Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Dec 08 2017

Umm Sinan – The Rose

Published by under Poetry

The Rose
by Ummi Sinan

English version by Jennifer Ferraro and Latif Bolat

I dreamt I came to a magnificent city
      whose palace was the rose, rose.
The crown and throne of the great sultan,
      his garden and chambers
            were the rose, rose.

Here they buy and sell but roses
      and the roses are the scales they use,
Weighing roses with more roses,
      the marketplace and bazaar
            are all roses, rose.

The white rose and the red rose
      grew coupled in one garden.
Their faces turn as one toward the thorn.
      Both thorn and blossom
            are the rose, rose.

Soil is the rose and stone is the rose,
      withered is the rose, fresh is the rose.
Within the Lord’s private gardens
      both slender cypress and old maple
            are the rose, rose.

The rose is turning the waterwheel
      and gets ground between the stones.
The wheel turns round as the water flows.
      Its power and its stillness
            are the rose, rose.

From the rose a tent appears
      filled with an offering of everything.
Its gatekeepers are the holy prophets.
      The bread and the wine they pour
            are the rose, rose.

Oh Ummi Sinan, heed the mystery
      of the sorrow of nightingale and rose.
Every cry of the forlorn nightingale
            is for the rose, the rose.

— from Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey, Translated by Jennifer Ferraro / Translated by Latif Bolat


/ Image by Jay Khemani /

Can’t you smell the perfume of roses in the air after reading this poem?

Ummi Sinan gives us a vision where all the world is filled with roses. A world made of roses. Not just roses, but “the rose” — The Rose.

In Sufi mystical language the Rose is often used as an image of God, and the heart — God as the true Heart of Being.

The rose unfolds in a gentle circling that invites one to yield inward. The rose is a symbol of lovers and of union. The rose resonates strongly with the gently awakened heart.

The rose grows from a bush of thorns yet reveals a delicate inner beauty and shares an intimate, sweet wine-like fragrance, symbolic of how the soul emerges from the tribulations of worldly difficulty and, in so doing, recognizes its innate beauty.

When Ummi Sinan recognizes the Rose everywhere, it is the mystic’s recognition that God has taken up residence within the heart (or, rather, that the Divine presence has finally been recognized there) — and it is the further recognition that all of creation is somehow within the awakened heart. Everything encountered is encountered in the heart.

Let’s get a little more specific with some of the sacred imagery here…

Ummi Sinan gives us an image of “the white rose and the red rose” that grow “coupled in one garden.” This is an important pairing of colors that appears in esoteric traditions all over the world, in Sufism, in western alchemy, as a sign of rank in the Catholic Church, painted on Hindu and Buddhist temples — and in our images of Santa Claus. The colors white and red represent the masculine and feminine energies on all levels. White is the male and red is the female. The white represents purity, essence, divine spirit; the red is the power of manifestation and awakening life. So when Ummi Sinan tells us of a white rose and a red rose that are “coupled” in the divine garden, he is giving us an image of the fundamental polarities in natural, eternal balance within the divine garden. Recognizing this harmony on all levels is a prerequisite to entering the rose garden.

In the closing lines, Sinan reminds himself (and us) to “heed the mystery / of the sorrow of the nightingale and rose.” In Sufi poetry, the nightingale is said to sing such an enchanting, mournful song because it is hopelessly in love with the rose. The rose is the Beloved, the Heart of hearts, and the nightingale is its lover, the seeker — the Sufi. “Every cry of the forlorn nightingale / is for the rose, the rose.” Every yearning in the world, every cry of longing and desire in the world is really the crying out of creation for the Beloved. It is the crying out for the intoxication of unity.

The wheel turns round as the water flows.
Its power and its stillness
are the rose, rose.


Recommended Books: Ummi Sinan

Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey Gul: The Rose (Audio CD)


Ummi Sinan

Turkey (16th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Dec 01 2017

Francis of Assisi – Prayer Inspired by the Our Father

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Prayer Inspired by the Our Father
by Francis of Assisi

English version by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP & Ignatius C. Brady, OFM

O OUR most holy FATHER,
Our Creator, Redeemer, Consoler, and Savior

WHO ARE IN HEAVEN:
In the angels and in the saints,
Enlightening them to love, because You, Lord, are light
Inflaming them to love, because You, Lord, are love
Dwelling in them and filling them with happiness,
      because You, Lord, are the Supreme Good,
            the Eternal Good
      from Whom comes all good
      without Whom there is no good.

HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME:
May our knowledge of You become ever clearer
That we may know the breadth of Your blessings
      the length of Your promises
      the height of Your majesty
      the depths of Your judgments

YOUR KINGDOM COME:
So that You may rule in us through Your grace
and enable us to come to Your kingdom
      where there is an unclouded vision of You
            a perfect love of You
            a blessed companionship with You
            an eternal enjoyment of You

YOUR WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN:
That we may love you with our whole heart by always thinking of You
            with our whole soul by always desiring You
            with our whole mind by directing all our
                  intentions to You and by seeking Your
                  glory in everything
            and with our whole strength by spending all our
                  energies and affections
                  of soul and body
                  in the service of Your love
                  and of nothing else
and may we love our neighbors as ourselves
      by drawing them all with our whole strength to Your love
      by rejoicing in the good fortunes of others as well as our own
      and by sympathizing with the misfortunes of others
      and by giving offense to no one

GIVE US THIS DAY:
in memory and understanding and reverence
      of the love which our Lord Jesus Christ had for us
      and of those things which He said and did and suffered for us
OUR DAILY BREAD
Your own Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ

AND FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES:
Through Your ineffable mercy
through the power of the Passion of Your Beloved Son
      together with the merits and intercession of the Blessed Virgin
                  Mary and all Your chosen ones

AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US:
And whatever we do not forgive perfectly,
do you, Lord, enable us to forgive to the full
so that we may truly love our enemies
and fervently intercede for them before You
returning no one evil for evil
and striving to help everyone in You

AND LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION
Hidden or obvious
Sudden or persistent

BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL
Past, present and to come.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

— from Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality, Translated by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP / Translated by Ignatius C. Brady, OFM


/ Image by cogdogblog /

I know many of you will instinctively react against this selection’s tone. It might have too much of a Sunday school savor for your taste.

I personally find this beautiful and fascinating. It is a line-by-line meditation of The Lord’s Prayer, that most central prayer of Christianity. But this isn’t just one more devotional Christian poem; this is by St. Francis of Assisi! This poem gives us a unique window into his inner life of prayer. When this greatly beloved saint said his “Our Father” prayer, this is what each line meant to him. This is what he wanted everyone to understand through reciting that essential prayer of the Christian world.

A figure like Francis transcends Christian tradition. His simplicity, his radical commitment to love, his connection to nature, even his sense of humor have made him one of the most loved spiritual figures throughout the world. So let’s set aside the more overtly Christian references, if they make you uncomfortable. What is he revealing here that perhaps you’ve never found in the lines of The Lord’s Prayer before?

A few observations of my own:

HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME:
May our knowledge of You become ever clearer

To Francis, “hallowing” the name of God is not some pious formula of respect. To him, it is about cultivating deep, intimate knowledge of God. It is personal. It is about clarity and transformation within the individual’s own awareness.

YOUR KINGDOM COME…

YOUR WILL BE DONE…

These days, unfortunately, it is difficult not to read these lines through the clouded filter of hardline Christian literalists, who understand them as a divine mandate for theocracy and might. But notice how Francis reads these lines. He keeps mentioning love. The kingdom he sees is one of love for God, divine vision, nearness to God, and blissful delight:

where there is an unclouded vision of You
            a perfect love of You
            a blessed companionship with You
            an eternal enjoyment of You

And, to Francis, the Divine Will is fulfilled, not through force, but again — through love. This is the mystic’s passionate, burning love that consumes all else:

…by spending all our
                  energies and affections
                  of soul and body
                  in the service of Your love
                  and of nothing else

But, for Francis, this isn’t an exclusive, esoteric sort of love that cuts one off from the rest of the world. In seeing the Divine everywhere, in everyone, our love for God must expand in all directions, find a home in every person and in all things. He recalls to us that oft quoted and sadly underapplied injunction by Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves:

and may we love our neighbors as ourselves
      by drawing them all with our whole strength to Your love
      by rejoicing in the good fortunes of others as well as our own
      and by sympathizing with the misfortunes of others
      and by giving offense to no one

In Francis’s vision, the Kingdom is one of love, community, compassion, service.

We are given a challenge — to participate, but with a humble, open heart.

AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO TRESPASS AGAINST US:
And whatever we do not forgive perfectly,
do you, Lord, enable us to forgive to the full
so that we may truly love our enemies
and fervently intercede for them before You
returning no one evil for evil
and striving to help everyone in You

Forget the centuries worth of theology and dusty debate. Whether you seek comfort and help from the Virgin Mary or Kuan Yin or Durga, whether you seek light and guidance from Christ or the Prophet Muhammad, Shiva or the Boddhisattvas; the Eternal encompasses every name that is called, every rite followed… and is not wounded by another’s choice.

In this Kingdom, the key that grants entrance is not what sectarians think it is. This Kingdom is not for Christians, but for the Christ-like, regardless of religious tradition. The price of citizenship is not adherence to a creed, but possession of a love so all-consuming that no hatred can remain, no tally sheet can be kept, no person and no being is left outside the circle of your heart.


Recommended Books: Francis of Assisi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time
More Books >>


Francis of Assisi, Francis of Assisi poetry, Christian poetry Francis of Assisi

Italy (1181 – 1226) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Nov 22 2017

Thomas Merton – A Practical Program for Monks

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A Practical Program for Monks
by Thomas Merton

1
Each one shall sit at table with his own cup and spoon, and with his own repentance. Each one’s own business shall be his most important affair, and provide his own remedies.
They have neglected bowl and plate.
Have you a wooden fork?
Yes, each monk has a wooden fork as well as a potato.

2
Each one shall wipe away tears with his own saint, when three bells hold in store a hot afternoon. Each one is supposed to mind his own heart, with its conscience, night and morning.
Another turn on the wheel: ho hum! And observe the Abbot!
Time to go to bed in a straw blanket.

3
Plenty of bread for everyone between prayers and the psalter: will you recite another?
Merci, and Miserere.
Always mind both the clock and the Abbot until eternity.
Miserere.

4
Details of the Rule are all liquid and solid. What canon was the first to announce regimentation before us? Mind the step on the way down!
Yes, I dare say you are right, Father. I believe you; I believe you.
I believe it is easier when they have ice water and even a lemon.
Each one can sit at table with his own lemon, and mind his own conscience.

5
Can we agree that the part about the lemon is regular?
In any case, it is better to have sheep than peacocks, and cows rather than a chained leopard says Modest, in one of his proverbs.
The monastery, being owner of a communal rowboat, is the antechamber of heaven.
Surely that ought to be enough.

6
Each one can have some rain after Vespers on a hot afternoon, but ne quid nimis, or the purpose of the Order will be forgotten.
We shall send you hyacinths and a sweet millennium.
Everything the monastery provides is very pleasant to see and to sell for nothing.
What is baked smells fine. There is a sign of God on every leaf that nobody sees in the garden. The fruit trees are there on purpose, even when no one is looking. Just put the apples in the basket.
In Kentucky there is also room for a little cheese.
Each one shall fold his own napkin, and neglect the others.

7
Rain is always very silent in the night, under such gentle cathedrals.
Yes, I have taken care of the lamp, Miserere.
Have you a patron saint, and an angel?
Thank you. Even though the nights are never dangerous, I have one of everything.

— from Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton


/ Image by KittyKaht /

I really love this stream of consciousness poem. Merton takes all of the little routines and hierarchies and internal dialog of Catholic monastic life, and pokes fun at them while, at the same time, he elevates them to the level of sacred ritual. There is something profoundly honest about this poem… a playful, unadorned bluntness that is both frank and humble.

Each one can sit at table with his own lemon, and mind his own conscience.

=

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, may it be a time of good food, a good time with family and friends, and renewed recognition of all the good things in life.


Recommended Books: Thomas Merton

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton A Thomas Merton Reader The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton Thomas Merton Monk & Poet: A Critical Study


Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Nov 17 2017

D. H. Lawrence – Pax

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Pax
by D. H. Lawrence

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of the master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.

— from The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence, by D. H. Lawrence


/ Image by Dee.Dee.M /

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

I had a couple of very good friends in childhood, but in many ways my closest companion was a calico cat named, Kitty Kumbah (a singsong name made up by a four-year-old me). She saw me through my parents’ divorce, through a disorienting move from Oregon to Southern California, and along the bumpy road into adolescence. She sat patiently listening to my talking and tantrums. She slept on my bed each night and, one year, gave birth to a litter of kittens on my belly while I was asleep. When I was 16, Kitty Kumbah died in my arms, having carried me safely through my childhood.

feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart

What I remember most was how she taught me meditation, stillness, poise, contentment, and the importance of a well-chosen seat. She taught me pax… peace. That cat was my first spiritual teacher.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace


Recommended Books: D. H. Lawrence

The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence Birds, Beasts and Flowers: Poems The Selected Poems of D. H. Lawrence Acts of Attention: The Poems of D. H. Lawrence Self & Sequence: The Poetry of D. H. Lawrence
More Books >>


D. H. Lawrence, D. H. Lawrence poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry D. H. Lawrence

England (1885 – 1930) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by D. H. Lawrence

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Nov 15 2017

Akka Mahadevi – People, male and female

Published by under Poetry

People, male and female,
by Akka Mahadevi

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

People,
male and female,
blush when a cloth covering their shame
comes loose
                  When the lord of lives
lives drowned without a face
in the world, how can you be modest?

When all the world is the eye of the lord,
onlooking everywhere, what can you
cover and conceal?

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan


/ Image by Annabelle Shemer /

Mahadevi gives us a moment of discomfort.

People,
male and female,
blush when a cloth covering their shame
comes loose

It reminds me of that embarrassing dream we have all had, showing up to school or work only to realize that we are naked.

Mahadevi, like many ascetics in India over the centuries, adopted the life of the “sky-clad” — that is, she lived as a holy woman who refused to wear clothes, even in public. This is shocking and challenging to us on so many levels.

We can list many things that trigger our fear of public nudity: discomfort with one’s body, sexual privacy (or shame), the need to conform to social norms.

But we are not just talking about physical nudity here. We are dealing with a more fundamental spiritual dynamic: the reflex to hide one’s true nature. Most of us carry a basic fear of the self. It’s immensity and beauty overwhelm us. It threatens the ego, which we have come to identify with.

As we clothe the body, we cover our true selves with the ego.

Not only do we present this adorned ego-self to the social world, we do it in our own minds, as well. We try to fool ourselves as to who we are. This is where the real spiritual problem occurs.

As an aside, this is the same metaphor of nakedness used in the biblical account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When that primal couple cover themselves with fig leaves, the issue isn’t physical nudity or sexual shame. It is that they seek to hide. They present a false, covered self, and thus are divided within themselves. Most foolishly, they imagine they can hide their true selves from the all-seeing Divine Gaze, and so they have slipped into a fantasy reality that is no longer filled with life and consciousness. They have “fallen” into materiality and duality. No longer at one with God, they must leave the harmony of the garden. It is not that they are banished; they have banished themselves to a reality of separation.

There may well be reasons in social relationships to present a public face while keeping aspects of ourselves private. We may do this to protect vulnerabilities and to make sure we honor that which is sacred within us, so long as we recognize what we are doing and why. But when we try to hide from ourselves, we have created a split that is devastating to the soul. That is when we become separated from who we truly are. The result is that our inherent wholeness and bliss are lost.

This is why some ascetics like Mahadevi have chosen to go about naked. On the one hand, her nakedness symbolizes transcendence of sexuality and society, but on a deeper level, it represents that she has returned to to the naked Self. It symbolizes that she no longer hides from the Divine Gaze.

When all the world is the eye of the lord,
onlooking everywhere, what can you
cover and conceal?

The question for the sincere seeker is not how to better clothe oneself, it is how to get more naked. Humbly, honestly, without pretense, we ask: Who am I? Who am I, nakedly? And: Why hide? Hide from whom?

The Indian concept of darshan is about seeing, to see an image of one’s god, to have a vision. But darshan works both ways. To see is to be seen. The secret is that the reverse is equally true: One must be seen to see. One must be naked to dwell in the garden in the company of the Eternal One.

how can you be modest?


Recommended Books: Akka Mahadevi

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Speaking of Siva The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry Women Writing in India: 600 BC to the Present: Volume 1 Sacred Voices: Essential Women’s Voices Through the Ages


Akka Mahadevi, Akka Mahadevi poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Akka Mahadevi

India (12th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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Nov 10 2017

Stephen Levine – Trust Your Vision

Published by under Poetry

Trust Your Vision
by Stephen Levine

Trust your vision
      make it whole
      hold it like the Navajo
      his solemn desert oracle
      in quest of shaman passage
      gaining his healing chant
      guiding him through life.

Hold the vision
      constantly rising
it is the way nature works
      through you
it is the only self
      an everchanging underdream
a vision (if you see it)
      up to you
to make real.

Act on your vision
      and pray that you are blessed.

— from Breaking the Drought: Visions of Grace, by Stephen Levine


/ Image by AlicePopkorn /

Trust your vision

So often we pour ourselves intensely into life’s purposes without actually pausing to consider why we are doing what we are doing. What is our real goal? How is it a reflection of who we truly are? How does it express our specific qualities and role within the larger panorama? What does it imply about the fundamental nature of reality?

Rarely in the modern world are we encouraged to discover our vision and to dedicate ourselves to it. To the prevailing mindset, one’s vision is thought to be intangible, suggesting something that a fantasy whose pursuit is narcissistic or even delusional. The focus of life must be practical with goals that are approved and easily measured.

That approach, while seemingly reasonable and safe, is devastating to both the individual and to society as a whole. While we certainly must live effectively within the physical and social worlds that require a certain level of practical purpose, we are not such stunted creatures that exist only on that level. We are magical beings, here to embody immensity and love and the will of the universe as it expresses itself uniquely through each of us.

Hold the vision
      constantly rising…

Vision is the way we discover our personal path through the world. Vision is the way we come to know ourselves, allowing us to be as we are, showing us how to act with strength and creativity in the service our true goals.

…it is the way nature works
      through you

I love the insight of this line. A vision is not the same as some fantasy or daydream. A true vision is the voice of nature, the intention of the universe, uniquely tuned to our soul.

The word “vision” can trip us up because we think of seeing things that are external to our physical bodies, so we often consider a vision to be external to us. But vision in the spiritual sense is the conscious mind’s way to assign meaning to the deep recognition of self as a harmonious expression of the self-aware universe.

In other words, vision is not so much about seeing as it is about being.

it is the only self
      an everchanging underdream

A vision is a challenge to ourselves to be more fully ourselves. Vision is vocation, the calling of the soul to its true role.

a vision (if you see it)
      up to you
to make real.

The first question is, how strongly do we want to see? And then we must answer the second question, do we dare live the truth seen? Then again, what’s the point to any other path but our own?

Act on your vision
      and pray that you are blessed.

Have a beautiful day!

(And thank you, everyone, for your patience with my irregular poetry schedule recently.


Recommended Books: Stephen Levine

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Breaking the Drought: Visions of Grace A Year to Live: How to Live This Year as If It Were Your Last Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying Healing into Life and Death
More Books >>


Stephen Levine, Stephen Levine poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Stephen Levine

US (1937 – 2016) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Nov 08 2017

Rainer Maria Rilke – I live my life in widening circles

Published by under Poetry

I live my life in widening circles
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world.
I may not ever complete the last one,
but I give myself to it.

I circle around God, that primordial tower.
I have been circling for thousands of years,
and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?


/ Image by GPS /

I’m back. Not that I went away. I have been busy with my day job and still trying to resolve technical issues with the large poetry mailings. But, amidst all of that, I am pleased to be able to say that I have also been making good progress on the next Poetry Chaikhana anthology. I hope to have something more definite to announce about that soon.

Now, let’s return to the poetry…

I live my life in widening circles
that reach out across the world…

I circle around God, that primordial tower.

These images of circles and circling, revolving around a great center he names God, it makes me think of the cathedral labyrinths of Europe. Or the ancient spiral glyphs carved into rocks and cave faces. I see the circling pathway around some secret center. The road can be bewildering, twisting and turning, keeping us disoriented and uncertain of how near we are, but ever moving inward.

And that courageous line–

I may not ever complete the last one,
but I give myself to it.

We walk the winding path, not out of certainty, but because it is the only path worth walking. Walking that road, quietly, with attention, one foot in front of the other, becomes meditation. It becomes worship. Each ring, whether near or far, is a layer of our lives that is blessed by our passing through it.

Walking the circling path is not only the way to the center, it is actually part of the center. We learn to participate in the center by first walking the path. Obsession with the destination becomes an impediment to reaching it. Instead, by patiently inhabiting each step, we discover the center in ourselves… and our feet naturally end up there, as well.

We walk with our whole selves–

and I still don’t know: am I a falcon,
a storm, or a great song?

On this roundabout road to God, we question our own nature. We encounter the mystery of self. Who and what are we really? Ultimately, it is in that questioning of a self that eludes definition where we find the still center.


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
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Oct 25 2017

Poem Emails – Technical Problems

The Poetry Chaikhana poem emails are temporarily on hold. The bulk emailing service I have been using to send these emails out has discovered a potential vulnerability that can allow someone to send false emails out through their service. My understanding is that your data is fine, just that spammers may have used their system to send emails out. The tech folks have shut down their email server for the moment, and they will be switching over to a new, more reliable bulk email service as soon as possible.

I hope to resume the Poetry Chaikhana emails within a few days. Apologies about that.

Ivan

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Oct 23 2017

Yunus Emre – A single word can brighten the face

Published by under Poetry

A single word can brighten the face
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

A single word can brighten the face
of one who knows the value of words.
Ripened in silence, a single word
acquires a great energy for work.

War is cut short by a word,
and a word heals the wounds,
and there’s a word that changes
poison into butter and honey.

Let a word mature inside yourself.
Withhold the unripened thought.
Come and understand the kind of word
that reduces money and riches to dust.

Know when to speak a word
and when not to speak at all.
A single word turns the universe of hell
into eight paradises.

Follow the Way. Don’t be fooled
by what you already know. Be watchful.
Reflect before you speak.
A foolish mouth can brand your soul.

Yunus, say one last thing
about the power of words —
Only the word “I”
divides me from God.

— from The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre, Translated by Kabir Helminski / Translated by Refik Algan


/ Image by Graham Keen /

Here we are with a rare Monday poem email…

A single word can brighten the face
of one who knows the value of words.

This is one of my favorite poems by Yunus Emre, but I have never really written up a good commentary to accompany it. Perhaps it is because it is a poem about words, the singular power of words, or the power of a singular word — and I don’t want my meditative ramblings to take away from the poem itself. It says it all so beautifully.

Ripened in silence, a single word
acquires a great energy for work.

I love that line. I have been busy with my day job of late, and I haven’t been resting in deep meditation as much as I would like. The outer world has required a lot of energy from me lately. Yet I have still managed to catch moments of silence gently flowing beneath the activity. That’s where the ripening happens.

War is cut short by a word,
and a word heals the wounds,
and there’s a word that changes
poison into butter and honey.

I think this verse is the heart of the poem for me. I read it over and over again.

I think will say no more today, and let Yunus have the final word–

Yunus, say one last thing
about the power of words —
Only the word “I”
divides me from God.


Recommended Books: Yunus Emre

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems The Drop That Became the Sea: Lyric Poems of Yunus Emre Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey
More Books >>


Yunus Emre, Yunus Emre poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Yunus Emre

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Oct 23 2017

Popular Poets

I don’t point it out in the poem emails often, but on the Poetry Chaikhana website home page, I post a list of the most popular poets. This is essentially a list of the ten most visited pages organized by poet. The results may surprise you. Here is this week’s most popular poets:

Yunus Emre
Kabir
Dickinson
Attar
Rumi
O’Donohue
Mary Oliver
Szymborska
Bulleh Shah
Jacopone da Todi

Jacopone da Todi showed up on the list because I featured one of his poems last week.

Featured poets usually get a bump in attention. Other poets that regularly show up on this list include Kobayashi Issa, Basava, Hafiz/Ladinsky, Dogen, Ikkyu, Lalla, Abu-Said Abil-Kheir, among others.

I love to see who is gaining attention out there in the world. Yunus Emre, for example, is still not widely known in the west, but he is clearly beloved in Turkey and by many followers of Sufi traditions around the world. My hope is that, over time, appreciation of his wisdom and humor and humble spiritual genius will expand, as it has done with widely known figures like Rumi and Kabir. And the Poetry Chaikhana plays a part in that.

I am also fascinated by how this list changes week-to-week and also over the years. There was a period a few years back when the great Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah was the most visited page on the Poetry Chaikhana website week after week for months on end. But, like Yunus Emre, he is not well known in the West. Yet clearly there is a great love of his poetry and hunger for information on him out there.

Others that popped up regularly in this list only rarely do so now, like Han Shan (Cold Mountain), Basho, and Walt Whitman. What does that mean? I know the Poetry Chaikhana web statistics aren’t the best reflection of global interests, but does it suggest anything about the rising and falling popularity of specific poets? Or perhaps a general shift in attention as political and planetary crises vie for our focus? Are we just exploring different poetic and spiritual energies?

What do you think?

One response so far

Oct 18 2017

Jacopone da Todi – Love beyond all telling

Published by under Poetry

Love beyond all telling (from Self-Annihilation and Charity Lead the Soul…)
by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

Love beyond all telling,
Goodness beyond imagining,
Light of infinite intensity
Glows in my heart.

I once thought that reason
Had led me to You,
And that through feeling
I sensed Your presence,
Caught a glimpse of You in similitudes,
Knew You in Your perfection.
I know now that I was wrong,
That that truth was flawed.

Light beyond metaphor,
Why did You deign to come into this darkness?
Your light does not illumine those who think they see You
And believe they sound Your depths.
Night, I know now, is day,
Virtue no more to be found.
He who witnesses Your splendor
Can never describe it.

On achieving their desired end
Human powers cease to function,
And the soul sees that what it thought was right
Was wrong. A new exchange occurs
At that point where all light disappears;
A new and unsought state is needed:
The soul has what it did not love,
And is stripped of all it possessed, no matter how dear.

In God the spiritual faculties
Come to their desired end,
Lose all sense of self and self-consciousness,
And are swept into infinity.
The soul, made new again,
Marveling to find itself
In that immensity, drowns.
How this comes about it does not know.

— from Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality), Translated by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes


/ Image by Sacha Fernandez /

Love beyond all telling,
Goodness beyond imagining,
Light of infinite intensity
Glows in my heart.

Too often statements like this can sound like a formula of religious piety, but it is more than that. These are the direct experiences of the mystic. The heart grows warm and blossoms, opening until it seems to encompass all of creation. This is not just an idea or some philosophical notion — it is felt tangibly in the body as well as the soul. Love floods in, and a sense of utter harmony, rightness, the “goodness” of being. Often one witnesses a dazzling golden-white light like a radiant ocean that flows through everything, showing the multiplicity of creation to secretly be a shining unity.

It is this that Jacopone da Todi is writing of.

I once thought that reason
Had led me to You,
And that through feeling
I sensed your presence…

I know now that I was wrong,
That that truth was flawed.

These verses are a call to the religious minded to not be content with thinking one has found the truth on assertions of belief alone. (“Your light does not illumine those who think they see You / And believe they sound Your depths.”) Or even to imagine that it is felt through elevated or refined emotions. He is proclaiming that the real truth is somehow more direct and surprising than that. All mental conceptualization is limited by the intellect and imagination, yet the reality we seek is beyond the thinking mind’s ability to conceive of…

Light beyond metaphor…

He who witnesses Your splendor
Can never describe it.

Here, words fail. The mind can only become a mute witness.

The very notion of self melts amidst that immensity…

In God the spiritual faculties
Come to their desired end,
Lose all sense of self and self-consciousness,
And are swept into infinity.
The soul, made new again,
Marveling to find itself
In that immensity, drowns.
How this comes about it does not know.


Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality) All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time


Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti), Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti) poetry, Christian poetry Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Oct 13 2017

Lu Tung Pin – What is Tao?

Published by under Poetry

What is Tao?
by Lu Tung Pin

English version by T. C. Lai

What is Tao?
It is just this.
It cannot be rendered into speech.
If you insist on an explanation,
This means exactly this.


/ Image by legends2k /

What is Tao?
It is just this.

I remember the first time I tried to navigate through the Tao Te Ching as a teenager. There was undeniably something beautiful and poetic about it, but it was so infuriatingly vague! What is “the Tao”? Calling it the Way doesn’t help. Are we talking about God? Something else? Other Taoist writings were the same, taunting me with endless non-definitions. (I wanted clear goals I could aggressively pursue!)

It took me years to begin to appreciate this approach…

It cannot be rendered into speech.

There’s a real dilemma at the heart of religion and spiritual endeavor. The Eternal, the Whole cannot be adequately held by such small containers as words. Yet we humans are instinctively communicators and word-makers. What are the sages and saints to do with what they witness? How do they render the Eternal comprehensible to others and inspire new seekers? Describe the profound love and bliss and unity, and we naturally name it Mother. Convey the immensity and power, we name it Father. Or we say Beloved. Or Friend.

All of these are valid ways to begin to form a notion of the Eternal. Through these words we as individuals can form a relationship to this vast Reality. And through this relationship we can be drawn into deeper awareness, into deeper opening, and into our own direct encounter… at which point we realize how inadequate all words are.

The problem arises when the mystics are no longer heard or are relegated to history, when too few people have their own direct wordless encounter. Then we end up with entire religions stuck at the level of words. No matter how sacred and truth-filled those words may be, words are always incomplete. Words alone are soon taken literally, and then true knowledge is lost. Not knowing what is real, religion becomes embalmed, self-protective, sectarian, and sometimes violent.

The wounds of religion are healed through compassion and through direct perception. Instead of forcing meaning, we settle into ourselves and come to see things as they are.

If you insist on an explanation,
This means exactly this.

Have a beautiful, vaguely defined day!


Recommended Books: Lu Tung Pin

The Secret of the Golden Flower: The Classic Chinese Book of Life The Eight Immortals of Taoism: Legends and Fables of Popular Taoism Tales of the Taoist Immortals Tao of Health, Longevity, and Immortality: The Teachings of Immortals Chung and Lu


Lu Tung Pin, Lu Tung Pin poetry, Taoist poetry Lu Tung Pin

China (755 – 805) Timeline
Taoist

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Oct 11 2017

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – The sum total of our life is a breath

Published by under Poetry

The sum total of our life is a breath
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

The sum total of our life is a breath
spent in the company of the Beloved.

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


/ Image by Cochalita /

I find it fascinating that “breath” and “life” and “spirit” are synonyms in many languages and cultures. When you read sacred writings and the word “spirit” is used, substitute the word “breath” and see how the meaning changes and expands.

This connection between breath – life – spirit is much deeper than the simple observation that the living breathe and the dead do not.

We tend to think in terms of borders and boundaries, constantly noting what separates ourselves, mentally and physically, from everything else. But the reality is that there is a constant flow of awareness across those borders. Every one of us has the unseen movement of the breath. Through the breath, what is outside becomes inside; what is non-self becomes self. And what was self is released again out into the world. This is communion, nothing less.

That inbreath of yours is the outbreath of another. The air we breathe is the breath of all.

A deep breath opens the chest and expands the heart. A full breath requires us to feel. We feel ourselves, and we feel others. Feeling, too, is communion. When feeling is shut down, the breath is shut down, and life has become limited.

The current of the breath continuously teaches us that the boundaries of self exist only in the mental map. In reality, we flow out into the universe, and the universe flows back in. The only way to secure our borders is to stop breathing, which is, of course, death. Life requires breath, and we live in each other, in the same breath.

When we really breathe, with a sense of the fulness of life, we might just come to the same conclusion that Sheikh Abu-Said Abil-Kheir came to: An individual’s lifetime may be brief or long, the experiences of life may be tangible or fleeting, but this communal breath – life – spirit in which we participate, is the very breath of the Beloved.


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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Oct 06 2017

Pablo Neruda – Keeping Quiet (and thoughts on the Las Vegas shooting)

Keeping Quiet
by Pablo Neruda

English version by Alastair Reid

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

For once on the face of the earth
let’s not speak in any language,
let’s stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.

It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines,
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.

Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victory with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

— from Extravagaria: A Bilingual Edition, Translated by Alastair Reid


/ Image by Maks Karochkin /

I live in Colorado, a state with lots of guns. Most of those guns are used in hunting and kept locked away and out of sight. But I have had the distinctly frightening experience of seeing someone walk into a local grocery store with a handgun strapped to his hip. This was not a police officer, not someone in uniform, but a “gun activist” asserting his “right” to walk around in public spaces with a weapon. When we later contacted the store manager to insist that they publicly declare themselves to be a weapons-free safe zone (as other stores have done in the state), the manager responded that the man was not breaking the law by openly carrying a gun into the store.

Another time, I found myself in the surreal position of holding a friend’s (unloaded) M-16 rifle while being told how simple it would be to convert it from semi-automatic to fully automatic, all while surrounded by several other rifles, handguns, and knives.

I don’t know what to make of this aspect of American culture. There is this sense that manhood is marked by the hard embrace of violence and death. And when that manhood is thwarted in its other social expressions, it then acts out through that violence and death. In that person’s dark moment, Lord help the society that makes these weapons of instant death and mass murder easily available.

Obviously, I have been meditating on this latest mass shooting in the United States, along with the fact that we seem to be getting used to this pattern in recent years. There is a certain comfortable insanity that is taking the place of problem solving in this country.

We accept shooting after shooting, rather than face difficult questions of gun control, underfunded mental health care, widespread economic desperation, re-emerging racism, and an increasingly dangerous cultural divide. Not all of those issues necessarily apply to the recent Las Vegas shooting, but they all add to the pressure cooker that keeps producing these terrible events.

We don’t need to “put our differences aside and come together as a nation.” Those differences are there. We need to be honest about it. We need to be honest with ourselves. We need to look at the full picture, look at it honestly. And then we need to engage in real conversation, uncomfortable conversation. Only then can we begin to formulate practical measures of responsibility and prevention, rather than after-the-fact prayer.

That’s what we need.

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.

…nine…ten…eleven…


Recommended Books: Pablo Neruda

The Book of Questions Neruda: Selected Poems On the Blue Shore of Silence: Poems of the Sea Pablo Neruda: Selected Poems Extravagaria: A Bilingual Edition
More Books >>


Pablo Neruda, Pablo Neruda poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Pablo Neruda

Chile (1904 – 1973) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Sep 29 2017

Fakhruddin Iraqi – Love plays its lute behind the screen

Published by under Poetry

Love plays its lute behind the screen
by Fakhruddin Iraqi

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

Love plays its lute behind the screen —
where is a lover to listen to its tune?

With every breath a new song,
each split second a new string plucked.

The world has spilled Love’s secret —
when could music ever hold its tongue?

Every atom babbles the mystery —
Listen yourself, for I’m no tattletale!

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


/ Image by DakKap /

I like the way this poem starts out by teasing us with a riddle that can be read in two different ways–

Love plays its lute behind the screen —
where is a lover to listen to its tune?

On the one hand, Iraqi is chiding the world for not producing enough lovers of God. Love is eternally calling to us with its soft music “behind the screen” of reality, but few are actually listening; lovers can’t be found.

On a deeper level, it is understood that the true lover has no substance, because he or she is utterly merged into the Beloved, God. So, even where there are lovers, there are no lovers found.

The world has spilled Love’s secret —

Whoever thinks divine love is just a philosophical notion, isn’t really listening.

All of reality is filled with an inner music…

Every atom babbles the mystery —

…and that music is a song of love.

Listen yourself, for I’m no tattletale!


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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Sep 22 2017

Wu Men Hui-k’ai – Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn

Published by under Poetry

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn
by Wu Men Hui-k’ai

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

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


/ Image by Alice Popkorn /

The flowers say it, the moon, the breeze, the snow. Each time we pause to notice the living world around us it blesses us and says, May your mind be unclouded, and may every season be the best season of your life!

A good meditation for us as we rest upon the cusp of autumn.

Wishing you all a blessed time of transitions– autumn equinox, Rosh Hashanah, and Navaratri.


Recommended Books: Wu Men Hui-k’ai

The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Gateless Gate: The Wu-men Kuan The Gateless Barrier: Zen Comments on the Mumonkan The World: A Gateway: Commentaries on the Mumonkan


Wu Men Hui-k’ai

China (1183 – 1260) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Sep 20 2017

Denise Levertov – Witness

Published by under Poetry

Witness
by Denise Levertov

Sometimes the mountain
is hidden from me in veils
of cloud, sometimes
I am hidden from the mountain
in veils of inattention, apathy, fatigue,
when I forget or refuse to go
down to the shore or a few yards
up the road, on a clear day,
to reconfirm
that witnessing presence.

— from Denise Levertov: Selected Poems, by Denise Levertov


/ Image by notnyt /

The miraculous, the eternal, the mountain. Sometimes (briefly) it hides from us. Sometimes (often) we simply don’t look.

It begs the question: that terrible empty ache at the rootstalk of the heart, is it because there is a great gaping hole in the world? Or is it that we have not yet decided to look?

Some fine clear day soon, let us walk up the road, leaving the rest of the day behind. Let us find a good spot, and there sit down. With nothing else to do, let us see the mountain.

=

To all my friends in Mexico recovering from the earthquake, and to my friends in the Caribbean and Gulf states hunkering down against one more hurricane — my thoughts are with you. Be safe.


Recommended Books: Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov: Selected Poems Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967 Breathing the Water The Great Unknowing: Last Poems Candles in Babylon
More Books >>


Denise Levertov, Denise Levertov poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Denise Levertov

US (1923 – 1997) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat
Jewish

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