News of the Universe Poetry for The Departing Landscape

News of the Universe:
Poetry for The Departing Landscape

In the book News of the Universe, an anthology of poems chosen and introduced by Robert Bly  (1980, Sierra Club),  Bly writes a meditation on the following poem by Goethe written in 178o: 

There is a stillness
On the tops of the hills.
In the tree tops
You feel
Hardly a breath of air.
The small birds fall silent in the trees.
Simply wait:  soon
You too will be silent.

In his meditation Bly says there are two kinds of poems, each projecting a different kind of energy:  in one we learn about the mind of the poet, his or her personality, and so on;  and then there is the kind of poem, like this one by Goethe, in which the energy feels non-human, impersonal, and brings us news of the universe.  Bly says in Goethe’s poem one can sense this energy being shared between the trees (nature) and the poet (man). 

Bly references the writer George Groddeck who, in an essay written around 1907, recognizes the impersonal energy in Goethe’s poems.  Bly calls this energy consciousness;  Groddeck names it Gott-natur, which Bly translates as divine instinctuality.  Gorddeck says Gott-natur longs to bring the sense of interdependence of all things alive inside a work of art; that it helps to shape a work, and give it the sense of having been created by nature. 

I have experienced this creative force, this sense of inner necessity and unity consciousness in my own creative process.  I am concerned when I don't feel its presence.  The symbolic photograph is a visual recognition and celebration of this "news of the universe."   


Below is a selection of my favorite poems from Bly’s anthology.  Each poem, it seems to me, functions as a symbol, it gives voice to nature -- Gottnature, the divine presence within the things of the world -- in its own unique way.   Thus these poems are particularly appropriate and important to The Departing Landscape project.

I also suggest you check out a related project: Thing Centered Photographs 


The Poems

Golden Lines  

“Astonishing! Everything is intelligent!”

Free thinker! Do you think you are the only thinker
on this earth in which life blazes inside all things?
Your liberty does what it wishes with the powers it controls,
but when you gather to plan, the universe is not there.

Look carefully in an animal at a spirit alive;
every flower is a soul opening out into nature;
a mystery touching love is asleep inside metal.
“Everything is intelligent!” And everything moves you.

In that blind wall, look out for the eyes that pierce you:
the substance of creation cannot be separated from a word...
Do not force it to labor in some low phrase!

Often a Holy Thing is living hidden in a dark creature;
and like an eye which is born covered by its lids,
a pure spirit is growing strong under the bark of stones!

Gerald De Nerval / 1854
trans. R Bly

When geometric diagrams and digits
Are no longer the keys to living things,
When people who go about singing or kissing
Know deeper things than the great scholars,
When society is returned once more
to unimprisoned life, and to the universe,
And when light and darkness mate
Once more and make something entirely transparent,
And people see in poems and fairy tales
The true history of the world,
Then our entire twisted nature will turn
And run when a single secret word is spoken.

Novalis / 1800
trans. R Bly


1.  The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer
world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the

2.  Self-expression is the source of all abasement, just as,
contrariwise, it is the basis for all true elevation.  The first step is
introspection--exclusive contemplation of the self.  But
whoever stops there goes only half way.  The second step must
be genuine observation outward--spontaneous, sober observation
of the external world.

6.  Man is a sun and his senses are the planets.

Novalis / 1798
trans. C E Passage

The Holy Longing

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
because the massman will mock it right away.
I praise what is truly alive,
what longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love-nights,
where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
a strange feeling comes over you
when you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught in the obsession with darkness,
and a desire for higher love-making
sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter,
now, arriving in magic, flying,
and, finally, insane for the light,
you are the butterfly and you are gone.

And so long as you haven’t experienced
this: to die and so to grow,
you are only a troubled guest
on the dark earth.

Goethe  / 1814
trans R Bly

I Live My Life

I live my life in growing orbits,
which move out over the things of the world.
Perhaps I can never achieve the last,
but that will be my attempt.

I am circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I have been circling for a thousand years.
and I still don’t know if I am a falcon,
Or a storm, or a great song.

Rainer Maria Rilke / 1899
trans. R Bly


Sometimes, when a bird cries out,
Or the wind sweeps through a tree,
Or a dog howls in a far off farm,
I hold still and listen a long time.

My soul turns and goes back to the place
Where, a thousand forgotten years ago,
The bird and the blowing wind
Were like me, and were my brothers.

My soul turns into a tree,
And an animal, and a cloud bank.
Then changed and odd it comes home
And asks me questions.  What should I reply?

Hermann Hesse
trans R Bly


What sower walked over earth,
which hands sowed
our inward seeds of fire?
They went out from his fists like rainbow curves
to frozen earth, young loam, hot sand,
they will sleep there
greedily, and drink up our lives
and explode it into pieces
for the sake of a sunflower that you haven’t seen
or a thistle head or a chrysanthemum.

Let the young rain of tears come.
Let the calm hands of grief come.
It’s not all as evil as you think.

Rolf Jacobsen
trans R Bly


   I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
                                And nothing
happens!  Nothing . . . Silence . . . Waves . . .

  --Nothing happens?  Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

Juan Ramon Jimenez
trans R Bly

Full Consciousness

  You are carrying me, full consciousness, god that has desires,
all through the world.
                                 Here, in this third sea,
I almost hear your voice: your voice, the wind,
filling entirely all movements;
eternal colors and eternal lights,
sea colors and sea lights.

  Your voice of white fire
in the universe of water, the ship, the sky,
marking out the roads with delight,
engraving for me with a blazing light my firm orbit:
a black body
with the glowing diamond in its center.

Juan Ramon Jimenez
trans R Bly

Casida of the Rose

  The rose
was not searching for the sunrise:
almost eternal on its branch,
it was searching for something else.

  The rose
was not searching for darkness or science:
borderline of flesh and dream,
it was searching for something else.

  The rose
was not searching for the rose.
Motionless in the sky
it was searching for something else.

Fredrico Garcia Lorca
trans R Bly

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
to behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Wallace Stevens

Moving Ahead

Once more my deeper life goes on with more strength,
as if the banks through which it moves had widened out.
Trees and stones seem more like me each day,
and the paintings I see seem more seen into;
with my senses, as with the birds, I climb
into the windy heaven out of the oak,
and in the ponds broken off from the blue sky
my feeling sinks, as if standing on fishes.

Rainer Maria Rilke
trans R Bly

The Man Watching

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes,
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister.

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the angel, who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel,
(who often simply declined the fight),
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Rainer Maria Rilke
trans R Bly

The Heart of Herakles

Lying under the stars,
In the summer night,
Late, while the autumn
Constellations climb the sky.
As the Cluster of Hercules
Falls down the west
I put the telescope by
And watch Deneb
Move towards the zenith.
My body is asleep.  Only
My eyes and brain are awake.
The stars stand around me
Like gold eyes.  I can no longer
Tell where I begin and leave off.
The faint breeze in the dark pines,
and the invisible grass,
The tipping earth, the swarming stars
Have an eye that sees itself.

Kenneth Rexroth

The Owl

Nearly dark; warm stones of the wall in the woods
  under my hand, and now, good luck:
  a wing, with a body, glum, round, and soft,
  against the light sky; then I heard his cry:

One short cry, like a man grinding a knife in a rage,
  full of dark, melancholy, irrational contempt,
  one long, which woke reverberations in a well,
  turned down there into roots, springs, fire, rubies.

An owl sat once with his sharp hearing, his watchfulness, his
  half-grown, majestic on my finger;
  then I felt his huge and yellow stare

plant something foreign in me, a deep quiet,
  a mad freedom; my heart laughed
  when the bird raised his soft wings.

Thorkild Bjornvig
trans R Bly


While I stood there, in the open, lost in myself,
I must have looked a long time
Down the corn rows, beyond grass,
The small house,
white walls, animals lumbering toward the barn.
I look down now.  It is all changed.
Whatever it was I lost, whatever I wept for
Was a wild, gentle thing, the small dark eyes
Loving me in secret.
It is here.  At the touch of my hand,
The air fills with delicate creatures
From the other world.

James Wright

A Coal Fire In Winter

Something old and tyrannical burning there.
(Not like a wood fire which is only
The end of a summer, or a life)
But something of darkness: heat
From the time before there was fire.
And I have come here
To warm that blackness into forms of light,
To set free a captive prince
From the sunken kingdom of the father coal.

A warming company of the cold-blooded--
These carbon serpents of bituminous gardens,
These inflammable tunnels of dead song from the black pit,
This sparkling end of the great beasts, these blazing
Stone flowers diamond fire incandescent fruit.
And out of all that death, now,
At midnight, my love and I are riding
Down the old high roads of inexhaustible light.

Thomas McGrath


Mother of my birth, for how long were we together
in your love and my adoration of your self?
For the shadow of a moment as I breathed your pain
and you breathed my suffering, as we knew
of shadows in lit rooms that would swallow the light.

Your face beneath the oxygen tent was alive
but your eyes were closed.  Your breathing was hoarse
but your sleep was with death.  I was alone with you
as it was when I was young but only alone now
and not with you.  I was to be alone forever
as I was learning, watching you become alone.

Earth is your mother as you were mine, my earth,
my sustenance, my comfort and my strength
and now without you I turn to your mother
in rock and stone: whisper to the stone,
I love you; whisper to the rock, I found you;
whisper to the earth, Mother, I have found my mother
and I am safe and always have been.

David Ignatow

All Hallows

Even now this landscape is assembling.
The hills darken.  The oxen
sleep in their blue yoke,
the fields having been picked clean, the sheaves
bound evenly and piled at the roadside
among cinquefoil, as the toothed moon rises;

This is the barrenness
of harvest or pestilence.
And the wife leaning out the window
with her hand extended, as in payment,
and the seeds
distinct, gold, calling,
Come here
Come here, little one

And the soul creeps out of the tree.

Lousie Gluck

Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth
remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.  I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees.  All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness.  All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom.  By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.

Mary Oliver

Violence on Television

It is best to turn on the set only after all the stations have gone
off the air and just watch the snow fall.  This is the other life you
have been promising yourself.  Somewhere back in the woods,
ten miles from the nearest town and that just a wide place in the
road with a tavern and gas station.  When you drive home,
after midnight, half drunk, the roads are treacherous. And your
wife is home alone, worried, looking anxiously out at the snow.
This snow has been falling steadily for days, so steadily the
snow plows can’t keep up.  So you drive slow, peering down the
road.  And there!  Did you see it?  Just at the edge of your headlight
beams, something, a large animal, or a man, crossed the road.
Stop.  There he is among the birches, a tall man wearing a white
suite.  No, it isn’t a man.  Whatever it is--it motions to you,
an almost human gesture, then retreats farther into the woods.
He stops and motions again.  The snow is piling up all around the
car.  Are you coming?

Louis Jenkins

The temple bell stops
but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.


Trees Lose Parts of Themselves Inside A Circle of Fog

   Inside the fog that encloses the trees, they undergo the robbing
of their leaves . . . Thrown into confusion by a slow oxidation,
and humiliated by the sap’s withdrawal for the sake of the flowers
and fruits, the leaves, following the hot spells of August, cling
less anyway.
   The up-and-down tunnels inside the bark deepen, and guide
the moisture down to earth so as to break off with the animated
parts of the tree.
   The flowers are scattered, the fruits taken away.  This giving
up of their more animated parts, and even of parts of their
body, has become, since their earliest days, a familiar
practice for trees.

Francis Ponge
trans R Bly

Ode To Salt

I saw the salt
in this shaker
in the salt flats.
I know
will never believe me,
it sings,
the salt sings, the hide
of the salt plains,
it sings
through a mouth smothered
by earth.
I shuddered in those deep
when I heard
the voice
the salt
in the desert.
Near Antofagasta
the entire
salt plain
it is a
a song full
of grief.
Then in its own mines
rock salt, a mountain
of buried light,
a cathedral through which light passes,
crystal of the sea, abandoned
by the waves.

And then on every table
on this earth,
your nimble
pouring out
the vigorous light
our foods.
of the stores
on the ancient ships,
you were
an explorer
in the ocean,
going first
over the unknown, barely open
routes of the sea-foam.
Dust of the sea, the tongue
receives a kiss
of the night sea from you:
taste recognizes
the ocean in each salted morsel,
and therefore the smallest,
the tiniest
wave of the shaker
brings home to us
not only your domestic whiteness
but the inward flavor of the infinite.

Pablo Neruda
trans R Bly

The Panther

From seeing and seeing the seeing has become so exhausted
it no longer sees anything anymore.
The world is made of bars, a hundred thousand
bars, and behind the bars, nothing.

The lithe swinging of that rhythmical easy stride
that slowly circles down to a single point
is like a dance of energy around a hub,
in which a great will stands stunned and numbed.

At times the curtains of the eye lift
without a sound--then a shape enters,
slips through the tightened silence of the shoulders,
reaches the heart and dies.

Rainer Maria Rilke
trans R Bly

Archaic Torso Of Apollo

We have no idea what his fantastic head
was like, where the eyeballs were slowly swelling.  But
his body now is glowing like a lamp
whose inner eyes, only turned down a little,

hold their flame, shine.  If there weren’t light, the curve
of the breast wouldn’t blind you, and in the swerve
of the thighs a smile wouldn’t keep on going
toward the place where the seeds are.

If there weren’t light, this stone would look cut off
where it drops so clearly from the shoulders,
its skin wouldn’t gleam like the fur of a wild animal,

and the body wouldn’t send out the light from every edge
as a star does . . . for there is no place at all
that isn’t looking at you.  You must change your life.

Rainer Maria Rilke
trans R Bly


Go inside a stone.
That would be my way.
Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger’s tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river;
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed,
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill--
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star-charts
On the inner walls.

Charles Simic

Whoever you are: some evening take a step
out of your house, which you know so well.
Enormous space is near, your house lies where it begins,
whoever you are.
Your eyes find it hard to tear themselves
from the sloping threshold, but with your eyes
slowly, slowly, lift one black tree
up, so it stands against the sky:  skinny, alone.
With that you have made the world.  The world is immense,
and like a word that is still growing in the silence.
In the same moment that your will grasps it,
your eyes feeling its subtlety will leave it . . .

Rainer Maria Rilke
trans R Bly

The Great Sea

The great sea
Has sent me adrift,
It moves me as the weed in a great river,
Earth and the great weather move me,
Have carried me away,
And move my inward parts with joy.

Eskimo woman shaman
quoted by Rasmussen

Sometimes I go about pitying myself,
and all the time
I am being carried on great winds across the sky.


Magic Words

In the very earliest time,
when both people and animals lived on earth,
a person could become an animal if he wanted to
and an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people
and sometimes animals
and there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
That was the time when words were like magic.
The human mind had mysterious powers.
A word spoken by chance
might have strange consequences.
It would suddenly come alive
and what people wanted to happen could happen--
all you had to do was say it.
Nobody can explain this:
That’s the way it was.

after Nalungiaq


This is what I want to happen: that our earth mother
may be clothed in ground corn four times over;
that frost flowers cover her over entirely;
that the mountain pines far away over there
may stand close to each other in the cold;
that the weight of snow crack some branches!
In order that the country may be this way
I have made my prayer sticks into something alive.

adapted by R Bly, trans R Bunzel

The Simple Purification

Student, do the simple purification.

You know that the seed is inside the horse-chestnut tree,
and inside the seed there are the horse-chestnut blossoms, and
  the chestnuts, and the shade.
So inside the human body there is the seed, and inside the seed
  there is the human body again.

Fire, air, earth, water, and space -- if you don’t want the secret
you can’t have these either.

Thinkers, listen, tell me what you know of that is not inside
  the soul?
Take a pitcher full of water and set it down on the water--
now it has water inside and water outside.
We mustn’t give it a name, lest silly people start talking
  again about the body and the soul.

If you want the truth, I’ll tell you the truth:
Listen to the secret sound, the real sound, which is inside you.
The one no one talks of speaks the secret sound to himself,
and he’s the one who has made it all.

version by R Bly

The Clouds

When I saw the dark clouds, I wept, Oh Dark One, I wept at
  the dark clouds.
Black clouds soared up, and took some yellow along;  rain did
  fall, some rain fell long.
There was water east of the house, west of the house, fields
  all green.
The one I love lives past those fields.
Rain has fallen on my body, on my hair, as I wait in the open
  door for him.
The energy that holds up mountains is the one Mirabai bows
  down to.
He lives century after century, and the test I set for him he
  has passed.

version by R Bly

Faint Photographs

Portraits,  Faces & Figures


In the Woods  

The Persephone Series


The Departing Landscape  :  welcome page 

Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.