Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Mar 21 2018

Ivan M. Granger – When the Spring Thaw Comes

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When the Spring Thaw Comes
by Ivan M. Granger

Something they
won’t tell you –

That book of sins
you hide
beneath your pillow
matters
not at all.

When the spring thaw comes
we all go mad
and shred it,
tossing love notes
left and right
scribbled on the scraps.

— from Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania, Edited by Andrew Harvey / Edited by Jay Ramsay


/ Image by Ana-mcara /

It has been a while since I last featured one of my own poems. Something to welcome spring.

We all do it, keep a hidden notebook detailing each and every failing. When it comes to that book of self-recrimination, we memorize each page with a cruel clarity. We can list each imperfection. The tally on the final page tells us in blunt mathematics how we are not who we imagine we should be. We brutalize ourselves with this book.

It is not that any line item in this ledger is untrue or that we should not feel remorse when we stumble or cause hurt.

But something happens. Spring’s first dawn breaks. The old self, in stunned silence, just falls away. And with it goes all those old calculations.

All that then remains of those countless self-cruelties are our secret love notes written to a new self and a new world filled with new life.

Happy spring! And to all of my Persian and Middle Eastern friends, Happy Nowruz!


Recommended Books: Ivan M. Granger

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics Diamond Cutters: Visionary Poets in America, Britain & Oceania Poems of Awakening: An International Anthology of Spiritual Poetry
More Books >>


Ivan M. Granger, Ivan M. Granger poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Ivan M. Granger

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

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Mar 16 2018

R. S. Thomas – The Moor

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The Moor
by R. S. Thomas

It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In movement of the wind over grass.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

— from For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, by Roger Housden


/ Image by xelcise /

It was like a church to me.

Isn’t this a wonderful way to step into the wild?

I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.

The proper approach to the natural world, with reverence and receptivity.

This is one of the great gifts of living nature, it can release us from our endless mental and social constructions. We receive the opportunity to witness the wider reality. The limitations of our thoughts, our lives, the ambitions of the human world, are revealed amidst the larger landscape.

It was quiet.
What God was there made himself felt,
Not listened to…

Nature offers us a direct experience of communion. These are not sermons or discourses that pass through the ear to be sifted and sorted by the brain before, hopefully, some truth trickles into the deeper awareness. This is the living stillness touching the heart.

There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom.

Notice the break in the first line of the verse above. “There were no prayers said. But stillness–” By ending the line on “stillness,” the mind contemplating these words naturally halts, finding its own stillness. The mind unconsciously reads the line as if it was a complete sentence, “There were no prayers said, but stillness.” Stillness, then, becomes the prayer.

And the powerful line break dividing the second and third lines. We read them as, “That was praise!” followed by “Enough.” On a certain level that isolated “enough” captures the essence here: He is speaking of the stillness of the heart’s passions and the mind finally yielding its control. “Enough!” Enough of the busy mind and the hungry heart.

The quiet breath of the natural world remind us that stillness is the real praise, and prayer, and presence.

I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.

Mmm.


Recommended Books: R. S. Thomas

For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds R. S. Thomas: Selected Poems R. S. Thomas (Everyman Poetry) R. S. Thomas: Collected Poems 1945-1990
More Books >>


R. S. Thomas, R. S. Thomas poetry, Christian poetry R. S. Thomas

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline
Christian

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Mar 09 2018

Anna Swir – Myself and My Person

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Myself and My Person
by Anna Swir

English version by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

There are moments
when I feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.
This comforts and reassures me,
this heartens me,
just as my tridimensional body
is heartened by my own authentic shadow.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Until now that has not happened
but it does not settle the question.

— from Talking to My Body, by Anna Swir / Translated by Czeslaw Milosz


/ Image by vanillapearl /

Something today by the wonderful Polish poet, Anna Swir.

There are moments
when I really feel more clearly than ever
that I am in the company
of my own person.

Whatever our background or belief system, we keep having this central encounter — that stranger, that shadow or twin, who is ourself.

Busy with our lives, we hunger for some experiences, struggle to avoid others, while some we just hope to survive. Then a moment comes, perhaps wondrous or utterly ordinary, and all our experiences fold in on themselves and there we discover our own selves for the first time experiencing them.

A strange division of self occurred somewhere in our forgotten formation, for we recognize that there are actually two “I”s: The “I” I assume myself to be, and the “I” that is “my own person,” who I really am.

It is absurd, really. We always know who we are, right? Who and what we are is the one constant in every instant of our lives. Yet somehow we encounter ourselves and it as if we are meeting a stranger for the first time. How can this self that I am be unknown to me? And how can this new self be so much bigger and less broken than I thought I was? Who is this stranger that I am?

I stop
at a street corner to turn left
and I wonder what would happen
if my own person walked to the right.

Just how different can this self of selves be from my daily self? Can it go one way, while I go another? What does that even mean? Can it be an “it,” separate from myself while still being myself? Which me is me, and which it is an it?

When we finally recognize our full selves, we have the opportunity to shift our identity. As this new self, we become immensely real in a way that the old, mundane self never quite was. The pretense of the prior self is revealed. The bigger self brightens and the old self is lost in the light.

So, my advice: If you stop at a street corner and notice your own person walking to the right, turn right and follow.


Recommended Books: Anna Swir

Talking to My Body Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems


Anna Swir, Anna Swir poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Anna Swir

Poland (1909 – 1984) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Mar 07 2018

Hakim Sanai – There is no place for place!

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There is no place for place!
by Hakim Sanai

English version by Ivan M. Granger

There is no place for place!
How can a place
house the maker of all space,
or the vast sky enclose
      the maker of heaven?

He told me:
“I am a homeless treasure.
The world was made
to give you a place to stand
      and see me.”

Tell me, if the one you seek
is placeless,
why put your shoes on?
The real road
is found by polishing, polishing
      the mirror of your heart.

— from The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology), Edited by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by RobertoBertero /

I’ve always loved these verses, but this morning it’s the middle verse that especially stands out to me–

He told me:
“I am a homeless treasure.
The world was made
to give you a place to stand
      and see me.”

Mystics, through direct perception, often declare that there is a fundamental unity in existence. There is no real separation between beings. There is no separation between the individual and the Eternal.

But this raises a dilemma in the minds of some philosophers: In a reality where all is One, why then does the perception of separation and multiplicity emerge? Is that simply a false vision, a delusion, or does it serve a divine purpose, even if temporary? In other words, why does that externalized reality (“the world”) come into being?

One way this question is answered is to look at the journey of the individual human consciousness from birth, through individuation, to mature adulthood and, finally, hopefully, to wisdom and enlightenment. As newborn infants we don’t imagine ourselves to be separate from our mothers. There is hardly any self at all. Or, rather, self is so open that it is not a “self” in the normal sense. There is only Mother. And the wider reality is only the perception of sensation. This is a form of unity, but it is immature. This initial unity does not yet allow us to effectively interact with the wider, complex reality and embody our full potential.

Next, separation and individuation begins to occur. The toddler discovers a powerful word: “No!” A sense of self emerges. This is also when “the world” emerges. Wider reality becomes something outside ourselves, outside the self, separate. We get the dynamic of self and object, self and other.

That self-object dynamic is essential. It allows for interaction. It allows for experimentation and experience and growing comprehension. We gain a vantage point through which to perceive and understand reality. We gain a place to stand and to see.

As profound and necessary as this relationship with reality is, it is ultimately limited. It works well for the basic need of all beings to figure out how to survive and socially connect. But it is an incomplete picture, and it leaves us incomplete in ourselves. Even when, as mature adults, we learn the skills of the world, there is more. And we know it.

The wise woman or man is dedicated to continuing the maturation of the awareness, rediscovering that primal unity while integrating it with the hard-learned lessons of the world. This leads to true spiritual maturity, with vision and a place to stand, yet consciously connected to all things.

We need the world. We need a place to stand, so we can look and see. Eventually we once more see the One in the patterns of the many.

Then the idea of place falls away. Place only has meaning amidst the many, when seeking some segment of reality. But, when, in our full maturity, we seek the blissful vision of the Whole Reality, what meaning does place have anymore?

There is no place for place!
How can a place
house the maker of all space…?

Enough running about from place to place; we are on a journey to the placeless. Let’s kick off our shoes, sit down, and begin the quiet work of polishing that most secret center until we truly see, and know, and are lost in the vision…


Recommended Books: Hakim Sanai

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi
More Books >>


Hakim Sanai, Hakim Sanai poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Hakim Sanai

Afghanistan (1044? – 1150?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 28 2018

Yuan Mei – Climbing the Mountain

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Climbing the Mountain
by Yuan Mei

English version by J. P. Seaton

I burned incense, swept the earth, and waited
                  for a poem to come…

Then I laughed, and climbed the mountain,
                  leaning on my staff.

How I’d love to be a master
                  of the blue sky’s art:

see how many sprigs of snow-white cloud
                  he’s brushed in so far today.

— from I Don’t Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei, Translated by J. P. Seaton


/ Image by serenity-temptations /

I burned incense, swept the earth, and waited
                  for a poem to come…

I think any artist can relate to this opening line. We have our rituals, half prayerful, half desperate, seeking to draw forth that intangible spark of inspiration.

And what is it we seek really? One more poem, one more compelling scene for our novel in progress, a new variation on a classic melody, just the right angle for our subject in charcoal? While important, those are details, not the art itself, not that intangible something we are really fishing for in the quiet tense moments before creation.

What we’re really seeking is a feeling, a sense of budding life and purpose behind the technique of our creation. It is not craft we seek, but the unnamed animating spirit that will bless our craft, bring it to life, and awaken something in everyone touched by this new creation.

But art itself can be a trap. At its best, it is a magical act, a shamanic endeavor that transforms and heals society, bringing forth new possibilities within the human spirit. But art can also be a bellows for the ego, a way to reinforce one’s self-importance and place in the world. Too often art starts to point back to the artist’s own face.

Then I laughed, and climbed the mountain,
                  leaning on my staff.

In such moments, perhaps it is best to step back from the busy work of one more creation and remember to widen our scope in order to restore perspective. Any human act of creation, no matter how filled with life and magic, can never match the artistry writ large in the world all around us.

How I’d love to be a master
                  of the blue sky’s art:

If we only recognize that spark when captured by a human hand, we have lost a vital connection to the greater reality.

We must regularly return to the pool of wonder itself, found most naturally where the human being is incidental. We must remember to recognize the real art everywhere present, unsigned, just the artist’s hidden smile.

That is where the real communication is happening. Where you and I are not the authors, but stand instead as quiet witnesses, that is where the most profound transformation occurs. That is the real magical encounter.

see how many sprigs of snow-white cloud
                  he’s brushed in so far today.

Restored, we then return to our own actions and creations as a modest reflection of the great artist’s work. Our work in the world becomes a form of participation rather than self-aggrandizement.


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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Feb 23 2018

Philip Booth – How to See a Deer

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How to See a Deer
by Philip Booth

Forget roadside crossings.
Go nowhere with guns.
Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.
All clearings promise.
Sunrise is good,

and fog before sun.
Expect nothing always;
find your luck slowly.

Wait out the windfall.
Take your good time
to learn to read ferns;

make like a turtle:
downhill toward slow water.
Instructed by heron,

drink the pure silence.
Be compassed by wind.
If you quiver like aspen

trust your quick nature:
let your ear teach you
which way to listen.

You’ve come to assume
protective color; now
colors reform to

new shapes in your eye.
You’ve learned by now
to wait without waiting;

as if it were dusk
look into light falling:
in deep relief

things even out. Be
careless of nothing. See
what you see.

— from Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999, by Philip Booth


/ Image by Iamidaho /

With its elusiveness and profound stillness even in movement, the way it appears in the mist or vanishes into the forest (perhaps beckoning us to follow), deer represent to us that intangible reality we all seek on some level. The doe’s gentle face, suggests to us peace, beauty, trust. The stag’s majestic stance displaying his antlers, naturally evokes a primal sense of kingship and otherworldly might.

Naturally, the deer becomes a symbol for God, the Divine Beloved, the Messiah. But even when we set aside our religious lenses, we can’t help but feel that the solitary deer, encountered in a quiet moment, is an ambassador between worlds, hinting to us of another reality.

How do we meet this quiet spirit? How do we have the sacred encounter? The poet says it so beautifully: We go elsewhere, our own way. Next to wild places, and spots that invite rest and contemplation. Without expectations. With patience and trust. Pay attention to the rhythms of life all around. Trust your own nature. Listen to the inner voice. Learn to see anew. See what you see.

(Special thanks to Lalita Vajra for introducing me to this poem.)


Recommended Books: Philip Booth

Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999


Philip Booth, Philip Booth poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Philip Booth

US (1925 – 2007) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 13 2018

Manikkavacakar – Becoming sky & earth

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Becoming sky & earth
by Manikkavacakar

Becoming sky & earth
Wind & light
Becoming flesh & spirit
All that truly is
& all that which is not
Becoming the Lord,
He makes those who say,
“I” & “mine”
Dance in the show
Becoming sky
& standing there…
How can my words
praise Him?


/ Image by Vik Nanda /

Today is the Hindu festival of Shivaratri in honor of the the god Shiva. Often Shiva is depicted as a meditating, long-haired ascetic, but another important expression of Shiva is as Nataraj, Lord of the Dance.

Shiva Nataraj is depicted with one foot raised in dance, the other foot treading upon a figure representing ignorance. In one hand he holds the drum that is the fundamental sound of creation. In another he displays the fire of destruction. A third hand expresses the mudra (hand position) of fearlessness, while the fourth hand points to his upraised foot, suggesting the path to liberation. His jata, matted locks, fly out about his head; in the wildness of his dance, they crash into the objects of existence, dispelling their illusory being. And flames emanate from his dancing body, representing manifestation, creation radiated out into being by the pure energy of his dance.

Shiva’s dance — called the Tandava — is the rhythm of the universe, the dance of creation, evolution, destruction, and renewal. The cycle of the seasons is in his dance, All patterns and rhythms emanate from Lord Shiva’s dance, from the ages of the world to the thrum of each person’s heartbeat.

All the dramas of existence are expressions of Shiva’s dance.

First, Manikkavacakar describes his expansive, blissful merging with all Being–

Becoming sky & earth
Wind & light
Becoming flesh & spirit
All that truly is
& all that which is not

Everything merging with the Eternal…

Becoming the Lord

From the egoless, all-permeating state, the yogin witnesses Lord Shiva’s dance play out. He sees people, creatures, all beings swept up in the rhythm of that great dance. From the yogin’s elevated state, the Tandava is an immense, colorful wonder of swirling movement, contact and conflict, birth and death, joy and suffering, rising and falling.

But to those swept up in the dance, the rhythms are overwhelming, the experiences can be terrifying. As beautiful as the great cosmic dance is, the individuals within it are engaged in exhaustive struggle, often disoriented, and sometimes touched by terrible suffering.

Why the disconnect between the macrocosmic majesty and the microcosmic misery?

He makes those who say,
“I” & “mine”
Dance in the show

Amidst the dance of being, people struggle because of the ego sense. They say “I” and “me” and “mine.” This creates an incomplete and fixed sense of self — very dangerous in a world defined by movement. The ego is a sort of spiritual temper tantrum, a child’s hot assertion that “this is what I am, and this is all that I am, and the world had better stay put!” But the dance continues. The universe is alive, and life moves.

The dance of existence is terrifying when we identify with all the tumbling bits and pieces. But when we come to know ourselves as flowing, spacious, subtle beings of pure dynamic awareness, we can then choose to participate or not, in service and in delight. We are no longer IN the dance, we have become the dance. We are not so much bodies or collections of experiences with a fixed point in the rhythm, we are the flow of rhythm itself. Free from the fixations and limitations of the little self, we now move with Shiva himself.

How can words manage to praise the Lord of the Dance?

Om Namah Shivaya!


Recommended Books: Manikkavacakar

The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice


Manikkavacakar

India (9th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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Feb 06 2018

Constantine P. Cavafy – Ithaca

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Ithaca
by Constantine P. Cavafy

English version by George Barbanis

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
 
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
 
Always keep Ithaca on your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
 
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
 
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.


/ Image by makithaca /

A little motivation to take down that old copy of Homer’s Odyssey, dust it off, and crack it open once again. It was a favorite of mine when I was a teenager, with gods, monsters, heroes, adventure… and a reminder of my Greek heritage.

In the Odyssey, the hero Odysseus was returning home from the Trojan War to his island kingdom of Ithaca, but conflicts with gods and monsters and weather kept leading him off course into new adventures. It took him twenty years to finally return home!

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

Cavafy’s poem reminds us of the Odyssey’s hidden truth, that the hero’s journey to Ithaca is the soul’s journey home.

Ancient tradition says that Homer’s epics, the Illiad and the Odyssey, combine into a grand mystery tale, understood by initiates as describing the stages and struggles of the soul’s inner journey.

pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge…

Too often seekers disparage the road, its bumps and turns, impatient for the destination.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.

But the stops along the journey are not roadblocks, they are stepping stones. Actually, even that’s not true. Seen clearly, the journey and the destination are a single continuum. The river pours into the sea, and they are one. Seated on the slow-moving river, we already touch the sea.

…and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can…

Cavafy suggests that worldly experience, the senses, a certain amount of materialism, these too are part of the journey. The physical world is the realm through which the soul journeys. Encountering marvels and terrors the soul strengthens and comes to know itself. Knowing itself in victory and adversity, the soul is finally ready to return.

But to navigate through such bewildering, overwhelming experiences, the destination must never be forgotten:

Always keep Ithaca on your mind.

Don’t rush through the journey, impatient only for its end. The adventure is our soul’s story.

Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

The wisdom you attain with each step reveals the destination’s true meaning.

And it is just as true to say that the destination’s gift is contained in the journey itself:

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.


Recommended Books: Constantine P. Cavafy

C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems The Complete Poems of Cavafy: Expanded Edition Cavafy’s Alexandria Cavafy: A Biography


Constantine P. Cavafy, Constantine P. Cavafy poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Constantine P. Cavafy

Egypt (1863 – 1933) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Constantine P. Cavafy

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Feb 02 2018

Ghraib Nawaz – The Second Jesus

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The Second Jesus
by Gharib Nawaz

English version by Peter Lamborn Wilson and Nasrollah Pourjavady

O Lord, it’s me: blanked out in divine light
and become a horizon of rays flashing from the Essence.

My every atom yearned for vision
till I fell drunk on the manifestations of lordship.

Love polished the rust from my heart’s mirror
till I began to see the mysteries;

I emerged from the darkness of my existence
and became what I am (you know me) from the Light of Being:

blackened like charcoal dark soul’s smoke
but mixed with love fires and illumined.

Some say the path is difficult;
God forgive them! I went so easily:

The Holy Spirit breathes his every breath into Mo’in–
who knows? Maybe I’m the second Jesus.

— from The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry, Translated by Peter Lamborn Wilson / Translated by Nasrollah Pourjavady


/ Image by proama /

I love the phrase in which the poet describes himself as being “blanked in divine light.” This beautifully describes the loss of the ego self, the loss of the separate self. Instead we perceive ourselves as a point of awareness within a vast living radiance.

Another great line:

Some say the path is difficult;
God forgive them! I went so easily.

This reflects the sense that true spiritual striving must be crushingly difficult, and sometimes too vague to even comprehend. Yet, the sacred experience reveals itself as our natural state, effortless. In fact, effort implies that we are trying to attain something we don’t already have, making it even harder to recognize the state as being already present. We just have to get out of the way of the truth that is already present. That is all. We just make it seem difficult.

who knows? Maybe I’m the second Jesus.

Some Christians may be troubled by this final line. It is certainly provocative, but not necessarily intended to be blasphemous or offensive. Devout Muslims greatly revere the figure of Jesus but not in the absolute and iconic way that Christians do. In Muslim traditions, Jesus is often associated with the breath of God. This is why the reference to Jesus follows the recognition that the breath of the Holy Spirit flows uninhibited through him. That breath is there, so is Jesus. Gharib Nawaz is reveling in the giddy recognition of oneness with that subtle divine flowing Presence — the same as in Jesus, the same as in all of us.

Who knows, maybe we are all the second Jesus?


Recommended Books: Gharib Nawaz

The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry


Gharib Nawaz

Iran/Persia & India (1142? – 1236?) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 31 2018

Kalidasa – Exhortation of the Dawn

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Exhortation of the Dawn
by Kalidasa

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

Listen to the Exhortation of the Dawn!
Look to this Day!
For it is Life, the very Life of Life.
In its brief course lie all the
Verities and Realities of your Existence.
The Bliss of Growth,
The Glory of Action,
The Splendor of Beauty;
For Yesterday is but a Dream,
And To-morrow is only a Vision;
But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!
Such is the Salutation of the Dawn!

— from Sanskrit Love Poetry, Translated by W. S. Merwin / Translated by J. Moussaieff Masson


/ Image by Livin-Lively /

Now that’s the way to approach the day!

But To-day well lived makes
Every Yesterday a Dream of Happiness,
And every Tomorrow a Vision of Hope.
Look well therefore to this Day!


Recommended Books: Kalidasa

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


Kalidasa, Kalidasa poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Kalidasa

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

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Jan 26 2018

Buson – Miles of frost

Published by under Poetry

Miles of frost
by Buson

English version by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto

Miles of frost —
on the lake
the moon’s my own.

— from Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter, Translated by Lucien Stryk / Translated by Takashi Ikemoto


/ Image by 4k1 /

This haiku doesn’t emphasize that pivot that startles the awareness into new insight. Instead, it offers us a pure moment of winter solitude at dusk.

Miles of frost —

This phrasing suggests not only a chilly evening, but a landscape of silence. No activity. No carts on the road. No animals scurrying in the underbrush. Nothing but untouched frost upon the land.

In the midst of this scene of chill stillness stands the implied observer — us. We stand there alone in the quiet scene, elevated as the solitary presence, wrapped in curling mist of our own breath.

And then we see the moon reflected upon the lake’s surface at twilight.

on the lake
the moon’s my own.

With no one else to witness it, the moon becomes a private gift. The moon and the observer share this moment of intimacy in the silent company of the lake.

We can, if we choose, read this in a more consciously spiritual light: The full moon is often used to suggest enlightened awareness. The lake is mind. When the surface is still, the mind has grown quiet and it reflects the serene light of the moon. The miles of frost can suggest the wider world as perceived by the senses has also been quieted through spiritual practice. In this unified state of stillness, the moon, enlightenment, becomes one’s own.

Or perhaps it is only a lake and the moon on a quiet night. Then again, perhaps the moon’s reflection whispers to us of enlightenment, whether we recognize it or not.


Recommended Books: Buson

Zen Poetry: Let the Spring Breeze Enter The Poetry of Zen: (Shambhala Library) The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson


Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

Japan (1716 – 1784) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Jan 19 2018

Thomas Merton – Stranger

Published by under Poetry

Stranger
by Thomas Merton

When no one listens
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool.

Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the last star

Or hails the first morning
Of a giant world
Where peace begins
And rages end:

One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms,
Ten circles upon the pond.

One cloud upon the hillside,
Two shadows in the valley
And the light strikes home.
Now dawn commands the capture
Of the tallest fortune,
The surrender
Of no less marvelous prize!

Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master,
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,

Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean,
Seize up my silence
Hold me in Thy Hand!

Now act is waste
And suffering undone
Laws become prodigals
Limits are torn down
For envy has no property
And passion is none.

Look, the vast Light stands still
Our cleanest Light is One!

— from The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton


/ Image by trumeye /

Isn’t this a wonderful poem given to us by Merton? It’s worth going back and reading it again with a sense of inner stillness. (Go ahead, I’ll wait…)

The way this poem opens is fascinating —

When no one listens
To the quiet trees
When no one notices
The sun in the pool.

Where no one feels
The first drop of rain
Or sees the last star

The “no one” here is you and me, Merton himself, the speaker of the poem. We encounter the real magic and mystery of the world when we can witness it as “no one.” That’s “Where peace begins / And rages end” — when there is no idea of self to assert its right to be the central focus of everything.

That’s when things unfold and reveal themselves to be deeply and utterly themselves:

One bird sits still
Watching the work of God:
One turning leaf,
Two falling blossoms,
Ten circles upon the pond.

(Love those lines. The witness is so still, almost non-existent, and we are left selfless amidst the “work of God.”)

And then we have the “Stranger” of the poem’s title–

Closer and clearer
Than any wordy master,
Thou inward Stranger
Whom I have never seen,

Deeper and cleaner
Than the clamorous ocean,
Seize up my silence
Hold me in Thy Hand!

When the small, noisy self steps aside, we discover the vast, silent Self within, almost unknown to us, a stranger, yet there nonetheless, seated in wordless immensity. “Seize up my silence / Hold me in Thy Hand!” That’s the way. Fierce and trembling, the mystic calls out to be grabbed whole by that unknown, oh-so-intimate one.

Look, the vast Light stands still
Our cleanest Light is One!


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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Jan 15 2018

Maya Angelou – A Brave and Startling Truth (Martin Luther King Day)

Published by under Poetry

A Brave and Startling Truth
by Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

— from A Brave and Startling Truth, by Maya Angelou


/ Image by Dencii /

It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

This poem by Maya Angelou was written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, but I think it’s a good choice to remember Martin Luther King Day, as well.

King is rightly remembered as one of history’s great champions of civil rights and the dignity of all groups of people.

When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean

But Reverend King’s vision was even broader and more encompassing than that. He spoke not just for black people, but for all people. He spoke up for the poor and dispossessed of all groups. He began to speak out strongly against the escalating war in Vietnam, pointing out how war and imperialist policies impoverished society, both spiritually and materially.

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

King argued that, in a just society, money should not be wasted on war and should, instead, be used to resuscitate and rebuild our struggling communities so they can mature into vibrant centers of human capability and possibility.

This is not the safe civil rights martyr taught to school children and lauded once a year by politicians. This is the King who questioned not only institutionalized bigotry, but also institutionalized poverty, wealth inequality, war, and empire. And it is worth noting that it was only when he started to raise these broader questions that he was assassinated.

Some days we need prophets to make us squirm, not just safe saints we can celebrate and then ignore.

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a pacifist, yes, but he was not passive. He was a fighter! His message, when we listen, still challenges us today to do more than get along or slightly improve the status quo. He called for an open heart, a strong will, and a dedication to all our brothers and sisters in humanity — to courageously work and sacrifice in order to embody these truths of the human spirit in our lives and in the structures of society. Now that is revolutionary!

And that is the Martin Luther King I bow to today.

Race Does Not Exist

On this Martin Luther King day, I encourage you to also read my past discussion of how race does not exist:

Race Does Not Exist

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Email Changes

Because of the ongoing technical challenges I have had with my current bulk email service, which have led to many incorrect email bouncebacks and this continuing problem that requires me to display the full text of all links, I am currently investigating affordable alternatives. I expect to change bulk emailing services soon. I don’t yet know if that will mean a change in the appearance of these poem emails. But they should be more reliable and cleanly formatted, and less likely to be mistakenly filtered out as spam by your own email services.

I wanted to let you know that the time and expenses involved in these sorts of technical issues are a significant part of what your donations help pay for. So thank you to everyone for your support!


Recommended Books: Maya Angelou

The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou Phenomenal Woman: Four Poems Celebrating Women And Still I Rise A Brave and Startling Truth The Collected Autobiographies of Maya Angelou
More Books >>


Maya Angelou, Maya Angelou poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Maya Angelou

US (1928 – 2014) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Jan 12 2018

Wislawa Szymborska – A Contribution to Statistics

Published by under Poetry

A Contribution to Statistics
by Wislawa Szymborska

English version by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better
— fifty-two

doubting every step
— nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long
— as high as forty-nine,

always good
because they can’t be otherwise
— four, well maybe five,

able to admire without envy
— eighteen,

suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
— sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly
— forty and four,

living in constant fear
of someone or something
— seventy-seven,

capable of happiness
— twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, savage in crowds
— half at least,

cruel
when forced by circumstances
— better not to know
even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact
— just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life
— thirty
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
— eighty-three
sooner or later,

righteous
— thirty-five, which is a lot,

righteous
and understanding
— three,

worthy of compassion
— ninety-nine,

mortal
— a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

— from Poems New and Collected, by Wislawa Szymborska / Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak


/ Image by Andy Maguire /

I always knew statistics had a poetic heart. After such terrible abuse by advertisers and politicians, statistics will redeem themselves in great and painful art.

worthy of compassion
— ninety-nine,

mortal
— a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

Of course, even the best-natured of statistics exist to taunt us, to challenge us. Then again, that’s what those irascible poets do too…


Recommended Books: Wislawa Szymborska

Poems New and Collected Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska View with a Grain of Sand: Selected Poems Nothing Twice: Selected Poems Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems
More Books >>


Wislawa Szymborska, Wislawa Szymborska poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wislawa Szymborska

Poland (1923 – 2012) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Jan 10 2018

Rabindranath Tagore – Listen, can you hear it?

Published by under Poetry

Listen, can you hear it? (from The Lover of God)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Tony Stewart and Chase Twitchell

Listen, can you hear it?
His bamboo flute speaks
the pure language of love.
The moon enlightens the trees,
the path, the sinuous Yamuna.
Oblivious of the jasmine’s scent
I stagger around,
disheveled heart bereft of modesty,
eyes wet with nerves and delight.
Tell me, dear friend, say it aloud:
is he not my own Dark Lord Syama?
Is it not my name his flute pours
into the empty evening?

For eons I longed for God,
I yearned to know him.
That’s why he has come to me now,
deep emerald Lord of my breath.
O Syama, whenever your faraway flute thrills
through the dark, I say your name,
only your name, and will my body to dissolve
in the luminous Yamuna.

Go to her, Lord, go now.
What’s stopping you?
The earth drowns in sleep.
Let’s go. I’ll walk with you.

— from The Lover of God, by Rabindranath Tagore / Translated by Tony Stewart


/ Image by Rajesh Nagulakond /

There is a fascinating story behind this poem and the other poems of Tagore’s The Lover of God… In the late 19th century, a respected Bengali journal published a newly discovered collection poems by a previously unknown 17th century poet, Bhanusimha, or Sun Lion. The critics celebrated these newly unearthed bhakti masterpieces.

The problem was that Bhanusimha never actually existed. Bhanisimha was the pseudonym used by a brilliant 14-year-old boy — the young Rabindranath Tagore.

He of course matured into one of the greatest poets of modern India.

Tagore continued to edit and refine these poems over his lifetime, leaving us with a collection of modern bhakti masterpieces.

Just a few notes about this selection:

As with many bhakti poems, this is, on the surface, a poem of love and longing. Radha pines for her beloved, Krishna. But these are usually understood to reflect deeper truths. Radha is the soul, the spiritual seeker. Krishna is God, the Beloved.

Krishna plays a flute, an enchanting melody that calls all souls to himself. The sound of his flute is the hum that underlies all creation, the soft sound heard in the silence of meditation.

His beauty is often compared with the moon. This moon is also the luminescence of enlightenment.

The Yamuna is one of the great rivers of India, but she is also a goddess who fell in love with Krishna. So the reference to the sinuous Yamuna is meant to evoke both an erotic femininity and also emphasize that love for Krishna. To dissolve in the Yamuna is to disappear into eternal love for God/Krishna.

The final verse switches from Radha’s voice to the poet’s, encouraging Krishna to respond to the longing of the soul. Something quite playful in that…

Go to her, Lord, go now.
What’s stopping you?
The earth drowns in sleep.
Let’s go. I’ll walk with you.


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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Jan 05 2018

Pat Schneider – The Patience of Ordinary Things

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The Patience of Ordinary Things
by Pat Schneider

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

— from Another River: New and Selected Poems, by Pat Schneider


/ Image by snap713 /

I’m back. We’re back. The Poetry Chaikhana is back.

Sorry about the unannounced hiatus, but I decided I should take some time to recharge my batteries.

I hope it was a special Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice, New Year (pick any or all of the above) for you and your families.

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I want to say, Thank you, Lalita, for introducing me to this poem. Since I am new to Pat Schneider’s writing, I don’t know much about her. I look forward to learning more.

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea…

There is something supremely settling about this poem. The poet reminds us to see how each object, simply by acting according to their nature is actually an embodiment of a sort of universal love.

How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How soles of feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.

Objects simply are as they are, and their “actions” naturally flow from their form. Through being, self-acceptance, and natural self-expression, these objects express a humble enlightenment and service in the world.

We just need to see it. And learn from these quiet teachers.

And what is more generous than a window?


Recommended Books: Pat Schneider

Another River: New and Selected Poems Writing Alone and with Others Olive Street Transfer How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice Wake Up Laughing: A Spiritual Autobiography
More Books >>


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US (Contemporary)

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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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