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The seamless glass

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Selected poems



Marguerite Porete


'I am God, says Love, for Love is God and God is Love, and this Soul is God by the condition of Love. I am God by divine nature and this Soul is God by righteousness of Love.  Thus this precious beloved of mine is taught and guided by me, without herself, for she is transformed into me, and such a perfect one, says Love, takes my nourishment.'


(The Mirror of Souls, Chapter 21: Love answers the argument of Reason for the sake of this book which says that such Souls take leaves of the Virtues)



You were burned at the stake

in the 13th century for not removing your book,

The Mirror of Simple Souls from circulation.

Member of the Beguine movement of mystics,

who practiced the imitation of Christ,


your writing exhibits a resemblance to

Meister Eckhart’s beliefs of finding the Lord

within us.  Your only recorded life is that of

your trial for heresy, which was biased

and a farce, due to your book, which remains


to be ahead of its time, which you wrote

in Old French rather than in Latin,

and to whom you gave a copy to the local

Bishop in Chalons-en-Champagne, in 1308,

after which you were handed over to


the Inquisitor of France, the Dominican,

William of Paris, to whom you also refused

to speak to, or any of the other inquisitors,

during your imprisonment and trial. 

During the trial a commission of twenty-one


theologians explored a series of fifteen

heretical propositions regarding the book,

but you refused to recant your ideas

and to take the oath exculpating you,

which then lead to your being found guilty,


and sentenced to be burnt at the take

in Paris on the first day of June 1310

at the Place de Greve. The Inquisitor

accused you of being a pseudo-mulier,

a fake woman, although your writing style


is compared to works of the time regarding

courtly love, such as Romance of the Rose,

which is a dreamy visionary allegory,

a love affair, an abstract symbol of female

sexuality, but you chose to depict the soul


needing to become one with God, and you

believed in 'The Annihilated Soul' that

has  to give up the rational mind in order

to love God, that such a divine union

constitutes divine grace, and that we return


to God through love, and specifically, agape,

'the highest form  of love,' which is 'the love

of God for man and love of man for God.'

Two hundred years later, St. John of the Cross,

would propose similar ideas in his book,


The Ascent of Mount Carmel, but he was

not persecuted for his writing and you were,

since the church authorities of your time

accused you of being immoral.  A record

of the trial by Guillaume de Nangis, despite


its negative views towards her, does portray

that you faced your death with equanimity,

and, because of the calm you exhibited, tied

to the stake, as you were burned in the flames,

that the crowd was moved to tears.



Telling You What I Dreamed Last Night This Morning


            for Art Beck


In calling up my childhood,

your question regarding whether I knew Polish or not

gives cause to remember my mother. 


My mother died when I was eight, but she had

introduced books into my life, purchased a complete

set of World Book Encyclopedia for my sake.  


I may have been the only five-year-old in 1950s Miami

to have had the privilege of pouring over the pages

of each volume, the dust motes floating in bright bands


of Floridian sunlight through the slats of venetian blinds. 

We were close, and she taught me English,

since Polish was the language spoken in the house. 


After her death, my father remarried a year later,

and the Polish dropped out of our daily vernacular. 

So, I was bilingual growing up early on . . . 


Your letter evoked a Proustian note

and not unlike Proust's madeleine,

it brought me back, to a time that is sacred for me —


the first eight years of my life and my mother's love

before she died at the age of forty-nine, before I lost all

of that when my father remarried a virago,


a cruel madwoman, an alcoholic

who would lock me out of the house at night.

You brought me back by your question


to a time that was a touchstone for me. 

I even dreamed last night that I spoke with you

and was telling you what I am writing you this morning . . . 



Seamless Glass


            Adapted from Adam Mickievicz.  'Within their Silent Perfect Glass’



Of the inaudible seamless glass

the reflections mirror, pellucid and far —


they refract the stillness of the rocks

whose silhouettes darken among


the chiaroscuro of faces onshore. 

The mirrored reflections reflect the silence


of sky, accompanying the sliding clouds

that skate across the absolute clarity


of its face, muting the surface

in their passing before they visibly deepen


the silence in their vanishing. The images

mirror their reflections. The lightning


and thunder don’t even wrinkle

the long and perfect unwavering elegance,


whose shine is a perpetual holographic

shimmer, which is reflected within myself,


and within this I am mirrored —

as veritable as glass as it is, I am as sheer


and lustrous. And in my turning away from

the images that give themselves form


I let them go, and the cloud anvils

of thunderheads ache with their preponderance,


of rain, while the sizzle of lightning

reiterates itself with each exclamation above


the severe clarity of the lake

that also reflects within the mirror of myself,


flickering it grazes the lake’s reflection,

and as it flashes it accentuates the stillness


within the inviolate length

of the inaudible seamless glass within me.



Wally SwistWally Swist's books include Huang Po and the Dimensions of Love, The Daodejing: A New Interpretation, with David Breeden and Steven Schroeder, and Candling the Eggs.


Topic tags: poetry, Wally Swist



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Existing comments

I guess theology-writing lay women in those days were always going to be a special object of suspicion and candidates for the stake, especially when they appeared to postulate annihilation of the soul and dissolving of the Creator-creature distinction. You've painted several exquisite and indelible portraits (including one of yourself) here, Wally. Thank you. (Also, love the Irishism of the second poem's title!)

John RD | 16 June 2020