Apr 20 2011

Thich Nhat Hanh – Please Call Me by My True Names

Published by at 9:35 am under Poetry

Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

— from Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh, by Thich Nhat Hanh


/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /

This is a lovely, unflinching meditation on how all of being and all of human experience weaves together into a single tapestry of the whole. It can even draw comparisons with Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” where everything, terrible and beautiful, is one, is witnessed, and is found within oneself.

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Most of us have learned to anticipate what will happen next, and we end up mentally dwelling in our fantasies and fears about the future. But the future is merely an idea; it never has reality. The present moment is all that is ever real. And that is where we must dwell if we want to truly be alive and know what is real.

The present is a state of “still arriving.” Because the present moment is not a fixed space in time, you can’t say that anything encountered in the present is fixed and settled either. The present is a gossamer thin and moving point of light where all things are just barely stepping into the visibility of being… as the moment keeps moving. Everything, everyone, in every second is always just arriving. The present is a continuous becoming.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest…

Another fascinating thing is discovered when we truly, deeply perceive the present moment: Not only are we and all things “still arriving,” but the illusion of boundaries and separate being falls away. The notion of identity expands and recognizes itself just as naturally in all things witnessed. We find we are not just the person watching the bud on the Spring branch, but in our arriving we are equally the Spring bud, the young bird, the caterpillar in the flower, the jewel waiting in the stone. This is not some poetic game of words; it is what we actually perceive.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

When we finally see this truth then, for the first time, we can truly witness the world as it is. And that is what this poem is most about: witnessing. Thich Nhat Hanh invites to courageously witness the panorama of life, wonders and horrors alike. Through this form of true witnessing, we are not spectators watching others from a distance; no, it all unfolds upon us and in us. We are witnessing ourselves in many forms. We recognize that anything that happens anywhere in the world, is truly happening to ourselves and no other. And everything done, is done by ourselves and no other.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

This is why compassion is not altruistic and service is no effort. When we finally see things as they are, it is all oneself. When we offer our heart, when we offer our hand, we are simply helping ourselves. Who among us, when he touches a hot iron, doesn’t immediately pull back and then soothe the burn under cool water? That’s not altruism, it is the natural response to pain in one’s body. When we see clearly, we see we are all of one body, and the joys and pains of any other is yours as well.

Compassion and an open heart are the natural result of being awake to this truth, and no effort at all.

Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Nhat Hanh poetry, Buddhist poetry Thich Nhat Hanh

Vietnam/France/US (1929 – )
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Thich Nhat Hanh

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Thich Nhat Hanh – Please Call Me by My True Names”

  1. franon 20 Apr 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Perfect timing today retreating from the too cold Spring and restless thoughts, I feel the compassion expressed in this words, without sentiment, only truth…thanks …hoping you are well Ivan and all on this site too. Blessings fran

  2. Carol Burnson 20 Apr 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Hello Ivan,

    Thich Nhat Hahn has been a favorite for years and years —
    Thank you.

    I am very slow, but able now to increase monthly giving.
    Hope your health is improving.

    I have a friend who came back
    from major physical health problems by reducing stress
    and slowing down. We simply
    forget how to live – Take care. I surely love the poetry
    you share with us!

  3. Patricia Tayloron 20 Apr 2011 at 3:02 pm

    “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked” Kahil Gibran.

    Thanks Ivan, a beautiful reflection for Maundy Thursday, the start of the Christian Holy Week of Easter.
    Blessings upon you.

    Trish

  4. Negaron 21 Apr 2011 at 3:11 am

    Thanks Ivan,
    this poem is really nice. it reminds me the famous poem of sadi (the persian poet) who said:
    Human beings are members of a whole,
    In creation of one essence and soul,
    If one member is afflicted with pain,
    Other members uneasy will remain.

  5. Deeon 21 Apr 2011 at 7:01 am

    This is such a beautiful poem and your thoughts are equally beautiful, Ivan.
    The reminder that life is a weaving consisting of each and everything in the universe is a true gift today.
    Thank you.
    DEE

  6. ila kumar Indiaon 21 Apr 2011 at 11:08 pm

    Beautiful poem with true words.

    When it says – ‘I’ am a bird, ‘I’ am a frog, ‘I’ am a twelve year old girl … it says that ‘I’ can take any form, and at the same time every form is only ‘I’ !

    In Upnishad it is said that -‘Eiko-Ahm Dvitio-Nasti (Sanskrit)

    _

    I will try to translate it in Hindi.
    -ila kumar
    India

  7. ila kumar Indiaon 21 Apr 2011 at 11:11 pm

    When it is said that ….’I am a bird , I am a frog , I am a twelve year girl….. it means that any thing this ‘ I ‘ may be , any form ‘ I ‘ can take & at the same time it says that ‘Everything I am ! And everything takes form from me !’

    In Upnishad it is proved -‘ Eiko-Ahm Duitiyo Nasti !-(Snaskrit)

    __ Only I which is present, otherone does(can’t)not present!

    _

    This poem touches the inner core of heart, thanks to sending it.
    ila kumar/India

  8. Wonderings and Wanderingson 23 Apr 2015 at 5:23 pm

    […] are many more telling poems to show how we connect – how we are all the same – but, this one resonates for me right […]

  9. Zuberion 25 Feb 2017 at 1:11 am

    I am currently reading Being Peace by Thich nhat hanh and reading this poem has touche d my heart. I will clinging on this for sometimes…

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