All the True Vows

by David Whyte


Original Language English

All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don't turn your face away.

Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.

Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen

nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.

By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
you can
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.

Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,

it wants you to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.

Remember,
in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,

that way you'll find
what is real and what is not.

I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.


"All the True Vows" from The House of Belonging by David Whyte.  Copyright © 1997, 2004 by David Whyte.  Used by permission of the author and Many Rivers Press (www.davidwhyte.com)  All rights reserved.

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/ Photo by jenny downing /


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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

I read this poem by David Whyte as a meditation on the alienation most people feel from their own lives. Too often we aren't really present in our own lives--

There is only one life
you can call your own...


He is saying that something powerful, even sacred, occurs when we stop contorting ourselves to reach for the lives that are not our own. When we settle into ourselves, when we start to actually live our own lives, embody our own lives, we not only begin to really experience life deeply for the first time, we start to tap into "the one life that waits / beyond all others."

Living this way, we find our true face, our true reflection.

I especially like the ending verses:

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice.


To rediscover our own voice, our true voice which has been socialized back into the shadows of our awareness, we have to break an old agreement, a "promise." We must decide to no longer identify with the roles and expectations set up for us by family, friends, and our own past actions. Finally dropping all of those masks, we discover our true face, our "reflection." Then, "for the first time," we can finally speak in our own voice.

Worth reading more than once...



Recommended Books: David Whyte

The House of Belonging Where Many Rivers Meet





All the True Vows