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Out of Context

Poetry Deborah Pease
Fragments taken from the late fourteenth century masterpiece of medieval English mysticism, The Cloud of the Unknowing

You must understand
My simple perception—
You know well you were living
Distant from life—

Fastened to a leash of longing—
And what then?
He would not give you up so easily
But what did he do?

Look up now
And see what you are.
What are you
And what have you deserved?

Do not think yourself better
Because of the form
Of life
You have adopted—

Leave them alone—
Pay no heed to them—
All the devils are driven crazy
When you do this—

All people living on earth
Are marvelously helped by this work
In ways you do not know, yes,
Souls are relieved of their pain—

You yourself are cleansed
And made virtuous—
Grace in desire—
Otherwise, it is hard—

In this work of contemplation
I must tell you a little more.
In the field of astronomy, an instant
Is the smallest unit of time—

You should account for it,
A single stirring
Within the active faculty of your soul—
Stirrings of volition or desire—

Now you say sadly,
“How shall I manage?
I am completely confounded.
Help me.”

Attend to this work
Of contemplation
And the marvelous way
It operates within your soul.

An absence of knowing—
Everything you do not know
Or have forgotten, a cloud of forgetting
Condensed out of vapors—

You must step above it
Stoutly but deftly
And struggle to pierce the darkness
With a sharp dart of love—

Take only a short word—
One syllable is better than two syllables,
The shorter it is, the better
It agrees with the spirit: Love.

Active life is troubled
And harassed by many things
But contemplative life is at peace
With one thing.

Yes, and there is more!
Struggle and sweat—
No, indeed, I believe
You would never succeed in that way.

Why then?
Because she loved greatly.

She had very great sorrow
Yes, almost to the death
For lack of love
(Although she had abundance of love)—

So she hung her longing
On this cloud
And taught herself
To love something in life—

If the labor seems hard
Seek tricks and wiles
And secret stratagems
Of spiritual technique—

Feel as if you were defeated forever.
Pay close attention to this technique—

If this technique is intelligently understood
It is simply a knowledge of yourself
As you are: a lump of dirt—
Such feeling is humility.

This humility deserves
To have God himself descending
To take you up and tenderly
Dry the eyes of your spirit—

Not any more techniques
At this time—
I truly feel very far
From being an expert.

There is no lasting security
And no true rest in life
Yet you must not be too frightened
Of failing.

Do not be surprised
That I am speaking in this childlike way
As it were, foolishly
And without discretion.

This humble stirring of love—
Follow it.
It is the substance
Of every good life.

“Each new issue feels like a public report from many individual private spheres.” —Antoine Wilson

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Issue 22



Winter 2015


Deborah Pease (1943–2014) was the author of the novel Real Life (W.W. Norton) and several books of poems, collected in Another Ghost in the Doorway (Moyer Bell). Her poems also appeared in AGNI, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Parnassus, and other journals; as well as in the chapbook The Crows at Appleton (Monogram Editions) and Opposed to Indifference: Poems of Memory and Conscience (Haybarn Press). She was the founding benefactor of A Public Space.


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