Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

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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Apr 17 2015

Pablo Neruda – Too Many Names

Published by under Poetry

Too Many Names
by Pablo Neruda

English version by Anthony Kerrigan

Mondays are meshed with Tuesdays
and the week with the whole year.
Time cannot be cut
with your weary scissors,
and all the names of the day
are washed out by the waters of night.

No one can claim the name of Pedro,
nobody is Rosa or Maria,
all of us are dust or sand,
all of us are rain under rain.
They have spoken to me of Venezuelas,
of Chiles and of Paraguays;
I have no idea what they are saying.
I know only the skin of the earth
and I know it is without a name.

When I lived amongst the roots
they pleased me more than flowers did,
and when I spoke to a stone
it rang like a bell.

It is so long, the spring
which goes on all winter.
Time lost its shoes.
A year is four centuries.

When I sleep every night,
what am I called or not called?
And when I wake, who am I
if I was not while I slept?

This means to say that scarcely
have we landed into life
than we come as if new-born;
let us not fill our mouths
with so many faltering names,
with so many sad formalities,
with so many pompous letters,
with so much of yours and mine,
with so much of signing of papers.

I have a mind to confuse things,
unite them, bring them to birth,
mix them up, undress them,
until the light of the world
has the oneness of the ocean,
a generous, vast wholeness,
a crepitant fragrance.

— from Neruda: Selected Poems, by Pablo Neruda / Translated by Anthony Kerrigan


/ Image by FastWhale /

I love this poem by Neruda. The tone of the poem stands out to me, first of all. It hints at spiritual exhaustion and world-weariness, and that is an important part of the spiritual journey.

I am Pedro, you are Rosa. This is my nation, that is yours. This is mine, that is yours.

He is tired of the endless naming and categorization that people engage in, comparing it in one line to the “signing of papers.” It is as if all of these definitions amount to a tyrannical bureaucracy of the spirit.

And he is right.

Being the crazy poet that he is, Neruda has discovered something that we are normally too busy to recognize as we endlessly categorize and define. It is a fundamental truth: None of these things are actually separate.

Sure, I can say that today, when I am writing this, is Friday, and yesterday was Thursday. But where are the days actually divided? We may say that Thursday vanished at the stroke of midnight, and Friday magically appeared. Or we might say at sunset. But those are just moments in the mind. Regardless of who is watching and marking such moments, the days just flow, one into the other, in an unbroken continuity.

Time cannot be cut
with your weary scissors,
and all the names of the day
are washed out by the waters of night.

We can pretend for convenience that one day is separate from another, but no mind and no culture can actually sever them. When we forget that, we fall into a deluded sense of reality.

The same for nations. We talk “of Venezuelas, of Chiles and of Paraguays.” We talk of this nation and that, this nation against that nation. And we forget that they are just fantasies, just ideas. They may serve a social and organizational purpose, but they aren’t actually real.

I know only the skin of the earth
and I know it is without a name.

Those borders that look so definite on our school maps, are just made up lines agreed to by people playing games of power, people most of us have never met.

These divisions are all entirely within our heads, not true expressions of reality. Neruda makes this clear by reminding us that they are meaningless at nighttime when we sleep, for that is the only time most people cease dividing up reality. If these separations and divisions had any actuality, they would continue to exist whether or not we sustained them through mental effort. But, no, fall asleep and all that effortful separation falls away.

We imagine that the constant act of definition-separation-categorization is the same thing as clear seeing. In reality, it hinders us from seeing.

When we learn to stop reflexively naming everything we see, then we actually see it for the first time. When I go for a walk and see a cottonwood at the edge of a creek, the most common reflex is to say to myself, “That’s a tree,” or “That’s a cottonwood,” or perhaps, “That’s pretty,” — and then I ignore it, thinking I have seen it.

When I lived amongst the roots
they pleased me more than flowers did,
and when I spoke to a stone
it rang like a bell.

But, if I stop and truly look, and avoid the impulse to immediately label what it is I see as a tree, that is when I recognize the immensity of the encounter. I see a majestic being rising from the creekside, growing from its environment, embodying the land that surrounds it, giving the place presence, while patiently watching me to see if I return its gaze. I no longer see my idea of a tree, I actually see the tree. And I see how everything flows into that tree. And when I look honestly, I see how I too am part of the tree, that we are part of each other.

Those endless “names” we give people and things are a way see without seeing. Increasingly we inhabit a world in our own minds and become strangers to the fluid, undefined living reality all around us.

I have a mind to confuse things,
unite them, bring them to birth,
mix them up, undress them,
until the light of the world
has the oneness of the ocean,
a generous, vast wholeness,
a crepitant fragrance.

When what really exists is “a generous, vast wholeness” that only waits for us to rejoin its fluid oneness.

Have a beautiful day… and make it even more beautiful by mixing it up!


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

More poetry by Pablo Neruda

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Apr 15 2015

e. e. cummings – love is a place

Published by under Poetry

love is a place
by e. e. cummings

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds

— from E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962, by e. e. cummings


/ Image by *_Abhi_* /

A little love and yes for us all today, from the quirky master of word dance e. e. cummings.

Even high school students forced against their will to read poetry for class are instantly drawn into his surreal phrase constructions, which often manage to say so much more than the most elegantly crafted lines of other poets.

I know you’re smiling after having read this short poem. Try reading it again, this time more slowly, letting the meaning peek out from behind the words.

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

Love is a realm, and all places exist in love. They don’t just exist in love, they move through love, they are animated and given life by this all-encompassing love. It’s not only that everything is found there and moves there, but everything moves “with brightness of peace,” as if all things are ennobled and move with a remembered inner clarity and sense of self.

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skillfully curled)
all worlds

“Yes is a world,” and in that world all worlds live. Yes is life-giving. Yes is the foundation of all worlds. Perhaps he is saying that yes is the great fiat. Anything that is or is becoming, was born of some essential affirmation.

That phrase about how all worlds live “skillfully curled” in yes — one of my favorites!

Notice too the interesting line breaks in this poem, especially the two pairings of “love move” and “yes live”. Unconsciously we read them as complete statements, suggesting to us that love is somehow about movement and that yes and life are one. Think about that for a bit…

Sending love and yes to you all!


Recommended Books: e. e. cummings

E.E. Cummings: Complete Poems 1904-1962 73 Poems 1 x 1 [One Times One] 50 Poems 95 Poems
More Books >>


e. e. cummings, e. e. cummings poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry e. e. cummings

US (1894 – 1962) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by e. e. cummings

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Apr 08 2015

J. R. R. Tolkien – All That is Gold Does Not Glitter

Published by under Poetry

All That is Gold Does Not Glitter (Gandalf’s Song of Aragorn)
by J. R. R. Tolkien

All that is gold does not glitter,
      Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
      Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
      A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
      The crownless again shall be king.

— from The Lord of the Rings: One Vol. Edition, by J.R.R. Tolkien


/ Image by alancleaver_2000 /

This short verse from The Lord of the Rings is pronounced by the wizard Gandalf about the ominous figure called Strider, later known as Aragorn. Where all the world sees a rough, wild forest bandit, Gandalf knows the truth about the inner man, that he is, in fact, the last in a line of ancient kings. Aragorn is the rightful king of the realm.

Not all those who wander are lost

I’ve seen this line quoted on bumper stickers (though I have yet to see it on high status car, like a Mercedes Benz!). Don’t you feel something in yourself responding to this line? Maybe it gives us all, with our sometimes meandering lives, a sense of redemption and an awareness of hidden purpose.

At the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, Aragorn is a ranger, an armed man who travels alone through forests and wild places. The village folk, not knowing who he really is, assume he is untrustworthy, a meandering ruffian with no good purpose — he is a wanderer.

While it is true that he will eventually become king, he is not yet ready to assume the role at the beginning of the story. He does not yet know or perhaps even trust his own character. So he has spent his early years in the wilds, a solitary warrior facing shadowy foes. But it is precisely because of his years of wandering that he is ready to be king when the time comes. His wandering is what has tested his will, strengthened his spirit, broadened his knowledge, and taught him how to find pathways in unknown lands.

Early in life we fix on a goal, dream a dream, hear a calling, but the path to achievement is never without turns and switchbacks. If, day after day, we walk the same straight path, then it is certain we are lost. The direct road is rarely the right one. Here’s a lesson even the wise find troublesome: To reach the goal, we must be willing to lose sight of it in the world, while ever holding it close to the heart. Every hero with a great destiny understands this on some instinctive level. And every good storyteller knows why: The purpose of the journey is never simply to reach the destination; the journey exists to test and strengthen the hero. Without disorientation and hardship along the way, the hero will not be ready to take up the mantle of success when the time comes. The journey makes the hero, not the destination.

A good reminder for all of us as we courageously step out into the day…

===

I thought this poem by J. R. R. Tolkien might offer me a good opportunity to remind everyone that I will be delivering a talk at this year’s Real Myth and Mythril Symposium greyhavensgroup.com/events/realmyth/ on April 26th in Niwot, Colorado (just outside of Boulder). Speakers at this conference discuss myth and fantasy literature, exploring their importance to culture, imagination, and history.

My talk is titled “The Cauldron of Inspiration: Bards, Wizards, and the Elixir of Poetry”

Wizards and magic are mainstays of modern fantasy fiction. But when we search for the real wizards of the ancient world, we find instead poets, musicians, storytellers. Why were the bards revered as seers and sorcerers in their day? Let’s journey through heroic tales and poems of power as we explore the deeper mysteries of magic, enchantment, and inspiration…

If you happen to be in the area, come by and hear my talk, and say hello afterwards. The symposium is popular though and space is running out, so make sure you get a ticket soon.


Recommended Books: J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings: One Vol. Edition


J. R. R. Tolkien, J. R. R. Tolkien poetry, Christian poetry J. R. R. Tolkien

England (1892 – 1973) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

More poetry by J. R. R. Tolkien

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Apr 03 2015

Ryokan – The I Ching States Happiness Lies in the Proper Blend

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The I Ching States Happiness Lies in the Proper Blend of:
by Ryokan

English version by John Stevens

Hot-cold
good-bad
black-white
beautiful-ugly
large-small
wisdom-foolishness
long-short
brightness-darkness
high-low
partial-whole
relaxation-quickness
increase-decrease
purity-filth
slow-fast.

— from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan, Translated by John Stevens


/ Image by x-horizon /

A reminder for us today from that master of wisdom-foolishness, Ryokan, to walk the slim pathway between the extremes, to touch both but not be held by either.

Absolutes are for fundamentalists and those weary of the journey. The rest of us continue to navigate that hidden line where opposites meet. We learn the way by knowing our hearts.

Hot-cold
good-bad
black-white

This is a tension I myself have wrestled with in my own journey. As a passionate young seeker, I so wanted holiness, which I understood mostly in terms of physical purity and isolation from the world. I ate only very specific foods, not much of them, and often fasted. I lived much of my 20s and early 30s in retreat, seeking out remote, natural environments to call home.

And, you know what? It worked. My energies began to take on a more sustained, deeply meditative state. I found myself opening in profound ways. I found a way to embody holiness. It worked… for a while.

Sure, I could have continued living in that way, with ever more precise refinements in my practice, and possibly deepening the sense of holiness I felt, and that would have satisfied a certain hunger in my soul. But I started to see a problem with all of that. When I was entirely honest with myself, I noticed that I was becoming more brittle and ethereal, disconnected from people and less able to interact with society. I had created a safe bubble of “purity” around me, and I easily lost my balance whenever that was even slightly disrupted.

I came to the decision that true spirituality was not about some sort of aloof, fragile perfection, but must include an embodied mastery that required grounding and human interaction and the humility to be less than perfect. Much of my journey since then has been about strength, stability, and connection — facing my weakest qualities, instead of retreating into elevated states. I moved back to more populated areas. I began to eat more food, and eat more solid foods, which took a significant mental shift. I even went through a period of lifting weights in order to put some muscle on my overly thin body so I could feel more physically present in the world. And I created the Poetry Chaikhana as a way to connect and share with a much wider world.

Today, my path lacks the certainty it once had. And I am less likely to be floating in blissful states as often as I once did. There are days when I consider that perhaps I should return to the sweet intensity of that interiority. But I remain committed to the long journey — a more rounded sense of embodied mastery. And I am still a stumbling beginner in so many ways.

Like a tree, we need our roots to sink deep into the earth, thickening their grip; that gives us the strong foundation to grow and reach and spread new branches heavenward season after season and not fail at the first gust of wind.

brightness-darkness
high-low
partial-whole

We need to integrate it all. We need wholeness to experience lasting holiness.

We might just notice that opposites are not opposed, but joined. And we dance along the seam of connection.

One last bit of advice: When you dance, dance slow-fast!

(That’s the long and the short of it… :)

=

If you celebrate Passover, may it be a day of protection and liberation. If you celebrate Easter, may it be a day of renewal and new life!


Recommended Books: Ryokan

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf: Zen Poems of Ryokan Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing
More Books >>


Ryokan, Ryokan poetry, Buddhist poetry Ryokan

Japan (1758 – 1831) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Apr 01 2015

Jacopone da Todi – As air becomes the medium for light when the sun rises

Published by under Poetry

As air becomes the medium for light when the sun rises
by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

As air becomes the medium for light when the sun rises,
And as wax melts from the heat of fire,
So the soul drawn to that light is resplendent,
Feels self melt away,
Its will and actions no longer its own.
So clear is the imprint of God
That the soul, conquered, is conqueror;
Annihilated, it lives in triumph.

What happens to the drop of wine
That you pour into the sea?
Does it remain itself, unchanged?
It is as if it never existed.
So it is with the soul: Love drinks it in,
It is united with Truth,
Its old nature fades away,
It is no longer master of itself.

The soul wills and yet does not will:
Its will belongs to Another.
It has eyes only for this beauty;
It no longer seeks to possess, as was its wont —
It lacks the strength to possess such sweetness.
The base of this highest of peaks
Is founded on nichil,
Shaped nothingness, made one with the Lord.

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


/ Image by YorkshireSam /

As we approach both Passover and Easter, I thought this poem by the Franciscan monk, Jacopone da Todi, might give us some good things to contemplate…

As air becomes the medium for light when the sun rises,
And as wax melts from the heat of fire,
So the soul drawn to that light is resplendent,
Feels self melt away…

What I find fascinating about these opening images is how much they sound like the sort of metaphors Indian yogic masters use.

With these simple, comprehensible images, we can begin to get an idea of how the soul is transformed in exalted states. In nearness to the Eternal, the soul, like wax near a fire, melts. The self is no longer a fixed, hardened thing, but something fluid, formless, dynamic. And, in this responsive, formless state, the soul loses its dull opacity, becoming clear, allowing the light to shine through it.

Its will and actions no longer its own.
So clear is the imprint of God
That the soul, conquered, is conqueror;
Annihilated, it lives in triumph.

The old, inanimate self melts away, and this new fluid self moves. But it moves naturally, not of its own accord. The liquid self moves as it is moved.

In yielding, it discovers its own life.

So it is with the soul: Love drinks it in,
It is united with Truth,
Its old nature fades away,
It is no longer master of itself.

This concept of yielding, of freeing oneself of will, is a difficult one to understand and accept in any age, but especially so in the modern era when accomplishment through strong will is culturally idolized.

The soul wills and yet does not will:
Its will belongs to Another.

The most immediate objection is that without will, we can do nothing. On a certain level, we prove our existence by doing, by taking action in the world, right? There have been enough statements by mystics and saints throughout the world about the importance of non-will, that we should explore this question more deeply…

Deeply examined, we find that will is not what we thought it was. Or, rather, that there are different expressions of the will. We can say that will is volition or the impulse to action, or we might broadly define it as freedom of choice, as in “free will.”

Mystics often use phrases like “self-will” to express a more fundamental understanding of what the will is and how it works. You can say that self-will is selfish will, in opposition to the will to be of service, for example, but that doesn’t quite get at the heart of the matter. Self-will is will that is tainted by the petty self, the unmelted self, or the ego. Self-will is not just selfish will. It’s quite possible to perform great philanthropic works and have it still be from self-will. Self-will is will that is under the control of the ego, compels action that serves the ego, and compels action that reinforces the ego. Self-will renews the trance of the ego.

Consider, is there a way to drop this self-will, to be free from its clutches, without becoming an inactive lump on the couch? Is there a form of will that does not originate with the ego and constantly return our attention to it? Finding this second will, what is it like? This other will is profound, immense, powerful, yet not our own. It is a form of will that does not serve the little self. It is not possessed by us, and it does not concern itself with possession of things or experiences. To unleash this will in our lives requires an elegant balance between yielding and stepping forward, between passivity and attentive action, between selflessness and presence. Actions take place through us, but we are not the actors. What we normally think of as the self is not directing the action.

This frees up a great portion of psychic energy, and we become awestruck witnesses to life playing out through us and all around us — a vision of immense beauty!

It has eyes only for this beauty

Thank You

I want to again thank everyone who has made a donation recently in response to my request for help from the Poetry Chaikhana. I know that even sending a few dollars is an effort. It requires writing out and mailing a check or figuring out how to fill out the PayPal page. After all, the poetry emails themselves are free, there is no actual requirement to step out of our comfort zone and reach out in this way. So, to everyone who has willingly changed your day’s rhythm in order to make a donation and help me out, I truly thank you!


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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Mar 27 2015

W. S. Merwin – Just Now

Published by under Poetry

Just Now
by W. S. Merwin

In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever
believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for
not patient not even waiting no more hidden
than the air itself that became part of me for a while
with every breath and remained with me unnoticed
something that was here unnamed unknown in the days
and the nights not separate from them
not separate from them as they came and were gone
it must have been here neither early nor late then
by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks

— from The Pupil: Poems, by W. S. Merwin


/ Image by phuket /

A noticed moment. The noticed essence within the moment.

In the morning as the storm begins to blow away
the clear sky appears for a moment…

This is so often the way of it. Whatever it is we continuously search for, whether a spiritual recognition or merely contentment in the midst of a frantic world, we conceptualize this “thing” we want, we search for it, we strain for it… and it eludes us. But then, through weariness or surrender or silence, somehow we fall into the present moment, and there we discover what we have been searching for. But, while it is what we wanted, it is not what we imagined at all. It is simpler than the complicated fabrication of our minds, less defined, somehow just there.

and it seems to me
that there has been something simpler than I could ever
believe
simpler than I could have begun to find words for

It is strangely familiar, as if it has been quietly unnoticed all along. As if we just lacked the quiet eyes that could see it. “…remained with me unnoticed / something that was here unnamed…”

We so want a goal that we can acquire and claim, that we can name among our many named possessions. What do we do when the thing found is no thing at all, nameless, ungraspable, yet undeniably there in the still spaces?

by what name can I address it now holding out my thanks

We are left with a choice: We can name it nonetheless, expanding and refining our definitions, bringing it into the realm of what is known — yet haunted by the knowledge that it is but a thin sliver of what remains unnamed. Or we can yield into the mystery of it and dwell there, in the quiet unnamed spaces, taking its home as our own.

…Or we can play the game of poets, juggling words to hint at the wordless, taunting the known with the undefinable, making our home in the spaces in between.


Recommended Books: W. S. Merwin

East Window: Poems from Asia Migration: New & Selected Poems The Pupil: Poems Present Company Sanskrit Love Poetry
More Books >>


W. S. Merwin, W. S. Merwin poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry W. S. Merwin

US (1927 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Buddhist

More poetry by W. S. Merwin

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Mar 25 2015

Rainer Maria Rilke – I find you, Lord, in all Things

Published by under Poetry

I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Stephen Mitchell

I find you, Lord, in all Things and in all
my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;
as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small
and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

The wondrous game that power plays with Things
is to move in such submission through the world:
groping in roots and growing thick in trunks
and in treetops like a rising from the dead.

— from Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, Translated by Stephen Mitchell


/ Image by Ben Frdericson /

First, let me say “thank you” to everyone who has sent in a donation in response to my request for help on Friday. And thank you, also, for the many notes of support and encouragement. I am deeply moved by the broad community response. Wow.

=

Now, for today’s poem. It has been too long since we had a poem by Rilke…

and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

Isn’t that a great line? But it’s not just a nice poetic turn of phrase. In the second verse Rilke is really saying something of deep insight about this:

The wondrous game that power plays with Things
is to move in such submission through the world…

The “power” he is talking about is obviously not power over; not the domination of the warlord or the predator. Following on his first verse, we can read power as the power of the Lord “in all Things.” It is the power of life itself, awareness, presence. The use of the word “power,” makes us question the assumptions of common language: Perhaps this is real power, rather than the fleeting hold of force and fear. How are life and presence the greater power…?

This real power plays a game in the world of things. It asserts its power through submission, rather than control. Like water, it yields and so finds its destination. It allows, and so fulfills its purpose. It is supremely humble, and so able to be humbly present everywhere, in all things, without prejudice or rejection. It rises from the lowest to the highest, vivifying everything it touches–

groping in roots and growing thick in trunks
and in treetops like a rising from the dead.

This power flowing through us and all our “fellow creatures” binds us all with the same life. You’ll notice, it is not even our life at all. Rilke says “your life,” the Lord’s life. It is something we participate in, a current we ride as it flows through us and the world, but it is not our own. Rilke is hinting at a larger vision in which there is only one Life flowing through a million “Things.”

Hildegard von Bingen, the great medieval mystic, called this the Viriditas or Greening power of God.

Too much of our relationship with the natural world is built on ideas of separation and domination. Such foolishness can only ever harm us. When we see clearly, we see as Rilke does that we are part of the same shared Life. To harm the natural world is to rebel against God. Is that language too religiously loaded? Reread Rilke’s poem, and then think about it.

Have a lovely day in this lovely green world!


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

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Mar 20 2015

Support Poetry on This Spring Day

To goslings
just hatched, the entire world
is a spring day

by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by Tristam Brelstaff /

Ivan M. Granger
Happy spring! It is also the new moon and an eclipse today. A potent time to look up. Or look within. Or look around in appreciation of the new life emerging everywhere…

=

Among my deepest satisfactions in my Poetry Chaikhana work is being able to read the emails you send me. I get to savor your thoughts on spirituality, wisdom, enlightenment, and art. The most touching to me are your notes about how much a particular poem or commentary has meant to you. Even when I am unable to respond, I read and cherish your messages. That is a big part of what fuels my commitment to the Poetry Chaikhana.

But, although it is difficult to admit, I am struggling right now.

It always feels uncomfortable to bring up directly, but I need to request more financial support from the Poetry Chaikhana community.

While I do have a regular job, I can only work so many hours before chronic fatigue patterns kick in, especially when I also dedicate so much time and energy to the Poetry Chaikhana. During the past year, I have been pushing myself in my day job to work through exhaustion in order to meet my basic expenses. While exercising that sort of steely determination has its own practical and spiritual values, it also has made it difficult for me to focus with full energy on the Poetry Chaikhana.

You may have noticed that the Poetry Chaikhana emails have not been as regular in recent weeks.

Donations and Publications

I am working to shift the Poetry Chaikhana’s dependence on donations over to income from publishing, but that is a long-term goal. And while your enthusiastic reception of The Longing in Between was a huge help at the beginning of the year, book sales have dipped now that it has been out for several months — which is entirely natural. I do have plans for additional anthologies and future publications but, of course, those take time and significant energy to bring to completion.

For the moment, at least, the Poetry Chaikhana is still primarily dependent on your financial donations.

The Poetry Chaikhana Community

I am still amazed to be able to say that we have 9,000 people on this email list! Another 5,000 follow the Facebook page. With such a large community, I believe that collectively we can support my continuing work with the Poetry Chaikhana.

Without enough community support, I may have to drastically trim back the time I dedicate to the Poetry Chaikhana, which would be a shame. Even though I will continue forward with the Poetry Chaikhana in some fashion, such as future publications, I have always felt that the regular communication with you through these emails is the heart of the Poetry Chaikhana. For me, these emails feel personal, a long-term conversation with you on the nature of spirit and art, and how the two interweave and contribute to each other — enlivening us all in the process. While much of that conversation can take place through the patient medium of books, I would miss the immediacy and friendly dialog of our emails.

Around the World


/ Photo by woodleywonderworks /

One of the purposes of the Poetry Chaikhana is to help us recognize the unity behind the world’s religions as expressed through the poetry of mystics. Poetry, being a very personal medium that is largely free from dogma, reaches across cultural divides, softens prejudices, and sheds light on misunderstandings. Sacred poetry can be a powerful healing balm when cultures clash.

Also, it is worth remembering that, through the Poetry Chaikhana’s global community, each of us is connected to people and places all over this world we share. The Poetry Chaikhana has had visits from more than 220 different countries and territories! That’s nearly every country in North America, South America, Europe, and across all of Asia. We’re only missing a few countries in central Africa, and we’re also waiting for that first visit from Antarctica. (Any poetic penguins out there?)

As I have said in a previous email… The next time a poem touches that warm ember deep in your chest, and your thoughts stop, and your mind clears, and a quiet smile spreads across your face… reach out and feel who else on this planet is feeling exactly the same thing. It could be someone who wears different clothes or has different colored skin, someone who speaks with a different accent or an entirely different language, someone who sits or kneels or bows to worship. Reach out and recognize that person as a brother or sister who, like us all, is walking through the human journey, pausing occasionally to sing songs of the Divine.

The Poetry Chaikhana is an important resource for people all over the world seeking to more deeply understand their own wisdom traditions as well as the spirituality of other cultures in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Your Help

It is a joy to do all of this, but it isn’t easy, and I can use your help.

For me to keep doing this work, I need the support of the Poetry Chaikhana community.

If you feel a connection to the Poetry Chaikhana, please consider making a donation.

Please, never contribute more than you can comfortably afford, however. A modest amount from many people is immensely helpful. Many contributions from many people makes the Poetry Chaikhana a stronger community project, maintained by many helping hands.


/ Photo by SaxX69 /

Ways you can contribute:

– You can make a secure online donation in any amount through PayPal by clicking the “Donate” button on the Poetry Chaikhana home page at www.poetry-chaikhana.com

– You can sign up for a voluntary monthly donation of $2/month or $10/month by clicking either the “Subscribe” or “Support” PayPal button.

(A regular monthly amount is often easier on your pocketbook — and easier to justify as less than the cost of one snack or drink per month.)

– You can send a check or money order in US funds, addressed to:


Poetry Chaikhana

PO Box 2320

Boulder, CO 80306

– Purchasing copies of The Longing in Between and Real Thirst is another excellent way to help. You also support the Poetry Chaikhana when you purchase other books through the links on the Poetry Chaikhana website.

I want to also make sure I gratefully acknowledge that several of you have been generous with your contributions to the Poetry Chaikhana in the past, through donations, through notes of thanks, through supportive thoughts and prayers. Every contribution, whether financial or energetic, is sincerely appreciated.

Heartfelt thanks to everyone! And have a beautiful beginning to your springtime!

Ivan M. Granger Ivan M. Granger

US (1969 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

More poetry by Ivan M. Granger

6 responses so far

Mar 18 2015

Yuan Mei – P’u-t’o Temple

Published by under Poetry

P’u-t’o Temple
by Yuan Mei

English version by J. P. Seaton

A temple, hidden, treasured
                        in the mountain’s cleft
Pines, bamboo
                  such a subtle flavor:
The ancient Buddha sits there, wordless
The welling source speaks for him.

— from A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry, Edited by J. P. Seaton / Edited by Dennis Maloney


/ Image by nurpax /

This poem feels like a brush painting. A few simple strokes suggest the scene: A temple. A mountain’s cleft. Pines, bamboo. A Buddha.

That’s all we need to be brought, with the Buddha, to wordlessness and the “welling source.” Mm.


Recommended Books: Yuan Mei

The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) A Drifting Boat: Chinese Zen Poetry I Don’t Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei Yuan Mei: Eighteenth Century Chinese Poet Censored by Confucius: Ghost Stories of Yuan Mei


Yuan Mei, Yuan Mei poetry, Buddhist poetry Yuan Mei

China (1716 – 1798) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan
Taoist

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Mar 13 2015

Wendell Berry – The Real Work

Published by under Poetry

The Real Work
by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

— from Standing by Words: Essays, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by myINQI /

Ooh, I just like this, don’t you? As I get older and encounter more of the world and more of myself, I grow increasingly wary of answers. It’s the questions that awaken the soul.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

Berry is reminding us that struggle and confusion — and wonder! — are signs that we are on a good path, that we are paying attention, that we are still seeking and discovering, that we are alive. The scariest people are those who’ve grown tired of questions and so brutalize the world with simple answers.

Okay, a poetic confession: This was not originally a poem in verse. I did a bit of research and found that this is actually an excerpt from one of Wendell Berry’s essays that someone later versified. It’s been circulating as a poem ever since. I guess you can’t trap a good poet in prose for long. My apologies to the poetry purists out there.

Now, let’s discover a new path through this magical, unknown day…


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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