with awe. If winter has drained us, we know how good it will be to soon fill up again, soaking in the sun and the slowly warming air.

Fate is sympathetic. Winter, too, is sympathetic. Winter nods, yes, yes.

We nod back, yes.

Soon it will be spring. Which is a terribly clichéd thing to say but that's okay because at this time of year you can only half believe it.


  1. Lots to take in today (as always, I guess) though what strikes me most is that you've put into words what has been floating around in my mind too, thank you. Love those last photos especially - magic time :) XO

    1. p.s. So thrilled to see you on Vibeke's month of giving- can't wait to see your day!

    2. Thx Leigh! What a great idea Vibeke had. Glad to be part of it.

  2. What a beautiful poem. Love it. And the pink of those flowers - a blush of spring :) we are beginning to see signs of it here in Ireland - hope it is not too far off now from you. A tough winter makes spring all the more shinier, miraculous really and I am grateful for that :)

  3. As regards your last post Shawna, I can completely relate, as I often feel the same sense of 'is there anybody out there reading??' I personally feel to withhold a 'like' or a comment is selfish, ungrateful. So I try to comment as much as I can on blogs and other online platforms. But your blog is so wonderfully eloquent and inspiring, that sometimes I feel a comment wouldn't do it justice. I always drop by when I can and immensely enjoy reading your posts. A beautiful calm reflective space it is and I am so grateful to have found it. Thank you for sharing with us your hard and heart work . It is much appreciated :)

    1. I know it's tricky at times for people, both because of the technology and the sometimes weirdness of putting oneself out there on the internet. And sometime, it's good just to be quiet, silent, etc.

      Thanks for your comment today. Nice knowing you're out there :)

  4. I put that Agnes Martin quote at the top of a board meeting agenda a few months back when everyone was feeling down about our huge co-op expansion project. I believed every step, even if it seems like a misstep, is a step towards progress and movement. Thanks for reminding me of that today as I go about getting the week in order. Lovely photos, Shawna. While this winter has not been as tough as usual on me, I definitely am gaining more energy from the returning sunlight. In fact, it all feels rather amazing to me. Spring for us is just a few days away although we will have another arctic blast before the warmth.

    1. Spring is a ways away here, but oh thank heaven for the sun!

      Isn't it cool that we were both thinking about the AM quote at the same time....

  5. "The Good News" brought tears to my eyes. Perhaps that is just what I needed to read today. It has indeed been a hard winter, filled with too much illness, the last of which has really knocked me out without knocking me out enough to validate staying home in bed. I just want to open my windows and breathe fresh air, and, yes, listen to the dandelions grow. The cold has been so pervasive. And although I have embraced winter this year in a way I have not in the past (having lived in CA for 20 years before moving back to the north), there have been times, watching the snow blow in swirls and clouds across the road in front of me as if I live in an uninhabited frozen tundra, that I have been convinced that this would be the winter that would never end. So please say it again, "soon it will be spring," bringing with it all of its green smells and delightful breezes and the sound of lawn mowers in the distance.

    1. It is such an amazing and simple poem - so glad it resonated. But yes! Spring. Soon! For us all. xo

  6. I'm with FairieMoon on "The Good News" part, just what I needed today too. And looking at all that beautiful light in your kitchen and those lovely plants, brings me hope. It will be a long time before our 8 feet of snow melts so I'll take any bit of sun and warmth I can get.

    1. I loved your melting snow photo, Susan! It's amazing how quickly the sun we have is melting down our snow.

  7. love your photos, as usual. And words.
    But these have stayed with me and reach deep in my core,
    "Stars rise.
    Moths flutter.
    Apples sweeten in the dark."

    1. Thank you, Diane! Glad you like the lines. Lovely :)

  8. Oh I love those glossy fashion magazines, their glossy feel and those sweet scented pages are gorgeous.


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