Apr 09 2012

David Whyte – All the True Vows

Published by at 8:10 am under Poetry

All the True Vows
by David Whyte

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.

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.

/ Photo by jenny downing /

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…

David Whyte, David Whyte poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry David Whyte

US (1955 – )
Secular or Eclectic

David Whyte grew up in Yorkshire, England. He studied Marine Zoology in Wales and trained as a naturalist in the Galapagos Islands. He has also worked as a naturalist guide, leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in various parts of the world, including treks among the mountains of Nepal.

Whyte’s poetry reflects a living spirituality and a deep connection to the natural world.

He is one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of organizational development, conducting workshops with many American and international companies.

David Whyte currently lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

More poetry by David Whyte

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8 responses so far

8 Responses to “David Whyte – All the True Vows”

  1. roselleon 09 Apr 2012 at 10:11 am

    Thank you for reminding me of a poem I know and love but had forgotten. Ah – the discovery of the only voice that can save us: our own!

  2. rena navonon 09 Apr 2012 at 10:30 am

    “Out of the silence you can make a promise it will kill you to break”. This is a challenging line I cannot imagine without some trembling and the ending seems to challenge it in return. Despite the compromising– or rather complementary, according to you?– meaning you give this ending, Ivan, I feel afraid for the person we meet here who has managed to keep his persona intact until now. There is some cutting edge that cannot get rationalized, as far as I can understand it. Almost an impossible chance for survival.

  3. Tealaon 09 Apr 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you Ivan


  4. Erinon 09 Apr 2012 at 4:53 pm

    David Whyte lives a block from me! How great to see his poetry here. Discovering our authenticity and then living from that wholeheartedly is our purpose, so thanks for the reminder. I’m a ways from living it yet, but he urges us to not turn our face and “hold to the truth you make every day with your own body.”

  5. Edgar Wallaceon 09 Apr 2012 at 4:55 pm

    Very powerful and certainly worth reading more than once. Thank you.

  6. S D Georgeon 09 Apr 2012 at 6:25 pm

    You made my day! I love any and all of David Whytes poems. The first time I read one of his poems; “Sligo Glen: Walking Out Of Silence”. It spoke to my heart like no other poem had.

    “So that you suddenly realized you were given the complete and utter gift of your own transparency, the revelation of your own exact boundary with the world.

    David Whytes words are pearcing, deep and profound. He says what few have the courage to say. Some may find him solemn or foreboding but I think his words give us permission to feel. To find the words we won’t give ourselves permission to think or say outloud. His soul speaks of ancient wisdom while recognizing the simplicity and beauty of the day, of the silence. Thank you…

  7. jim carlinon 17 Apr 2012 at 8:16 pm

    can you pass david wythe
    contact information?

  8. In My Own Voice - Alison Litchfieldon 18 Apr 2016 at 10:22 am

    […] – See more at: http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/blog/2012/04/09/david-whyte-all-the-true-vows-2/#sthash.opTFfTCI.dpu… […]

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