Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Jul 01 2015

Andrew Colliver – Come

Published by under Poetry

Come
by Andrew Colliver

Every day I am astonished by
how little I know, and discouraged,
obedient as I am to the demand to
know more — always more.

But then there is the slow seep
of light from the day,
and I look to the west where
the hills are darkening,

setting their shoulders to the night,
and the sky peppered with pillows
of mist, their bellies burnt
by the furnace of the sun.

And it is then that I notice
the invitation didn’t say, Come
armed with knowledge and a loud voice
.
It only said, Come.


/ Image by MicroAlex /

Each new poem by Andrew Colliver somehow finds a surprisingly moving tension between art and insight. This poem, for example, was sent to me directly by the author just a few days ago, and it immediately grabbed hold of me.

Every day I am astonished by
how little I know, and discouraged,
obedient as I am to the demand to
know more — always more.

Reading those lines for the first time, I had to smile. It was as if some part of my own self was speaking to me. This is something I have certainly recognized in myself.

Like many of you, I was born with a hungry head. I always wanted to know. I was curious about everything, how things work, how things connect, why things are the way they are. So, naturally, I approached the spiritual journey this way, as well.

The good thing about this approach is that it encourages you to bring your full awareness to your spirituality. The questioning mind, the curious mind, the cynical mind, the categorizing mind, the discriminating mind — these can be powerful motivating forces within oneself, drawing together your energies, focusing them toward a difficult goal, allowing you to continuously examine and reformulate yourself and your understanding of reality.

That’s the good thing. The bad thing is that this approach can easily get stuck in the head. One can easily fall into the trap of turning the spiritual journey into an intellectual enterprise, confusing the acquisition of “spiritual” information with genuine awareness.

When I have more deeply confronted this tendency within myself, I have discovered an interesting reason behind this approach: On some level, I carried the idea that I had to somehow earn awakening or spiritual depth. And, in my personal makeup, the way I tried to prove my worthiness was through building a fortress of knowledge.

That basic thought, of somehow not being worthy without the “proof” of impressive knowledge, was a core barrier to my own opening process. And the more I learned, whether through books or teachers or even through my own direct experience, often reinforced that fundamental barrier. All of that has a way of strengthening a more polished form of ego while we are trying to be more “spiritual.”

When so much of your proposed future enlightened self is built on the idea of acquired “spiritual” knowledge, trying to move beyond that wall can feel like blindness, aimlessness, the loss of spiritual direction.

It requires the humility, self-honest, and trust necessary to walk an unknown path and get lost, look like a fool, disappoint your peers. Bruised and disoriented, we learn to feel our way. Feeling, we begin to discover the heart and the secret intelligence it carries.

I am in no way denigrating either rational thought or spiritual study. These can be essential in developing clarity and focus. They can provide us with a much needed map and the internal tools to assess the landscape. But the job is not to paper the walls of our bedrooms with maps; the purpose is to actually make the journey, to feel each step of the land beneath our feet. Whether we bring one map or a stack of atlases or walk with empty hands, it is unknown territory we step into. We are but small travelers in the midst of great mystery.

Best not to worry overmuch about knowledge or earning your way. We are all already worthy. Knowing that, we know enough. All that is left to do is to answer the call and give ourselves permission to take that bold first step.

And it is then that I notice
the invitation didn’t say,
Come
armed with knowledge and a loud voice.
It only said,
Come.

Buen camino!


Recommended Books: Andrew Colliver

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology)


Andrew Colliver

Australia (1953 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Jun 26 2015

Juan Ramon Jimenez – Who Knows What is Going On

Published by under Poetry

Who Knows What is Going On
by Juan Ramon Jimenez

English version by Robert Bly

      Who knows what is going on on the other side of each hour?

      How many times the sunrise was
there, behind a mountain!

      How many times the brilliant cloud piling up far off
was already a golden body full of thunder!

      This rose was poison.

      That sword gave life.

      I was thinking of a flowery meadow
at the end of a road,
and found myself in the slough.

      I was thinking of the greatness of what was human,
and found myself in the divine.

— from The Winged Energy of Delight, Translated by Robert Bly


/ Image by xucra /

Who knows what is going on on the other side of each hour?

Isn’t that just a wonderful opening line? It’s one of those profound, enigmatic statements that can trip you up full stop, making the rest of the poem an afterthought.

But what is the poet saying? I think he’s encouraging us to not bring our assumptions to each experience in life. We have to encounter each experience, each hour, as it is, not as we expect it to be. This is why he turns our expectations on their head with lines like:

This rose was poison.

That sword gave life.

Every single thing holds its secret and is pregnant with surprise…

How many times the brilliant cloud piling up far off
was already a golden body full of thunder!

To approach life without the false certainty of what each experience holds requires a supreme humility. It requires us to cherish the unexpected possibilities of each encounter more deeply than our own accumulating history. It requires a silence of mind, a sense of wonder, and a restoration of our inherent innocence. But, when we truly learn to live this way, magic happens! We open ourselves and, in turn, the common things we encounter open themselves to us, revealing hidden worlds within…

I was thinking of the greatness of what was human,
and found myself in the divine.


Recommended Books: Juan Ramon Jimenez

The Winged Energy of Delight News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures Invisible Reality Time and Space: A Poetic Autobiography
More Books >>


Juan Ramon Jimenez, Juan Ramon Jimenez poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Juan Ramon Jimenez

Spain (1881 – 1958) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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2 responses so far

Jun 24 2015

Zeynep Hatun – I am a fountain, You are my water

Published by under Poetry

I am a fountain, You are my water
by Zeynep Hatun

English version by Murat Yagan

I am a fountain, You are my water.
I flow from You to You.

I am an eye, You are my light,
I look from You to You.

You are neither my right nor my left.
You are my foot and my arm as well.

I am a traveler, You are my road.
I go from You to You.

— from Women in Sufism: A Hidden Treasure – Writings and Stories of Mystics Poets, Scholars & Saints, Edited by Camille Adams Helminski


/ Image by putonicfluf /

I have loved this poem ever since I discovered it several years ago. That makes it doubly frustrating that, in the intervening years, I have only found one other poem by her in English translation (and that second poem’s translation was a rather dry Victorian translation).

This single poem suggests such a richness of soul behind it. Perhaps it is enough to stand for all the poems that have fallen silent.

I am a fountain, You are my water.
I flow from You to You.

The single image of a fountain and flowing water elegantly suggests so much to us: The Divine Beloved is the vivifying, animating, all-permeating medium. The water is the life and soul of the fountain.

The imagery suggests to us a sense of self that is no longer fixed. Whatever we are, we flow. And everywhere we flow from, through, and to, we remain in contact with the Beloved.

I am a traveler, You are my road.
I go from You to You.

Each step, each arc of movement and point of rest, is another instance of delicious touch in the divine love affair that is life’s journey.


Recommended Books: Zeynep Hatun

Women in Sufism: A Hidden Treasure – Writings and Stories of Mystics Poets, Scholars & Saints


Zeynep Hatun

Turkey (15th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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7 responses so far

Jun 12 2015

Book Announcement: Dorothy Walters, Marrow of Flame

Published by under Poetry

Dorothy Walters is a poet of stunning talent, startling wisdom, and wide open heart — which makes it a genuine pleasure to be able to announce that the Poetry Chaikhana will be publishing a new edition of her most popular collection of poetry, Marrow of Flame: Poems of the Spiritual Journey.

Ever since Marrow of Flame was originally published in 2000 by Hohm Press, its poetry of passionate awakening and self-transformation has inspired so many modern day seekers. These are the words of a woman who is a contemporary mystic, someone who is humble and approachable, yet she writes with clarity and poetic skill. This collection of poetry has found its way to a respected place in the bookshelves of seekers, teachers, and religious leaders alike.

But the original publisher relinquished its publishing rights, allowing this beloved book to fall out of print, with only a few copies left in circulation. Dorothy Walters approached me to see if I would be willing to publish a new edition of Marrow of Flame as a Poetry Chaikhana book. I gladly agreed!

The Poetry Chaikhana will be publishing the new edition of Marrow of Flame later this summer.

I wanted to let you all know in advance to build some anticipation. I have been working with Dorothy Walters on the final layout and formatting, as well as other minor corrections to the first edition. The great Andrew Harvey, who wrote the introduction to the first edition, has contributed a new introduction to this second edition.

Here is an excerpt of what Andrew Harvey had to say about this new edition of Marrow of Flame:

This re-issue of Dorothy Walters’s mystical masterpiece “Marrow of Flame” is a great literary and spiritual event. I don’t know of any other poet currently writing in English who expresses so simply and nobly and with such shameless but humble authority the ordeals, ecstasies and revelations of the path to radiant embodiment…

Whatever path you are on, read these quietly astounding love-poems to the Divine and let them guide you into the truth of your real nature and into the real nature of a world everywhere “Drowned in God.”

This new edition of Marrow of Flame is a beautiful collection of poetry, one I am very proud to publish. I will let you all know as we get closer to the publication date. Stay tuned!

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Jun 12 2015

Dorothy Walters – The Abundance of Brightness

Published by under Poetry

The Abundance of Brightness
by Dorothy Walters

      God is not unknown on account of obscurity
      but on account of the abundance of brightness.
            — St. Thomas Aquinas

1.
Dante Mounting to the Rose of Heaven

Not one of us
could breathe this air,
face this naked radiance
unscathed.
Here music turns to light,
a tone so sweet
that we, dulled by
our familiar calliope,
mistake its sound for silence.

Dante, mounting to tiers of
trembling flame,
found light. Light everywhere.
Circles, wheels,
light on light,
a dance of invisibles.
The flames pulsating, as if
measuring the breath of heaven.
At the last, he falls forward,
caught in widening rings
of implacable bright.

2.
At Eleusis

Even at Eleusis,
after the long journey,
the sea-bath among the sacred waves,
the accounts of the grieving mother
and her vanished child,
at the end
the shouts rang out
like birth-cries in the throats
of the startled pilgrims, blinded
by the flare of torches sweeping
from frames of darkness.
Then silence. Then they saw.

3.
A Celebration

And then quiet.
Someone who whispers:
now we are free.

Which was, almost,
true,
but only in the way
a bird,
leaving a limb,
goes freely into
a different realm,
an atmosphere
more pure,
more transparent,
but that, too,
maintaining its fixities.

4.
The Clinging

[for those who] have beheld the Tao… gems sparkle on dusty roads; puddles appear as pools of lapis lazuli; tough weeds acquire fragile beauty…
      — John Blofield

The I Ching calls it clinging, fire:
“Fire has no definite form,”
it says,
“but clings to the burning object
and thus is bright.”

— from Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey (1st ed.), by Dorothy Walters


/ Image by Hoang Giang Hai /

I hope you will pause to reread this poem a few times. It has several lines that can bring you to a full stop. The images of Dante encountering the circles of light. That final line from “At Eleusis.” The way, in “A Celebration,” a bird taking flight shifts worlds, enters a new reality. In “The Clinging,” the way the fixed object burns bright and gives root to formless fire, and in so doing returns to formlessness itself.

And have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Dorothy Walters

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Marrow of Flame : Poems of the Spiritual Journey The Ley Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension Unmasking the Rose: A Record of a Kundalini Initiation A Cloth of Fine Gold: Poems of the Inner Journey
More Books >>


Dorothy Walters

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Jun 10 2015

Wendell Berry – Sabbaths 1985 V

Published by under Poetry

Sabbaths 1985, V
by Wendell Berry

How long does it take to make the woods?
As long as it takes to make the world.
The woods is present as the world is, the presence
of all its past and of all its time to come.
It is always finished, it is always being made, the act
of its making forever greater than the act of its destruction.
It is a part of eternity for its end and beginning
belong to the end and beginning of all things,
the beginning lost in the end, the end in the beginning.

What is the way to the woods, how do you go there?
By climbing up through the six days’ field,
kept in all the body’s years, the body’s
sorrow, weariness, and joy. By passing through
the narrow gate on the far side of that field
where the pasture grass of the body’s life gives way
to the high, original standing of the trees.
By coming into the shadow, the shadow
of the grace of the strait way’s ending,
the shadow of the mercy of light.

Why must the gate be narrow?
Because you cannot pass beyond it burdened.
To come into the woods you must leave behind
the six days’ world, all of it, all of its plans and hopes.
You must come without weapon or tool, alone,
expecting nothing, remembering nothing,
into the ease of sight, the brotherhood of eye and leaf.

— from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by mindfulness /

I suppose I am already thinking of the weekend, and some cherished moments of stillness…

There is something so healing, so earthly — in the most sanctified sense — in this Sabbath meditation by Wendell Berry.

His phrases of the “six days’ world” and the “six day’s field” are references to how we see the world and interact with the world on all the other days of the week, the non-Sabbath days. In the “six days’ world” we work, we do, we accomplish, we acquire. Often it is a world of control and burdens, “plans and hopes.” It is a world of objects and tools to manipulate those objects. Too often it is a world of domination and separation.

An essential reason for the Sabbath is to remind us that that “six days’ world” is not the real world nor is it the whole world, it is only one way of interacting with the world. When we take a true day of rest, and enter a majestic space not made by men — like the ancient, silent woods — we remember that we participate in a larger life, eternal, eternally recycling itself. We are reminded that there is a wholeness to the world we live in, something we can’t segment and sell without harm to ourselves. The Sabbath, the woods, the wilds, these remind us of the sacred, whole, eternal spaces within the human spirit. In true rest and quiet awe, we return to ourselves.

I try to to remember to find something of the Sabbath in each day of the week.


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Selected Poems of Wendell Berry Given: Poems A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
More Books >>


Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

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Jun 05 2015

Rainer Maria Rilke – The Man Watching

Published by under Poetry

The Man Watching
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Robert Bly

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.


/ Image by Christopher Chan /

Last night a tornado touched down just a few miles from where I live in Longmont, Colorado. The power of nature is sometimes majestic and terrifying, both!

And then an evening of being battered by rain and hail, with heavy thunder and lightning.

The experience gives particular resonance to the poem’s lines:

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

It is as if the overwhelm of the storm both renews the world while, at the same time, having bestowed a serenity and ageless wisdom. Having survived the storm, the world has entered a deathless state.

One would think that Rilke’s perspective in this poem would be crushing, with its observation that, through the simple act of living and growing, we face inconceivably immense forces arrayed against us. Forces that hardly notice us in their own massive movement. We are such vulnerable things ready to be battered by life. But Rilke manages a feat of precarious insight, suggesting that our very strength and meaning are found in the particular way we encounter those great currents.

If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

And in these encounters the goal is not to win or overcome. “Winning does not tempt that man.” For the one who has met this “Angel who appeared / to the wrestlers of the Old Testament” there is the bruising realization that success is not the success of the man, but the success of the spirit.

The mere touch of these mighty forces, though they overwhelm, somehow ennobles us and strengthens us.

This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

Something to contemplate in the aftermath of the storm…

===

I feel that I don’t say it often enough, but I want to take a moment to acknowledge the many ways you support and encourage my work with the Poetry Chaikhana…

Many of you donate money, online or through the mail. You have purchased copies of The Longing in Between and Real Thirst. You purchase other poetry books through the links in these emails and on the website.

And when that’s not possible — and I understand that finances can get tight — you send me the most amazing emails. And comments posted on the Poetry Chaikhana blog. And the Facebook page.

I just want to say — Thank You! Your support, financial and energetic, is what allows me to do this work, even when my health limits my ability to keep income up with my day job.

I am so grateful for all of you in the Poetry Chaikhana community!

Have a wonderful (and safe) weekend!


Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke The Soul is Here for its Own Joy: Sacred Poems from Many Cultures Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God In Praise of Mortality: Rilke’s Duino Elegies & Sonnets to Orpheus
More Books >>


Rainer Maria Rilke, Rainer Maria Rilke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rainer Maria Rilke

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Rainer Maria Rilke

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Jun 03 2015

Abdul-Qader Bedil – Creation’s Witness

Published by under Poetry

Creation’s Witness
by Abdul-Qader Bedil

English version by David and Sabrineh Fideler

At time’s beginning
that beauty
which polished creation’s mirror
caressed every atom
with a hundred thousand suns.

But this glory
was never witnessed.

When the human eye emerged,
only then was he known.

— from Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition, Translated by David Fideler / Translated by Sabrineh Fideler


/ Image by Lisa Norwood /

At time’s beginning
that beauty
which polished creation’s mirror
caressed every atom
with a hundred thousand suns.

I love that phrase in the opening section about every atom being caressed “with a hundred thousand suns…” Mm.

Reread the poem’s final couplet, though.

When the human eye emerged,
only then was he known.

What do you suppose the poet meant by stating that only “when the human eye emerged” was “that beauty” — the radiance of God — known?

He is directly addressing that aching question that is at the heart of the spiritual quest: If God or the Eternal is One, and all of creation is fundamentally one with that Reality, why then does existence appear fragmented? Why do we perceive separation at all, if all is one? Does that apparent separation serve some purpose?

Bedil’s poem gives us a path of understanding through this dilemma: In the primal Wholeness that exists prior to separation, everything is one, but unawakened. There is wholeness, but no perception of wholeness, since nothing else is known and since there are no individual points of perception from which to witness that wholeness…

But this glory
was never witnessed.

God is said to have willed the illusion of separation in human consciousness in order to produce the necessary duality of seer and seen. The play of separation then allows universal consciousness, through humanity, to witness its own Being. Humanity, in this understanding, is the eye of consciousness within existence. You could say that this is our divine purpose — to awaken to the radiant vision of Being. Our first role is to be witnesses. We exist to perceive the fundamental nature of reality. Only by doing so do we fulfill our reason for being.

Separation leads to perspective. Perspective leads to vision. Vision leads us back to unity.

It is through us that the universe comes to fruition in self-knowledge.

\ | /
– o –
/ | \


Recommended Books: Abdul-Qader Bedil

Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Ocean of Unity: Wahdat al-wujud in Persian, Turkish, and Malay poetry


Abdul-Qader Bedil

Afghanistan (1644 – 1721) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 29 2015

Kalidasa – Waking

Published by under Poetry

Waking
by Kalidasa

English version by W. S. Merwin & J. Moussaieff Masson

Even the man who is happy
      glimpses something
      or a hair of sound touches him

      and his heart overflows with a longing
            he does not recognize

then it must be that he is remembering
      in a place out of reach
      shapes he has loved

      in a life before this

      the print of them still there in him waiting

— from East Window: Poems from Asia, Translated by W. S. Merwin


/ Image by Stig Nygaard /

I’m back. I was waylaid by another bout of chronic fatigue syndrome, but I’m recovering and ready to wax poetic once again!

and his heart overflows with a longing
            he does not recognize

I just love these lines.

It reminds me of revelation I had around age 20 that really helped me through a lost, lonely period. It was a time when I felt an excruciating inner ache, a hole in myself, an empty space, with no idea how to fill it. Other people that age were busy with life: schoolwork, friends, dating, imagining their futures. But at that age I was struggling with a terrible void.

But then I started really watching people. I wanted to watch all the “normal” people to figure out how I could be more like them. Then suddenly it struck me: No matter how “happy” one may be, everyone — without exception — has that same gaping hole in their life. Most people pour all of their energies into either filling it endlessly, and with the wrong things, or they cover it up, ignore it, avoid it through endless activity. That sort of happiness is brittle, all too fragile. Suddenly we glimpse something or “a hair of sound touches” us, and that empty space becomes unavoidable. The hunger, the longing overflows.

I saw that the whole world is defined by that longing. And I also began to understand that I wasn’t really different from everyone else. It’s just that perhaps I found it more difficult to avoid staring at that uncomfortable question mark that sits at the center of everyone’s life.

That insight not only reassured me that I was fundamentally okay, it also gave me permission to feel compassion for people I used to quietly envy. Everyone, all of us, high and low, rich and middle class and poor, famous and infamous and obscure — we’re all struggling with that haunting hunger.

But why? What is that hunger? Why is there a hole in the center of the world?

To really know the answer, we have to stop looking away. We have to stop distracting ourselves. And we have to stop trying to fill it with petty things — money, sex, fame.

Turn and sit and just quietly look at that empty space. Get to know it. Learn its feel.

Here’s what I’ve discovered in my own exploration: That hole is exactly God-shaped.

But there’s an important corollary to that statement: God is not shaped like the cutout doll handed to us when we were children. The word “God” itself is too limiting, and is heavily layered with cultural assumptions. That’s why I often use words like the Divine, the Eternal, the Real.

The most important thing about that God-shaped hole: When we finally, truly, really see it, an amazing river of bliss pours through that hole and washes over us…


Recommended Books: Kalidasa

Sanskrit Love Poetry Abhijnanasakuntalam of Kalidasa The Recognition of Sakuntala: A Play in Seven Acts Theatre of Memory: The Plays of Kalidasa The Origin of the Young God: Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhava


Kalidasa, Kalidasa poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Kalidasa

India (350? – 430?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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May 20 2015

Czeslaw Milosz – Late Ripeness

Published by under Poetry

Late Ripeness
by Czeslaw Milosz

English version by Robert Hass

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget — I kept saying — that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago –
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef — they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.

— from New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001, by Czeslaw Milosz


/ Image by BennyBrand /

This is one of my favorite poems by Czeslaw Milosz. I hope you feel it too…

Try reading those early lines again:

I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

Notice how the breaking of the line influences the meaning. It is not written “I felt… / I entered…” separating it into two logical statements. Instead, the first line is “I felt… and I entered.” There the line stops, forcing us to stop as well and consider it as a statement complete in itself. And once we enter, we are almost overwhelmed by the next line; it is as if, at that point, all of existence has become “the clarity of early morning.”

That sense is further emphasized by the next lines, “One after another my former lives were departing, / like ships, together with their sorrow.” Milosz is describing how the weight of one’s personal history, the burden of past identity and the actions that seemed to give it reality, all of that is washed away in the flood of that light. Not even washed away; “departing,” gently drifting away. Reading that line, I have the sense of those laden ships, not sailing away, but fading out, like gloomy phantoms ever looking backward suddenly caught in the brilliance of dawn.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

The lines of this poem have an intuitive recognition of the unity at rest beneath the jangle and hurts of life. It is a recognition that allows for forgiveness… and self-forgiveness.


Recommended Books: Czeslaw Milosz

New and Collected Poems 1931 – 2001 The Collected Poems Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness To Begin Where I Am: The Selected Prose of Czeslaw Milosz A Treatise on Poetry
More Books >>


Czeslaw Milosz, Czeslaw Milosz poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Czeslaw Milosz

Poland (1911 – 2004) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

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4 responses so far

May 15 2015

Omar Khayyam – For in and out, above, about, below

Published by under Poetry

For in and out, above, about, below
by Omar Khayyam

English version by Edward FitzGerald

For in and out, above, about, below,
‘Tis nothing but a Magic Shadow-show,
      Play’d in a Box whose Candle is the Sun,
Round which we Phantom Figures come and go.

— from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, by Omar Khayyam / Translated by Edward FitzGerald


/ Image by PaperTales /

Goosebumps! I get an electric thrill reading many of the verses from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. It’s something about the rhyme in FitzGerald’s translation.

In this quatrain, we have “below,” “show,” and “go” in the first, second, and fourth lines. But the real magic for me comes from that secondary rhyme in the first line that matches “out” and “about” without disrupting the meter and end of line rhyme. And then the double rhyme of “SHadOW-SHOW”, and the “F” alliteration of “Phantom Figures”…

Read the lines out loud. Listen to the sound of it, the play of rhythm and rhyme.

When rhyme is done poorly, especially in modern poetry, it feels awkward or stilted, distracting from the poem. But when done well, rhyme carries a whole new level of enchantment, firing up a part of the awareness too often dormant in the modern mind. Reading FitzGerald’s rendition of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is a good restorative elixir.


Recommended Books: Omar Khayyam

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained The Sufism of the Rubaiyat or the Secret of the Great Paradox Wine of the Mystic: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyan: A Spiritual Interpretation The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Illustrated Edition)
More Books >>


Omar Khayyam, Omar Khayyam poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Omar Khayyam

Iran/Persia (11th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 12 2015

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – In the school of mind

In the school of mind you
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

In the school of mind you
learn a lot, and become
a true scholar for many to look up to.
In the school of Love, you become
a child to learn again.

— from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian


/ Image by smoorenburg /

Wow! What a wonderful response to my notes last week! I received a flood of blog comments and private emails. It is always a humbling experience to realize how many wise souls are reading these poem emails. I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your thoughts and ideas and insights.

I realize, however, that I may not have done the best job in how I framed the subject in the first place. Several of your messages attempted to reassure me that I shouldn’t be concerned with people canceling their subscriptions to the Poetry Chaikhana, a few of you even gently chiding me for worrying about such things. I was so touched by all of your compassionate messages, but, truthfully, I wasn’t particularly upset by the cancellations. If anything, I was rather amused by the reaction, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to open up a discussion to see what everyone else thought. I find that when there’s a bit of a reaction, that’s often a sign that there is more good stuff to explore. That’s the time for Ivan to step down from his soapbox and hand around the microphone. And I’m so glad I did. Even though I do get inspired by these poems and have been known to ramble on a bit, community dialogs like this remind me that mine is one small voice among many. There are so many rich journeys being mapped out by all of you, and spiritual wisdom is not in the short supply we sometimes imagine.

Thank you again, everyone.

In the school of Love, you become
a child to learn again.


Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Mystics of Islam
More Books >>


Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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May 08 2015

Rabindranath Tagore – I am like a remnant of a cloud

Published by under Poetry

I am like a remnant of a cloud (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

I am like a remnant of a cloud of autumn uselessly roaming in the sky, O my sun ever-glorious! Thy touch has not yet melted my vapour, making me one with thy light, and thus I count months and years separated from thee.
      If this be thy wish and if this be thy play, then take this fleeting emptiness of mine, paint it with colours, gild it with gold, float it on the wanton wind and spread it in varied wonders.
      And again when it shall be thy wish to end this play at night, I shall melt and vanish away in the dark, or it may be in a smile of the white morning, in a coolness of purity transparent.

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Image by timparkinson /

Today is Rabindranath Tagore’s birthday, so I thought we should commemorate that with one of his poems…

You know, what I especially like about this selection is its sweet tension. It speaks with a terrible spiritual yearning–

Thy touch has not yet melted my vapour, making me one with thy light, and thus I count months and years separated from thee.

Yet there is also a profound patience–

And again when it shall be thy wish to end this play …

That balance is essential, yet so difficult to cultivate. With passion, we want immediate satisfaction. The fire tends to flame up and all too quickly burn out. We cultivate patience only when all brash attempts to storm heaven have failed. But that is not so much true patience as benumbed acquiescence. And, in the process, the passion has been lost.

But the spiritual seeker needs passion! The seeker needs the intensity, the energetic boldness of that passion. The art of spiritual success is learning how to tend the coals of that fire, to find a steady fuel, to feed it, to grow comfortable in its heat, to delight in it, to dance in its glow.

This hot hunger isn’t satisfied with fast food. It is a lifelong love affair.

The speaker recognizes that apparent separation from God is part of the divine play — that there is a rightness to that. And even a beauty.

If this be thy wish and if this be thy play, then take this fleeting emptiness of mine, paint it with colours…

These lines give the seeker permission to feel in harmony with the divine will even though lasting communion has not yet been attained.

And a final secret: This recognition eases the psychic muscles, allowing that communion to come upon us even more swiftly and naturally.

Look up at the spring sky (or, more appropriately, autumn sky, for those of you south of the equator). Is that wisp of a cloud fading into the white morning?


Recommended Books: Rabindranath Tagore

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Gitanjali The Lover of God The Fugitive Lover’s Gift and Crossing
More Books >>


Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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May 06 2015

Kabir – the mind has put up a swing

Published by under Poetry

Between the conscious and the unconscious, the mind has put up a swing
by Kabir

English version by Robert Bly

Between the conscious and the unconscious, the mind has put up a swing:
all earth creatures, even the supernovas, sway between these two trees,
and it never winds down.

Angels, animals, humans, insects by the million, also the wheeling sun and moon;
ages go by, and it goes on.

Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire,
and the secret one slowly growing a body.
Kabir saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made him a servant for life.

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


/ Image by Johnny Jet /

Monday’s poem by Ikkyu inspired a few notes from people who really responded positively to it… and lots of cancellations. Every time I send out a poem email, a few people cancel their email subscription; that’s just the normal rhythm. But every once in a while I send out something that triggers a few dozen cancellations, and it always leaves me amused and scratching my head. Did people dislike the poem or my commentary? Were they offended by the poet’s biography? Or maybe it was just the full moon stirring the pot.

I certainly didn’t intend to upset anyone. Well, I do occasionally like to shake things up a bit, but hopefully in a healthy and ultimately uplifting way.

Today’s poem probably won’t cause upset, but it may leave us just a bit dizzy… in a good way, I hope!

This is a rather loose translation, but I like it.

Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire,
and the secret one slowly growing a body.

There is a continuous flowing between the subtle and the manifest, between spirit and matter. Spirit pours through matter, giving it life and awareness. Matter, in turn, gives form to spirit, striving to embody the limitless amidst limitation.

And so the swing goes back and forth, patiently, playfully, sometimes exhilarating, sometimes frightening.

It isn’t a process where we find that perfect spot and then it all stops. “It never winds down.” It is an interplay that continues, and we find our rightful place by seeing the entire dance…

Kabir saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made him a servant for life.


Recommended Books: Kabir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Songs of the Saints of India
More Books >>


Kabir, Kabir poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Kabir

India (15th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi
Yoga / Hindu

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May 04 2015

Ikkyu – A Fisherman

Published by under Poetry

A Fisherman
by Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

English version by John Stevens

Studying texts and stiff meditation can make you lose your Original Mind.
A solitary tune by a fisherman, though, can be an invaluable treasure.
Dusk rain on the river, the moon peeking in and out of the clouds;
Elegant beyond words, he chants his songs night after night.

— from Wild Ways: Zen Poems of Ikkyu, Translated by John Stevens


/ Image by Untitled blue /

I like Ikkyu’s gentle mocking here.

The deeply committed spiritual path can so often become all consuming — scholarship, meditation and other practices — that we either become attached to the path, or engrossed in our own efforts, and in the midst of it all we forget our true goal… what is sometimes called in the Zen tradition, Original Mind.

In true Zen style, Ikkyu cuts through all impediments, even those within his own spiritual tradition, in order to bring us back to the realization that our goal is immediate, right here, and utterly simple. It is not hidden behind arcane texts. It is not attained through uninspired, dogged effort.

When we have readied ourselves, it is simply there. Sometimes all we need is the simplest reminder of fundamental truth — a solitary fisherman singing his timeless chant on the river at night.


Recommended Books: Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Crow With No Mouth: Fifteenth Century Zen Master Ikkyu Wild Ways: Zen Poems of Ikkyu Ikkyu and the Crazy Cloud Anthology: A Zen Poet of Medieval Japan


Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun), Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun) poetry, Buddhist poetry Ikkyu (Ikkyu Sojun)

Japan (1394 – 1481) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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May 01 2015

Fakhruddin Iraqi – Whether they know Thee or not

Published by under Poetry

Whether they know Thee or not
by Fakhruddin Iraqi

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

Whether they know Thee or not
      all creatures of the world
now and forever-without-end
      bend but toward Thee.
All love for someone else
      is but a whiff
of Thy perfume:
      none else can be loved.

— from Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) , Translated by William Chittick / Translated by Nasr Seyyed Hossein


/ Image by vanillapearl /

Why not a second poem by Iraqi this week?

all creatures of the world
now and forever-without-end
bend but toward Thee.

Love those lines. And we forget that this is true. Not just all people, but all beings, consciously or unconsciously constantly turn toward the Eternal. Everything desired, everything loved, every hope, every goal, everything we seek we seek because on some level it reflects back to us an image of the Divine.

All love for someone else
      is but a whiff
of Thy perfume

When something catches our eye or our heart, beneath the love or the lust, when we really look, we find we have witnessed a glimpse the transcendent light. That light, that entrancing luster, is what we seek so passionately.

Understanding this leads to the deeper question: Why seek the countless objects of desire that only reflect the glistening light of the Beloved? Why grasp at glinting shards of a mirror when we can bathe in full sunlight?

In every love, we love the Beloved.

none else can be loved.


Recommended Books: Fakhruddin Iraqi

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition


Fakhruddin Iraqi

Iran/Persia/India/Turkey (? – 1289) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Apr 29 2015

Fakhruddin Iraqi – Everywhere veiled

Published by under Poetry

Everywhere veiled
by Fakhruddin Iraqi

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

Everywhere veiled
      by Your own Face
You are hidden from the world
      in Your very manifestation.
Look where I will
      I see Your Face alone;
in all these idols
      I see only You.
Jealous lest You be recognized
      at every instant
You dress Your Beauty
      in a different cloak.

— from Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) , Translated by William Chittick / Translated by Nasr Seyyed Hossein


/ Image by nasrul ekram /

I think we are all reeling. The terrible earthquake in Nepal, where the death toll keeps mounting in a region of the world that is a beacon of spirituality for so many. And then, here in the US, the turmoil in Baltimore in reaction to continuing patterns of racialized police violence across the country.

Even amidst terrible suffering and devastation, we have the opportunity to glimpse the face of God. Sometimes it is in a helping hand or a healing voice. A kind gaze that doesn’t turn away is often the most powerful thing of all. A heart that breaks, yet remains engaged, that is what the world is always yearning for. To see, to feel, to care– these require courage and the willingness to face pain rather than run from it. But, when we do that, and breathe through it, we discover our deep humanity… and perhaps something of our shared divinity.

A broken heart, a willing hand, and a clear seeing eye, these are the pathways to God.

==

Iraqi suggests to us that all of life, all of reality is a game of divine hide-and-seek.

Reading this poem raises a question– As we walk daily through the world, do we merely look, or do we see? And when we truly see, how can we not occasionally pause in mute wonder and melt?

Look where I will
      I see Your Face alone


Recommended Books: Fakhruddin Iraqi

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality) Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition


Fakhruddin Iraqi

Iran/Persia/India/Turkey (? – 1289) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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