Visceral Poetics


A small collection of poems and excerpts that stress visceral human experiences that range from despair to hope.

I stood before her paralyzed, confused;
I moved my lips, my throat striving to speak,
but not a single breath of speech escaped.

She hardly paused: “What are you thinking of?
Answer me, now! Your bitter memories
have not as yet been purged within this stream.”

My fear and deep chagrin, between them, forced
out of my mouth a miserable “yes”–
only by ears with eyes could it be heard.

A crossbow, drawn with too much tension, snaps,
bowstring and bow together, and the shaft
will strike the target with diminished force;

so I was shattered by the intensity
of my emotions: tears and sighs burst forth,
as I released my voice about to fail.

– Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, Canto XXXI

Behold that I am like a fountained nymph,
Lacking her costumed lymph,
The longing parched in stone upon her mouth,
Unwatered of its ancient plenty. She
(Remembering her irrevocable streams),
A Thirst made marble, sits perpetually
With sundered lips of still-memorial drouth.

– Francis Thompson, “A Double Need”

Everything happens, nothing is remembered
in those dimensioned cabinets of glass
in which, like rabbis in fantastic stories,
we read the lines of text from right to left.

Strange, that there are dreams, that there are mirrors.
Strange that the ordinary, worn-out ways
of every day encompass the imagined
and endless universe woven by reflections.

– Jorge Luis Borges, “Mirrors”

I know
you touch so fervently because the caress preserves,
because the place you cover up, O tender ones,
doesn’t disappear; because, underneath, you feel
pure permanence. Thus your embraces almost promise you
eternity. And yet, after you survive the terror
of the first look, and the long yearning at the window,
and that first walk – the one walk – together through the garden:
lovers, are you still the same?

– Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, First Elegy

Geneviève, my child, was a simple shepherdess.
Jesus too was a simple shepherd.
But what a shepherd, my child.
Shepherd of what herd, Pastor of what sheep.
In what country of the world.
Pastor of the hundred sheep that dwelt in the fold, the pastor of the lost sheep, pastor of the sheep that returned.
And who, in order to help it return, because its legs could not longer carry it,
Its tired legs,
Takes it gently and returns it himself on his shoulders,
Gently draping it round his neck like a laurel,
The sheep’s head thus leaning gently against his right shoulder,
Which is the good side,
Against Jesus’ right shoulder,
Which is the side for the good ones,
And its body curving all around his collar and around his nape.
Around his neck like a laurel,
Like a woolen scarf that holds in warmth.
So the sheep even keeps his own master warm,
The woolen sheep.
Its two forelegs well and duly held in his right hand,
Which is the good side,
Held and gripped tight,
Gently but firmly,
Its two hind legs well and duly held in his left hand,
Gently but firmly,
Like you would carry a child piggyback.
Over your two shoulders,
His right leg in your right hand, his left leg in your left hand.
Thus the Savior, thus the good pastor, which means the good shepherd,
Carries his sheep on piggyback, the sheep that was lost, that was going to get lost.
So that the stones in the path wouldn’t bruise its bruised feet.

– Charles Péguy, “Portal of the Mystery of Hope”

Thou mastering me
God! Giver of breath and bread;
World’s strand, sway of the sea;
Lord of living and dead;
Thou has bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

– G.M. Hopkins, “Wreck of the Deutschland”

Between the midnight and the morn,
To share my watches late and lonely,
There dawns a presence such as only
Of perfect silence can be born.
On the blank parchment falls the glow
Of more than daybreak: and one regal
Thought, like the shadow of an eagle,
Grazes the smoothness of its snow.
Though veiled to me that face of faces
And still that form eludes my art,
Yet all the gifts my faith has brought
Along the secret stair of thought
Have come to me on those hushed paces
Whose footfall is my beating heart.

– Roy Campbell, “The Secret Muse”


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