Today, November 30, is Robert Lax’s Birthday

© Michael N. McGregor

Robert Lax was born in Olean, New York, on this day in 1915, to Sigmund and Rebecca Lax, both Jewish immigrants.

To honor his birthday, here’s a brief selection from his poetry (and his soul):

Who can speak for the soul's delight in a beautiful
Who can tell the wonder that enters through the eyes
  & into the heart?
Who knows the soul's rejoicing?
The whisper it would make to its Maker,
the whisper of love, the song of glory?
Who knows the soul's delight in beauty?

The light
  is on the mountains
    in the brush country,
      & I am tortured
        by the beauty
          of the light
            upon the mountains
              in the brush country.

(a selection from a longer poem set down on November 12, 1947, in Hollywood, CA)

--p. 68, journal E/tagebuch E: hollywood journal, published by pendo-verlag, 1996

Two More Videos Based on Robert Lax Poems

Video artist Susanne Weigner has produced several short, award-winning videos from Robert Lax poems. One of her latest ones, called “moments,” was recently part of a show in Taipei, Taiwan, curated by a group based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lax’s words are getting around!

Another Weigner-Lax videopoem, called “contemplation is watching” took first prize in the 2019 Atticus Review Videopoem Contest. You can watch it below:

There Is No Right Way of Singing…or Dancing…or Living

(Image from

In these fractious times, when competing visions of who we are (or should be) seem to separate us more and more, let me offer this short excerpt from Pure Act about a realization Lax came to in the fall of 1973, one of the most significant of his life (Lipsi is a small island near where he lived his later years on Patmos):

As he lingered on Lipsi that fall, he began to see that his vision hadn’t been capacious enough. He had been looking at parts rather than the whole, searching for models rather than an understanding of the greater scheme of things. The oneness of humanity–of all of life–wasn’t something to be sought, he realized, but something to be recognized and embraced. The life flowing in his veins had been flowing in veins since the beginning of time or longer. The enduring nature of life was the important thing to understand:

the continuity of life is
its meaning: it begins from
eternity & flows to eternity

there is no right way of
singing a given song: but
all ways are more or less

the variations of tone we
bring to our roles give life
its color: whether we will (to)
or not, we add variations

there is no one character in
whom the Lord would dwell &
not in others

he who dances in the middle
of the room, dances for me;
he who sits in the corner
watching, watches for me

…it is not that our lives
should so radically change,
but rather our understanding
of them

–pp. 320-321, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

“A Reaching Beyond”: Robert Lax Explains His Color Poems

(image from
the red blue color
poems in colored

(do a lot of
things at

they're poems
but look like

yet (being
neither poems
nor paintings)

are something
beyond both


and are meant to
(that) thing
beyond both
that includes


not a matter
of mélange
des genres

a reaching
beyond known

for a new one

a direction of
the discovery
of new ones

(from thesis
to synthesis)

a reaching beyond
what is
to what
(may become)


is there a sense
in which all that
may ever become

already is?

yes, is
in potentia

–pp. 350-351, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax

the child’s only duty is to live and grow

“what a writer writes should have some relation (though not necessar-

ily a discoverable relation) to the meaning of his life.

and the meaning of our lives should have some relation (to the

meaning of the life of the world)

but the meaning of our lives, and what we write, and what we do, is

somehow in us from the beginning: in this sense, the child’s only duty

is to live and grow”

–Robert Lax, p. 304, Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax


A Lax Poem and a Children’s Book About Thomas Merton

In April 2016 I wrote about the luminous paintings based on Lax’s poetry done by a talented young painter named Abbey Ryan.  Lately, I’ve been corresponding with Abbey’s father Greg Ryan, who knew Robert Lax for many years.  Greg sent me this image of the kind of thing Lax often included with his letters:

Greg and his wife Elizabeth Ryan are the author and illustrator of a lovely new children’s book about Thomas Merton called The ABCs of Thomas Merton: A Monk at the Heart of the World.  It is a well-pitched and pleasingly illustrated introduction to Merton and his world for children age 6-10.  You can find it on Amazon.  Here’s the cover:

By the way, the featured image for this entry is a note Lax sent to Greg and Elizabeth when they were expecting Abbey, the “bright newcomer from the sky.”

Looking for Online Examples of Robert Lax’s Poetry?

Garrison Keillor has featured Robert Lax’s poetry on his “The Writer’s Almanac” radio show several times and the poems are all still featured on the “Almanac” website.  You can even listen to Garrison Keillor read them.  The one to read or listen to now, perhaps, is “Greeting to Spring (Not Without Trepidation),” which first appeared in The New Yorker in the early years of World War II.

For those who like to watch something while listening, here’s a YouTube video of Keillor reading “The Alley Violinist.”  Keillor included this one in his 2002 book Good Poems.

Happy spring!

A Found Recording of Robert Lax & Robert Wolf Reading “Sea & Sky” and “Black & White”

I received a message this past week from a man named Edouard Jeunet, who said he’d found an old cassette of Robert Lax reading his “Sea & Sky” and “Black & White” poems in Italy in 1978 and uploaded a digital version to the Internet.  I passed the message on to Lax’s niece and literary executor, Marcia Kelly, and she asked some of Lax’s old friends if they knew of it.  Judy Emery, who knew Lax for decades and edited a couple of his books, sent the following reply: “I thought this tape had been lost.  It was not made in Italy but right here in New York in September 1974.  Three people: Emil Antonucci, Robert Wolf (nee Kachnowski) and Bob Lax spent an entire day recording Sea & Sky and other Lax poems.”

Here’s a link to the digital version.  The first voice you hear is Robert Lax; the second voice is Robert Wolf.  The recording copyright belongs to the Robert Lax Literary Trust.