• Two Poems on an Omen


    This post was prompted by a Daily Good post on Inner Beauty

    The Canon of the Way and of Virtue

    Beauty is an omen.
    —Tao Teh Ching

    Of Mao Ch’iang and Li Chi, most attractive women,
    flutter of bird wings, dash of deer, fright of fish
    and flush of fear, the counsel of Chuang Tzu is said:
    “Beauty is an omen.”

    So we saunter where crackle of pine cones touches
    softly what remains of our feet or is left of our ears;
    almost at the end of our walk, we find the ripple
    upon the pond meaningless to us now.

    O Mao Ch’iang, soon enough even our eyes
    will lose the sky. Nothing, nothing stirs.
    Nothing is the way for everything —
    the loft upon the Hunan hill, the dark city down there,
    the quietness visited upon us, Li Chi, all land
    that spawns the life of dying and death —
    everything walks the pilgrim journey to nothing.
    Nothing is everything here.

    * * *

    Transfigurations: Is Beauty an Omen?

    A condition of complete simplicity/
    (Costing not less than everything)-
    —Little Gidding, The Four Quartets, T.S.Eliot

    Cocooned in a condition of utter simplicity,
    the silkworm will not stop oozing out its tapestry
    onto the point of death which is also its beauty.
    How much beauty can be eked out of pain?

    Like the hurt bivalved flesh of the grimy oyster,
    would the papillon wings glisten like a pearl?

    But this one is spun out of patience: there
    must be radiance out of a cocoon’s dark
    confines. It can only break into mobile light.

    Colour the mariposa green, would that matter?

    Dye the silk out of its consumed gossamer nets,
    would that stop its flying out of a crude beginning?

    Arrested from its final transfiguration, the worm
    turns and it is on a table–the grub of culinary
    quintessence! Quite like an earlier challenge:
    “Eat of my flesh, drink of my blood. This covenant
    shall not be broken. I will be with you again when
    the radiance of this goblet dims into a eucharist.”

    A condition of simplicity? Bear beauty and perish?

    Offer an unending dream in a kingdom, and be slain?
    The tale of the supreme sacrifice is also immolation.

    What does it matter that I die then, if I flew out
    of a trellis like the monarch butterfly, that started
    as a wormed-out silkworm then food for the hungry?

    I would be the worm, the injured mother pearl,
    the crucified madman who asked that his flesh
    be eaten, his blood quaffed, and live forever.

    Beauty is an omen. Destroy this vessel of clay,
    and it can only spill the reddest of wine, the
    stoutest of ale: a dangerous promise of eternal life.

    (“Transfiguration”, a painting by Janet Weight Reed of London, England)


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