A thought from Kyiv

A thought from Kyiv

The world as we imagine it
the magnificent cause
of being
not simply
seeming to be

Constructs of the heart
a sentimental imagination
all that ties people together
feeling our way through life
in the knowledge
that darkness fades
with the light
that love is the one true

John Lyons

The eloquence of trees

The eloquence of trees

Here now before me
is a fine yellow poplar
quite straight
perhaps ninety feet high
and four thick at the butt

How strong and vital
how enduring
how dumbly eloquent !

What suggestions

of imperturbability and being
as against the human trait
of mere seeming

Then the heroic  
almost emotional
palpably artistic 
qualities of a tree
so innocent and harmless
yet so savage

It is
yet says nothing
How it rebukes all weathers
by its tough and equable serenity
this gusty-tempered little whiffet
that runs indoors at a mite
of rain or snow

Perhaps the greatest moral lesson
from earth and rocks and animals
is that same lesson of inherency
of what is
without the least regard
to what the looker-on supposes or says
or whether he likes or dislikes

What worse
what more general malady
pervades each and all of us
our literature our education
our attitude toward each other
even toward ourselves
than a morbid trouble
about seems
and no trouble at all
or hardly any
about the sane
slow-growing perennial
real parts of character
books and friendship and marriage
humanity’s invisible foundations

The all-basis
the nerve
the great-sympathetic
the plenum within humanity
giving stamp to everything
that is necessarily invisible

Walt Whitman

Adapted from Specimen Days (1882)

December 27 Kyiv, Ukraine

December 27 Kyiv, Ukraine

I’m in a place
where nobody understands me
where I don’t speak the language
and cannot read the script

The temperature is low

close to freezing
and it might snow later
I’m in a place of history
where many things are new
and many things are old

I’m in a place of learning

and I have so much to learn
I’m in a place

John Lyons

Schönbrunn Christmas market


Schönbrunn Christmas market

Beneath the pomp and circumstance
there is the body and the soul

and the Christmas market at Schönbrunn 
that feeds both the body and the soul

So the rain falls upon us incessantly
as we do the rounds and feed ourselves

on bread and cheese and sip mulled wine
Conversation is the thing

meeting a friend and exchanging time
and the warmth of human words

Here in the courtyard of the Kaiser’s
summer palace where it is winter

and the solstice a day old
and Christmas Eve almost upon us

we celebrate the civility
of our common language

There are baubles to hang on trees
and tiny sculptures of the nativity

but what is being born is the moment
in which we live the moment

in which we love : the precious moments
in which we are pleased to draw breath

John Lyons

Somewhere in the Milky Way

Somewhere in the Milky Way

Somewhere in the Milky Way
      it’s not raining
there are blue skies and
      people are going about
their business
      with broad smiles
and a spring
      in their step

As evening falls
      lovers stand
below a full moon
      bathing in its light

Somewhere in the Milky Way
      there’s a world
free from discord
      a world of peace and love
a world where you might
      want to be forever
call it heaven
      call it what you will
it exists somewhere
      in the Milky Way

John Lyons


Sonnets to Orpheus – Rainer Maria Rilke

Sonnet 2

And it was almost a girl that emerged

And it was almost a girl that emerged
from that happy coincidence of song and lyre
who shone clearly through her spring veil
and laid herself down to rest in my ear.
And she slept within me. And her sleep was all.
All the trees I’ve ever admired, those
palpable distances, those meadows known to me
and every moment that ever astounded me.
She slept the world. O God of song how did you
arrange that she should have no desire,
to be woken first? See, how she rose and slept.
Where is her death? O will you continue to invoke
this motif before your song is done? –
Where does it fade to within me? … Almost a girl …

Rainer Maria Rilke
(translation by John Lyons)


Und fast ein Mädchen war’s und ging hervor

Und fast ein Mädchen war’s und ging hervor
aus diesem einigen Glück von Sang und Leier
und glänzte klar durch ihre Frühlingsschleier
und machte sich ein Bett in meinem Ohr.
Und schlief in mir. Und alles war ihr Schlaf.
Die Bäume, die ich je bewundert, diese
fühlbare Ferne, die gefühlte Wiese
und jedes Staunen, das mich selbst betraf.
Sie schlief die Welt. Singender Gott, wie hast
du sie vollendet, dass sie nicht begehrte,
erst wach zu sein? Sieh, sie erstand und schlief.
Wo ist ihr Tod? O, wirst du dies Motiv
erfinden noch, eh sich dein Lied verzehrte? —
Wo sinkt sie hin aus mir?… Ein Mädchen fast ….

Zum Jahreswechsel

Zum Jahreswechsel

Bald die ersten Blütenblätter
             auf dem Kirschbaum
bald die ersten Blätter
            entspringen aus den Knospen
bald das neue Jahr
             mit all seiner Möglichkeit für uns
die alten Fehler nie zu wiederholen
             Niemals die Liebe aufgeben
deren wir niemals müde werden
             die niemals alt wird

Der Winter hat seine besondere
             frostige Stille
das knackige Geräusch
             von Vogelgezwitscher
Die Straßen manchmal
             mit Eis glasiert

Wärme ist eine
Kein Mann, keine Frau
             kann ohne Liebe leben:
bald die ersten Blütenblätter
             Vorboten der ersten Frucht

John Lyons

My own translation of yesterday’s poem

At the turn of the year

At the turn of the year

Soon the first petals
           on the cherry
soon the first leaves
from the buds
           soon the new year
with all its opportunity
           for us never to repeat
the old errors
           never to relinquish
the love of which
           we never tire
that never
           grows old

The winter has its special
           frosty silence
the crisp sound
           of birdsong
the streets at times
           glazed with ice
Warmth is a thing
           of the heart
no man no woman
           can live
without love :
           soon the first petals
           of the first fruit

John Lyons

Eight magpies and a fox on the shed roof

Eight magpies and a fox on the shed roof

Eight magpies and one fox
           the birds have assumed
military positions
           they will not be intimidated
the fox stares at them
           he will not be intimidated

Perhaps he admires their plump
           black and white bodies
perhaps they admire
           his lush russet fur

The fox is surrounded
           but perhaps he is enjoying
being the centre of attention
           he has nothing to fear
the birds have nothing to fear
           It’s just a moment
in which neither side
           wishes to back down
but it will soon pass
           it soon did

John Lyons