Poetry by Bernard Toll, 1935 to 1991

Editor’s Note: The first five poems below appear in the Winter 1935 edition of Golden Verse, whose associate editor was Bernard Toll

I MUSED BENEATH AN APPLE TREE

I mused beneath an apple tree

Of all that trees and men must know–

The grass that grows upon the lea.

And musing thus, unknowingly,

An apple fell upon the ground—

Green and unripe, small and unsound;

The apple lay alongside me.

 

And then I thought of one who, too,

Had grown and died long ere his day—

The budding fruit that dropped away

Before it yet had gathered dew;

I think of him whom once I knew,

His thread cut ere it had been spun—

The life which had not yet begun,

Fell by the tree whereon he grew.

 

–Bernard Tolle

 

SATIETY’S LAMENT

 

What shall remain for sad satiety

That dimly looks from out the furrowed brow

And faded cheek? To death I would endow

My sated soul. Take from it what there be.

What shall remain—I have ennui,

Full bloated to the skin, inside a bough

Thin-shrivelled as an empty core. Allow

The graves to open on the young, the free,

The active hearts, but give me all the world

To roam—to stench the air and foul the mind,

And leave to virtue what my soul resigned.

O, topsy-turvy world, to leave impearled

The noble hearts beneath, while aged Time

Allows his sons to tread the earth to slime!

 

–Bernard Tolle

 

SONNET

 

If love should run before me and declare

My state to you, if in my searching eye

And parching lip you could anon descry

What lovely bonds hold me in thrall—is there

A spark within you that would kindle at

My earnest gaze? Would not your luscious lip

Look on my thirst and cleave in fellowship

To mine? Oh, do not play the toying cat!

Say, would you speak, or laugh, or weep—please say!

If I should humbly fall before your feet,

Would you upraise me with your kisses sweet,

And wish that night might never turn to day?

If there is naught of love to see in me,

Pray, give me love of cheerless misery!

 

–Benjamin Corday (Bernard Toll)

 

DREAMING

 

My eyes are not deceiving, for I see

Most things that lie beyond the casual view:

I know the rose takes on its vermeil hue

To fascinate the nectar-drawing bee

And butterfly. Yet there is that in me

Which cannot look on earth, or grass, or dew,

But looking, straightway does in me imbue

All countless beings of imagery.

 

All beauty has the entity of dreams

Within the compass of its gracious sphere,

And soon can form those thoughts so bleak and

                                                                            drear,

In endless chains of gay fantastic schemes,

Once clear of earth, we shall on wings have

wrought,

A beauty that is countenanced in thought.

 

–Gregory Anders (Bernard Toll)

 

LOVE

 

How came I to this dreary cell,

Couched in this lonely citadel?

What brought me hence and bade me dwell?

What wrought upon my heart the spell?

What force was it could so compel

My brain in reeling, my heart in kneeling

Before a heaven housed in hell,

It is for God, not me, to tell!

–Herbert Rawles (Bernard Toll)

 

December 25, 1955

GIFTS

No gifts have I to fill some yearning needs:

No silver chalices, no wrought brocades,

No necklaces of pearl or diamond beads

That might from you exact warm accolades.

I have no diadems or fine array,

I have no offerings of golden hue

I could bestow which might in any way

Requite the debt of love I owe to you.

My gifts are fashioned from my gratitude,

They well up from the spirit and the heart;

And when my offerings are thus imbued

They have a price beyond the richest mart.

I only need a thoughtful word, a kiss,

To make me manufacture gifts like this.

 

Undated

 

SEASONING

 

What adds to life despite its strife

has meaning but for you;

Take any fault with a grain of salt

and add it to the stew.

 

TO MY WIFE ON HER BIRTHDAY

 

December 1, 1982

 

Your waters quench my drying roots;

Your nourishment affords me strength.

When I fall, your spirit raises me;

When I fall, you soothe the pain.

In all I do you succor me,

Nor do I count the times when I have

Taken more from you than you would give

And held back love that should have been

Requited you.

 

It is now I

Feel the pain of such omissions,

Regretting most the least of hurt my faults

Have caused. But here and now I vouch

You have my gratitude for all

The love you have so freely given.

I swear there is but one reality

I know in life—your constancy;

It is the rock of my existence;

It is my haven in the storm.

 

April, 1983

 

RACING LEAVES

 

The wind unwound the convoluted leaves

out of niches found on barren soil

between some clumps of weed or flattened down

where lines of shrubbery defended their

terrain. Those that were not anchored so

the wind enveloped into eddies; the rest

it caused to cartwheel down the street like troops

on charge against an enemy redoubt.

Some hardy ones soared up in skies

where birds would not have been so bold to fly.

Then tiring of such sport they bedded down

behind some parapets or came to rest

where gutters held them fast on gable roofs.

Once autumn joy rides done they wait for spring

When resurrection shall have turned their souls to green.

 

April, 1983

 

FAILING LIGHT

 

The light that flickers low at best

needs rarest fuel to feed its flame;

there’s nothing less will work as well,

unless it be a friendly hand

to ward disturbing breezes off

or gentle breath to make it glow.

 

June, 1983

 

TO HILDA

 

When I look back upon the years

and see how quickly they have flown,

the thought I cherish most of all

is how you have enriched my days.

 

Without your love to give me strength

to face what time and tide allow,

I would be less than I am now

and more a pawn of whim and chance.

 

I treasure what our life has been

and all we’ve known of dark and light;

I need not fear the coming night

when I have you to comfort me.

 

 

April, 1983

 

THE SILENT DEAD

 

The silent dead have left

their memories

imprinted on the present.

Reminders of their lives remain

in words and photographs

and goods devolved upon

inheritors.

 

And yet their heritage is more than these.

We note their features

in many mirrored glances,

and their attributes

are often seen in ways

descendants imitate

all through their lives.

 

June 18, 1983

 

WHAT AGITATES THE WATER’S BREAST

 

What agitates the water’s breast

arouses curiosity

in those rapacious ones who lurk

and seek to pounce upon their prey.

If their victims could be heard above,

what cries of anguish might escape

the muffling blanket of the stream

would echo in the ear of heaven.

But He above who hears the cries

When even lowly sparrows fall;

has not the time for pleading calls

that rise from out those finny tribes

whose lives are unobserved by man.

 

July, 1983

 

BALANCE SHEET

 

The debits have been noted,

the credits have been toted,

and both are placed upon the scales;

and yet what finally remains,

despite our work and pains,

awaits a flip of heads or tails.

 

July, 1983

 

TRAVEL

 

The joys of comfort are the least

reward for those who like to roam:

they travel far who seek the beast

whose counterpart is close to home.

 

September, 1983

 

THE RACE

 

Alike on earth, alike in space,

the phantom Time maintains his pace;

he may be last upon the vault,

yet is he first through your default.

 

He has no need of charm or grace

to meet the challenge of the race,

he cares not, if you’re fast or slow

or, if you have to stop or go;

 

He only knows he must survive

though all about him lose their drive,

lest halting once, his heart will meet

the expiration of its beat.

 

 

December 7, 1984

 

HIGH-WIRE ACROBAT

 

Ignoring undertows of awe

that suck beneath his dancing feet,

he navigates the glinting wire

inside a bathysphere of light.

 

With skills long honed in esoteric trial,

he parries thrusts of gravity,

and turns aside the cries of doom

that well up from the ocean floor.

 

But the warming breath that gushes from below

also props his art against the emptiness;

he is like some denizen of upper skies

who is lifted up by thermal tides.

 

Above that sea of upturned mouths,

he explores imponderables

with his impedimenta—his hoops and balls—

manipulated at the brink of space.

 

Who is there to tell what objects,

now unknown and alien, await

discovery at those heights

he plumbs and seeks to commandeer?

 

Perhaps some race of supermen

that walks the emptiness of space,

or just a vapor trail to mark

the path Infinity had trod.

 

December 7 1984

 

INSPIRATION

 

Although some fires can keep on burning,

despite the dousing chill of rain

what light they give depends on learning

that life itself cannot long remain.

 

The wonder is that what is woken

when an ashy residue is stirred

reborn as one more token

of the spark that fired the word.

 

 

December 7 1984

 

SLEEP

 

What counts for sleep when I arise

is wakening to find my eyes

had shut away what they had seen

while venturing in dream’s demesne.

 

In order to reclaim the cost

of knowledge that I thought I lost,

I lay awake for half the night

to snuff the wick that held my light.

 

December 7 1984

 

WOOLGATHERING

 

An empty stare

makes one aware

of thoughts that have no home.

What is the use

to feel abuse

when eyes have wish to roam?

 

A renegade

surmise can fade,

or die like dew in sun;

Still, not for naught

are objects sought

abandoned when they’re won.

 

The fallow land

does not demand

more use than it denies;

it finds relief

in seasons brief

and partly sunny skies.

 

TO HILDA

 

JUNE 9, 1985

 

When I was young my expectations

grew like weeds in summer rain;

my fantasies were as fruits

that hung just beyond my grasp.

I germinated then, and had

no one to satisfy except myself.

 

But now that youth has passed me by,

no longer to return,

I seek for sense of quiet joys

and silent victories,

cherishing what your love may bring.

 

I only ask that you will pray

for my deficiencies,

assuaging not with solace

what the hungry eye intends,

nor feeding me what yet remains

of feasts incalculable.

 

Teach me how I may survive

the drudgery that slows the pace,

that dulls the eye and shadows grace;

I see no end to such tyranny

unless you raise me up

and light the way.

 

My fantasies have left the stage,

what lies before I do not know

nor ask for more except your love–

In this I find all substance

and the favors that are yet to be.

 

November 30,1985

 

THE TREE

 

Dedicated to Hilda on Her Birthday—12/1/85

 

The tree intruding horny boughs

throughout surrounding air

forfends the light it would replace

from reaching everywhere.

 

These actions are not undersigned

but have a certain flair

for building high into the sky successive tines in air.

 

It readily can oversee and relegate to air

the incandescence just beyond

its lifted arms in prayer.

 

There’s ecstasy for all to see,

for all who are aware,

how in the light there is no night,

but air is everywhere.

 

June 1986

 

To Hilda

 

On Anniversary 46

______________________

 

What Have we Wrought?

 

In almost fifty years of married life, what have

we wrought?

 

All dreams of fame and fortune from my writing

skills have failed to materialize;

 

Neither of our sons, though moderately successful

in their chosen fields, have ever achieved

great renown;

 

Our grandchildren do not give evidence of having

that special spark of character that could

likely be translated into future acclaim

and distinction.

 

And yet, on the other hand, we have sufficient

income and savings with which to lead a com-

fortable existence for the rest of our lives.

 

Even if I had realized the success I longed for,

the thought of being a public figure, with

all the attendant annoyances that possibility involves,

has made me grateful that I have remained unknown.

 

I console myself as well with the thought that the

mental effort expended on my writings has not entirely

been in vain. For through that exercise my intellect has been strengthened;

So much so, in fact, that I continually surprise

myself by discovering new methods to

accomplish results that were heretofore beyond my powers.

 

As regards our children and grandchildren, I believe

the greatest legacy we have passed on to them

is our own inheritance of physical well-being

we have derived from our own parents.

 

We are also fortunate in that our children and their

children lead moderate and sensible lives, never

having been influenced by those who would sway

them from paths of temperance and right conduct.

 

June 4, 1987

 

TO HILDA

 

On the Occasion of Our 47th Anniversary

 

Note: While this poem has nothing to do with our marriage or the subject of our relationship, because its opening lines were conceived upon awakening a few days ago, it might have a special meaning for you at this moment.

 

DREAM

 

Sleeping, my life seems to drift toward

some outer shore I vaguely see,

as though I were caught up in a dream

from which I find a difficult release.

When I finally wake and return to consciousness,

what passed has vanished with the night,

Yet was that dream only a remembrance that

came to haunt me again?

Or was it a temporary lapse into

forgotten byways?

I have no way of knowing this;

The passage of years has left no testament

to prove what I dimly understand.

 

Only my death will be the final arbiter

of what my sleeping sense seeks to know.

 

TO HILDA

(December 1, 1990)

 

If love be life

and loving living,

then charity

is more than giving.

A kiss, a sigh

are things that life

should not pass by,

nor should we all assume the worst

of that which makes

our bubbles burst.

It’s better to believe in man

than worship any spirit,

for then we hold a grip on life

and need not ever fear it.

In sum, I would not have you see

beyond some vast eternity,

but live for what each morning brings—

a kiss, a sigh—all common things.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

 

TO HILDA

 

(December 1, 1991)

 

What remedy for yesterdays

that fled before their time?

How has the past been purged away,

remembering the present is so new?

 

Your lineaments are softer now

and droop where once they were so firm

but while your muscles may have lost their tone,

the aura of your love

is all-embracing and stronger far

than it has ever been

 

How fascinating to find

that while the body may decline,

the spirit, given love as sustenance,

expands as years go by!

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

 

 

 

TO HILDA

 

(June 9, 1992)

 

How was it we were overcome

by signs inept of phrase?

How sad that we had grown so dumb,

we had no voice for praise?

 

Where cries of anguish once were heard

before prosperity,

now is no shout, now is no word

to set the echoes free.

 

How like the tortoise slow of gait

our anxious fears arise

to challenge what we know of fate

or learn how to be wise.

 

God grant that we may find release

from what should be interred,

to see our hopes of inner peace

uplifted like a bird

 

HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

B

3/12/17 Proofread, a few periods added, but not checked line by line

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