Tuesday, November 1

Plea for Mercy

Long have I cherished the perhaps unoriginal but abiding belief that all art is a plea for mercy, that underlying all our poetry, music, painting, song, all our dancing hopes and rhymed and rhythmed rituals, is a plea for mercy, a petition to be reprieved, a pitch, if not quite for immortality, then for at least a new dawn, another child, for another day to see the harvest of what has been sown and hear new chapters in the unfinished story, an appeal for the circle to remain unbroken, the chain whole … just a little while longer, dear lord, just a little while longer…

Yes, all art is a plea for mercy.

On the shadow throat of the pilgrim’s path
each chanted step is a prayer,
at the bottom of the heart’s well,
each gulped silence
a plea for mercy.

Every saxophone solo that noodles the sacred night
as the moist nostrils of the newborn calf
nudge and nuzzle the silent udder
is a plea for mercy.

Every lullaby
epilogued by a rose-puckered kiss
on the fevered brow
of the sleeping child,

and every eve when a lover petitions
the stars with verse, a shepherd deflowers
the wind with song, a lone rhapsode
stitches geese into the clouds,
is a plea for mercy.

Every scribble in a tattered notepad, sighing
to capture the melt of frost by the canyon rim,
is a plea held up like the shield of Achilles
when the thhhwang of the bow reminds us
yet again that the great arrow is in flight.

The thrilled eye that dips the paintbrush
into the throbbing crucible before the canvas,
aching to capture the poplars panticulating
in the dusk purred breeze,
is pleading for mercy.

Every crooned blues sired by a whistling train
infected with the pulse of wind-polished stars,
every hand that skips on a goatskin drum
as the barefoot girl shadow dances by the fire,
every oboe bleating the memory of a mother’s scented breast,
is a plea for mercy,

is the compass of our wearied hero on the long trek home,
is a plea, a wince, a supplication,
a hiccup in the relentless countdown,
a fistful of seed hurled at the eternal soil.

* * *

Yes, all my adult life I have held fast to this modest belief and still do even as I struggle to make it up right here and now. Yet, though I would only discover this later on, this and all other warm fuzzy certitudes suddenly turned to salt stone in that one incalculable instant when I walked beneath a crooked metal arc that muttered in a foul-breathed whisper: “Arbeit Macht Frei”.

Photos of Lorenzo shadows:
Top: On the Rocío pilgrimage trail — Spring 2011
Middle: Drinking in the Duero river between Spain and Portugal — Summer 2011
Bottom: Snagged in the barbwire at Auschwitz-Birkenau — Summer 2011


  1. On the shadow throat of the pilgrim’s path
    each chanted step is a prayer

    great line lorenzo...all art a plea for mercy, yes i think under our words there is a hope we call forth...and in every note played or stroke brushed...nicely penned and great to see you as well...

  2. Is it really you, or just a shadow? So great to see you back!

    And in such lyrical form too. I really love the image in these lush lines of our artistic expressions as arrows into the unknown, into an abyss of space that we hope, hope contains an ear to hear us. Will there be someone to answer our plea, our message in a bottle, even to rescue us? Or will there only be another lonely traveler, another stranded vagabond, even maybe another imprisoned soul, for whom a sliver of light may simply open and grow new life in them, or in us. Even the foul-breathed whisper is a seed, albeit a skin-tearing one. But what might blossom from that wound?

    I think you show us an answer.

  3. auschwitz! cómo lo has aguantado??? yo no podría verlo!!!
    love your plea!

    (albeit/arbeit... god, i am crazy!)

  4. A plea for mercy...a fistful of seed...

    Thrilling to see a new post from you, dear friend.

  5. A plea for mercy, yes, and a desperate cry to "Pay Attention!!" That final whisper a chill blast from the coccyx of Hell itself (and then I remember an article I read last year in which a survivor was quoted as saying "even the trees were green at Auschwitz." Is that a seed, or some terrible crack in the lens?)
    Thank you for these thoughts, and for the beautiful way you express them. It is good, good to have you back.

  6. Beautiful. And yet, inspite of...they endured and survived...and have been fruitful...a sweeter more beautiful answer couldn't be found anywhere. Just reading the news today, about the Rabbi's meeting in Poland just now..what could be lovlier? Who was it that really turned to salt and ash there?

  7. This gives me shivers, deep down.

  8. A delight to see this new post, Lorenzo.

    Your words instill silence.

  9. a fistful of seed hurled at the eternal soil - oh my goddess, lorenzo, this sent chills up my spine. such powerful and timely words - our plea for mercy. the ancients knew this well, and particularly at this time of year - as demeter pleaded for the return of her daughter, people of the earth pleaded with the gods to make things grow again. the idea of that seed, suspended under the earth, just waiting.... and we await along with it, holding our collective breath.

    i believe that to be true, that work makes us free. how lovely to see you back.

  10. A beautiful new posting, Lorenzo. Thank you. Claudia

  11. Lorenzo, I could offer a thousand sincere words telling you of the beauty I find in this magnificent poetic meditation. Only one word, however, captures what I feel most about this piece: TRUTH! Every creative act is, at some level, a plea for mercy, a quiet prayer that our lives will somehow have meaning and, ulitmately, be justified. We are all pilgrims, and as you acknowledge so beautifully, every step we take is "a prayer, at the bottom of the heart's well," and "each gulped silence a plea for mercy."

    Thank you so much for this gift!

  12. ........but i have to add: not in the way it was meant under that metal arc.

    goddess forbid

  13. It’s so nice to see my blog friends here again after my rather long silence of the last few months; for various reasons I have temporarily misplaced my blog persona and voice and been all too silent here and in your comment boxes (although I am still reading all of your regularly). I promise to do better …

    I apologize for not translating the final three words of the post “Work Will Make You Free” and making clear that this expression, no matter how true it may be, has been made sinisterly famous because it was put up at the entrance of some of the Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz, in what may well qualify as the vilest sarcasm of all time.

    Hello, Brian, I think nobody could ever be a more diligent or faster commenter than you. As always, I appreciate your warm words and friendship.

    Hi, Ruth. Good question — is it me or my shadow, or is there a difference? Perhaps only nighttime can offer a reply and let us know what is real and what is shadow; and nighttime, indeed, seems like the source of the other question you pose: Will there be someone to answer our plea, our message in a bottle, even to rescue us? Or will there only be another lonely traveler, another stranded vagabond, even maybe another imprisoned soul, for whom a sliver of light may simply open and grow new life in them, or in us. I have to think that, yes, there are people to answer our plea. Strangely as it seemed at first, blogging provides as a forum and chamber for such meetings.

    I really appreciate your image of the foul-breathed whisper being a skin-tearing seed (goes so well with the barbwire photo). You close with yet another deep and important query as to what might blossom from that wound. This post is in large part an attempt to explore that question and I am touched and grateful that it has moved you.

    Hola, Yolanda. You, too, ask an important question: how could I bear to visit Auschwitz? I ask myself that often and wonder what it is that makes me or anyone feel the need to go and take my daughters there? I am still addressing it internally and hope to write a bit more on that soon.

    Dearest Tess, thank you. It’s beautiful to meet up with you here today. It’s been too long.

    Hello, ds. I like the simple imperative you extract from all this: pay attention. Yes, that is the key, isn’t it, to any possibility of quarrying meaning from our passage through this world. That’s a great expression the “coccyx of Hell itself”.

    Thank you, Linnea (Art), for the visit and comment. Did you know that your blog, Art Ravels, was the very first one I began to follow when I first started blogging? So knowing you appreciate my personal take on the why and what of art is gratifying.

  14. There's little, in fact nothing more sobering than visiting a concentration camp. I think it's one of the most emotional experiences of my life but I'm glad I paid my respects. It's important never to forget. Good to see you posting again.

  15. Lorenzo, gracias for coming to visit me on El Dia de los Muertos! And for this profound meditation, which to me goes straight to the heart of why we create art, for we are co-creators with every work of art that moves us. We become it, as T.S. Eliot says we are to do with a poem. That becoming is mercy personified, given voice and breath.
    One of my favorite poems--is it On Childhood?--concludes "Whither, whither?" I had that in mind as I came to the last line of my Muertos poem. Kathryn

  16. I am translating this as I write. My « mother-tongue » being French. I want to say thank you. For this blog and for « A year with Rilke ». Rilke's poetry, I have been reading it for years, acquires a new and formidable dimension through your postings and translations. Great, great work of love and insight.

  17. Hi, Ellen! Nice to see you being so glibly affirmative here ;)

    Hello, ksam. I hadn’t seen the news about the Rabbi’s meeting in Poland. I’ll check it out. Thanks.

    Good morning, Kerry. Sometimes, shivering is the only thing that can keep us warm and help restore any semblance of calm.

    Thank you so much, Maureen. Yes, this meditation is born from and ends in a deep silence of many kinds, so hearing you say it instills silence is gratifying. You always quarry many riches from the silence. And thanks for the tweet about this post on twitter!

    Hello, Amanda. I love the way you, whose blog travels in the company of Persephone, the daughter of the harvest goddess, always connect what you write and read with the ancients, while keeping a close eye on our own soil. Like you, I am convinced that the gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines of yesteryear are more actively present in our lives than we are fully aware of.

    Thanks, Claudia, for the visit and kind words. I was just recently back in your neck of the woods to see my family. Hope you are well.

    A gift, dear George, is to always know that I have the enthused attention and warm company of blog friends like you. One of the many things that you and I and other blog friends share, I believe, is the conviction that the pilgrimage is all about the trail, not about the final stopping point. Many rich trails to you!

  18. A bit late catching up on this... but now I have, oh, how wonderful, Lorenzo! Absolutely thrilling. So nice to see you back.

  19. I completely agree with you, Baino, on how sobering and searing such visits can be. I fully expected and was afraid that it would be a wrenching, practically unbearable experience. Yet, it was more numbing than anything else. I felt like a bit of a zombie walking through the death camp. It was only later that I started to unpack and uncoil the experience. I am still working on it …

    It’s a thrill to see you here, Kathryn, the author of one of the best poetry blogs out there. I feel very much the same way as you about the engaged and moved reader becoming a co-creator of the poem, and much the same could probably be said about other works of art as well. Your Muertos poem was well timed and deeply felt.

    Hi, Marc, and welcome to the alchemist’s pillow. I know and appreciate the effort it takes to read and, especially, write in a language other than our mother tongue, so I am grateful to you for reading and commenting here. The credit for the A Year With Rilke blog should mainly go, in all justice, to the two poet/writers who have translated it, Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, who are richly deserving of all the accolades for the fine work they have done. At that blog you can see a link for more info on them and the publisher. Nice to meet you.

    Hola, Robert of Solitary Walker. Thanks for your kind comment, it’s nice to be back. And please don’t apologize for being late to me of all persons, the prince procrastinator!

  20. Fabulous-- out of the shadows, into the light where we can encounter you again. xxxxj

  21. So glad that you are back, Lorenzo, & with such a powerful & moving post!

  22. what is so wonderful to me is the timelessness of this piece. and yet the timelessness almost saddens me - that we must plea for mercy endlessly, for our faults and our sure failings. will we never learn?

    in spite of loving your poem:

    The thrilled eye that dips the paintbrush
    into the throbbing crucible before the canvas,
    aching to capture the poplars panticulating
    in the dusk purred breeze,
    is pleading for mercy.

    are you kidding me? the language thrills me!

    but yes, in spite of loving it, i wonder if all art is a plea for mercy. some art is difficult and ugly. is this too a plea for mercy? or is all art the precipitation of all opposites existing in the world, is all art the muscles born around this, our trying to reckon with this predicament of lack of unity? i wonder.


  23. you offer a magnificant post/ I share much of
    yr POV/ I'm quite pleased to have found you today/
    look forward to looking in for
    quality time reading/ thanx


"Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods" — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Go ahead, leave a comment. The gods can holler a bit if they have to ...