Inside the singer?

Who is that singing

When you sit down in the temple

of someone else’s god

can you overhear the meaning?

When you sit quiet in the temple

who is the god?

Why do gods have temples?

Why not anywhere?

Because a building teaches true

when priests wobble.

Is it that a building cannot lie?

In no art is the mind of the artist

more exposed than in architecture—

all the aspirations, envisionings,

assumptions, computations, all

the necessary compromises.

Without compromise there is no art

only self-indulgence, self-expression,

mate-alluring, self-display.

A building is for other people—

and that is the essence of art,

why architecture and poetry are most alike:

both use materials that belong to the world,

metal, stone, words, grammars, concretes, plastics, rhythms

and not to the artist

the artist owns nothing but the art,

brings to the work nothing but the art.

The building is for others,

no lonely tower, 

the building is paid for by someone else

for all the someone elses, bodies, lives,

the art is pure agency,

making mind’s mark on matter,

and the poem is for others,

the poem fails if others cannot walk in it dance in it

the poem must have floors and walls,

control the words so that we move

free of doubt and nourished by coherence

through spaces we had not known before

and now are home

the poem must have a door.

A poem is pure compromise between self and language,

the mind of someone and the mind of language

and the minds of everybody else

sacred compromises union rules

zoning boards and financiers

the material itself, the poem

rests firm upon its words,

the building holds the mind up to the sky

and says think yourself inside me

make yourself at home

as many of you as there are

because a city

lets you be apart together

we look up from the valley of the heart.

So who is that singing in the song

who makes you think

what passes through your head

when you sit quiet in the temple?

Every building is a temple—

now name the god.

Terrifying beauty links the mind endures.


February 2, 2013

Robert Kelly is an award winning American poet who has published over 50 books of poetry and prose. He is the Co-Director of the Written Arts Program at Bard College, where he has taught since 1961.