Dec 06 2009

Holiday Book Recommendations

Published by at 3:25 pm under Books

This has been such a full year that I’m more than a little surprised to realize that the holidays are here. I thought I’d take a moment to remind you that books of sacred poetry make wonderful gifts (including gifts to yourself ;-).

Here are a few of my favorite general collections of sacred poetry — a holiday sampler. (And if you are looking for a Christmas gift, especially take a look at the first book listed, For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, edited by Roger Housden. Not only is it one of the best collections of Christian mystical poetry out there, it also includes one of my own translations of a short poem by John of the Cross.)

For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics
by Roger Housden

This has quickly become one of my favorite collections of sacred poetry within the many Christian traditions. John of the Cross, Thomas Merton, Hildegard von Bingen, Kahlil Gibran, Dante, Angelus Silesius, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Meister Eckhart, William Blake… and Roger Housden’s brief, thoughtful insights. Another excellent book by the editor of Ten Poems to Change Your Life.

Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, Edited by Jane Hirshfield

This is the first anthology I got years ago that made me say, Wow! Includes Sappho, Rabia, Yeshe Tsogyel, Hildegard of Bingen, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Hadewijch of Antwerp, Lal Ded, Mirabai, Bibi Hayati, Tsvetaeva. The best collection I’ve found of women’s voices in sacred poetry.

The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry, Translated by Peter Lamborn Wilson / Translated by Nasrollah Pourjavady

One of my favorite collections of the Persian Sufi poets, some you may have heard of and others who may be new to you: Jami, Attar, Hamadani, Iraqi, Hafez, Ibn Arabi, Sanai, and many others. If you like Sufi poetry, this is a book you should have.

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry, by Stephen Mitchell

This is a compact anthology, but a wonderful collection that includes Li Po, Wu-Men, Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai, Rilke… One of my personal favorites!

Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from the Sufi Wisdom, Edited by Andrew Harvey and Eryk Hanut

Something about Andrew Harvey’s selections and translations always strike a pure note. This book is a delightful collection of poetry and Sufi wisdom stories. Rumi, Kabir, al-Hallaj, Shabistari, Ansari… This is one I return to again and again.

To Touch the Sky: Poems of Mystical, Spiritual & Metaphysical Light, Translated by Willis Barnstone

Willis Barnstone’s translations balance the scholarly with the poetic — a real treat! This anthology ranges from Sappho and early Biblical utterances, to Wang Wei, Rilke, and St. John of the Cross. I like to leaf through the pages until something catches my attention and I’m pleasantly lost in the page.

The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhalla Library), Edited by Sam Hamill and J. P. Seaton

A very nice sampler of Japanese and Chinese Zen poetry. Han Shan, Li Po, Wang Wei, Basho, Soseki, Ryokan, Issa… The book fits well in your hand when you’re walking to the riverside or the local coffee shop.

The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse, Edited by T. Carmi

The most complete collection I’ve found of sacred Hebrew poetry, including Judah ha Levi, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Samuel Hanagid, the early Hekhalot Hymns, and many more. My only complaint: the translations are not versified, even though the Hebrew originals were. Still, worth reading.

Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan

This book became an immediate favorite of mine ever since I picked up a copy of it several years ago. Stunning poems from the Shiva bhakti tradition of India. Basavanna, Devara Dasimayya, Mahadevi, Allama Prabhu. The commentary in the book, though a little academic, is genuinely insightful. Enthusiastically recommended!

For even more book recommendations, click here.

May you and your loved ones have a special holiday season during this time when the sacred light renews itself in the midst of winter darkness. And may the new year bring you bright blessings!

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Holiday Book Recommendations”

  1. Jimon 07 Dec 2009 at 9:08 am


  2. Beryl Singleton Bissellon 08 Dec 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Your gift list is a gift! Thanks Ivan.

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