Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Dec 21 2016

Symeon the New Theologian – We awaken in Christ’s body

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We awaken in Christ’s body
by Symeon the New Theologian

English version by Stephen Mitchell

We awaken in Christ’s body
as Christ awakens our bodies,
and my poor hand is Christ, He enters
my foot, and is infinitely me.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is indivisibly
whole, seamless in His Godhood).

I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous? — Then
open your heart to Him

and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love Him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body

where all our body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy as Him,
and He makes us, utterly, real,

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

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


/ Image by obsidian-blade /

Since it is the Solstice and we are coming into the Christmas season, I thought I would take the opportunity to share one of my favorite poems by Symeon the New Theologian.

Symeon doesn’t urge us to merely honor or love the Beloved (Christ within the Christian tradition) from a distance. We melt into the Divine, become one with the Divine, share the same body.

I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him

Some of these lines remind me of the poem attributed to Teresa of Avila, You Are Christ’s Hands with it’s lines– “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, / no hands but yours…”

This poem by Symeon is one I just want to drink in — it feels so deeply healing and generous to the soul.

and everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
maimed, ugly, irreparably
damaged, is in Him transformed

and recognized as whole, as lovely,
and radiant in His light
he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Thinking of Christmas, I have always felt a particular love for manger scenes, ceramic, porcelain, or carved wooden figurines of the Christ Child laid in a bed of straw, Mary knelt over her new child, Joseph with his lamp, the Three Magi holding their gifts, a shepherd with a few sheep, an ox and an ass at rest. Often the scene has a hut-like manger as background, the roof covered with moss — with the announcing angel and the Christmas star shining above. That iconic scene has always felt magical and alive to me, rich with unspoken meaning.

And it is. We can read the gospel stories of the birth of Christ as simply describing events, or we can read it more deeply as being imbued with spiritual meaning.

In the Nativity, we discover the pure spark of light that is the Christ child — also represented by the star — surrounded by the emptiness of the night. The Nativity is an image of light in the darkness. A small child, vulnerable, humble, poor, a tiny point of existence, surrounded by the immensity of the night… but with the promise that the light will increase until it floods the world with its light. (It is no accident that Christmas occurs near the Winter Solstice, when the world is plunged in darkness and awaits the rebirth of the sun.)

Looking at Mary and Joseph, one way to understand Mary in the Nativity story is that she represents the heart or the soul, while Joseph represents the intellect. From this perspective, the gospel story of the virgin birth takes on ever deeper dimensions.

In the mystical tradition, the soul must first stop attempting to take false lovers through every outer experience, and yearn so deeply for the true Beloved within that she (the soul) becomes restored to her natural “untouched” state (Mary’s virginity). That is, the soul must become purified, inward focused, unattached, “untouched” by the experiences of the outer world. Mary’s virginity is a virginity of awareness.

When this happens deeply enough, the divine touch comes, and a new life (the Christ child in Christian tradition) is formed within the individual. The overwhelming sense of joy and spiritual bliss that is felt becomes a new presence in the body and mind.

But the father of this new life is not Joseph. The heart does not conceive by the intellect, but through direct communion with the Eternal. At this stage, the intellect has a choice: Retreat into cold denial, proclaiming, ‘I do not know that child’ and reject the heart and the life it carries; or it can recognize that something deeply sacred is taking place, something not of its own making, and then take responsibility and provide for the growth and maturation of that inner illumination.

In this way, the Christian gospel drama is played out in you and me and in all devout mystics. This isn’t something experienced only by Christians; here, we are simply using Christian language to describe a universal mystical experience…

In the traditional iconography, we see the infant Christ on a bed of straw in a manger surrounded by animals. In the gospel tale, two animals are mentioned specifically: an ox and an ass. Why those two animals? Esoteric Christian teachings sometimes explain it this way: the ox (an ancient symbol of Venus), represents sensuality and passion; the ass can be seen as embodying either the ego or reason. What are they doing in this image of divine birth? Notice that they are not suppressed; the ox and ass are not chained or slaughtered. No, they rest, they are at peace, tamed by the presence of spiritual light. More than that, they are actually protecting the infant, giving him their strength. As one 20th century Christian teacher phrased it, “They are warming the Christ child with their breath.” Viewed this way, the nativity gives us an image not of suppression, but of integration of the energies of life in support of the awakening soul.

There is, of course, much more to explore. The cave or manger of the birth. The three Magian wise men from the east. But I hope I have suggested some good ideas to contemplate and inspire a bit more spiritual connection this Christmas.

he awakens as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.

Wishing each and every one of you a beautiful Christmas, Hanukkah, and Solstice. May this time when the light renews itself amidst the darkness also bring a renewal of the light and life within you and everyone your life touches.


Recommended Books: Symeon the New Theologian

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives Hymns of Divine Love: Songs of praise by one of the great mystics of all church history
More Books >>


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Dec 14 2016

Buson – winter moon

Published by under Poetry

winter moon
by Buson

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

winter moon —
bowing to a monk
on the bridge

— from The Moon Over Tagoto: Selected Haiku of Buson, Translated by Gabriel Rosenstock / Translated by John McDonald


/ Image by Hartwig HKD /

I couldn’t help but notice the full moon last night hovering in the cool winter sky.

Something about a “winter moon” seems more moon-like, evoking the moon at its brightest, purest, and perhaps most aloof. There is a crystalline clarity to the moon in a winter sky.

This is the moon of awakened awareness, shining sartori.

But with the closing lines, who is bowing to the monk on the bridge? One way to read it is that the moon is bowing to the monk. Perhaps the moon is heavy and low in the sky. So perhaps heavenly enlightenment is quietly acknowledging the noble journey of the monk.

We can also read these lines as we ourselves are bowing to the monk, which seems to transform the monk into the moon itself. So perhaps we are bowing to the embodied enlightenment of the monk.

The bridge itself seems significant. In Asia, we have “moon bridges,” highly arched bridges that form a full (moon) circle when seen in reflection upon the water’s surface. So, is the bridge the moon? Or is the moon a bridge?

A bridge is an interstitial space, joining two realms separated by flowing water, yet the bridge itself belongs to neither side. It represents a pathway between worlds and states of mind. The bridge is connection, pathway, and transformation.

Let’s bow to that winter moon-bridge. Perhaps it will bow back to us.


Recommended Books: Buson

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


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Dec 09 2016

William Stafford – Any Morning

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Any Morning
by William Stafford

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

— from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by William Stafford


/ Image by incolor16 /

I think there is a great deal of wisdom in this poem. It is a reminder of how to conduct oneself while pretending to be part of the world. Yes, at work, at the store, saying hello to neighbors, do be practical, be responsible, be concerned. Or at least, appear to be.

But in those private moments, perhaps early in the morning before others have awakened, before the “important” activity of the day, before the clock has begun to tick, find those languid moments where sweetness abounds in the tiny movements and forgotten corners. On some fundamental level, this is our real job as human beings, to discover these moments, to bathe in them, to gather them like pollen — and then, to go about our lives making honey.

You can frown, if it is expected of you. But it is hard to do with the sweetness still on your tongue.


Recommended Books: William Stafford

The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems My Name is William Tell Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems Even in Quiet Places Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford
More Books >>


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Dec 02 2016

Thich Nhat Hanh – Please Call Me by My True Names

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Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

— from Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh, by Thich Nhat Hanh


/ Image by AlicePopkorn /

This is a lovely, unflinching meditation on how all of being and all of human experience weaves together into a single tapestry of the whole. It can even draw comparisons with Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” where everything, terrible and beautiful, is one, is witnessed, and is found within oneself.

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —
even today I am still arriving.

Most of us have learned to anticipate what will happen next, and we end up mentally dwelling in our fantasies and fears about the future. But the future is merely an idea; it never has reality. The present moment is all that is ever real. And that is where we must dwell if we want to truly be alive and know what is real.

The present is a state of “still arriving.” Because the present moment is not a fixed space in time, we can’t say that anything encountered in the present is fixed and settled either. The present is a gossamer thin and moving thread of light where all things are just barely stepping into the visibility of being… as the moment keeps moving. Everything, everyone, in every second is always just arriving. The present is a continuous becoming.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest…

Another fascinating thing is discovered when we truly, deeply perceive the present moment: Not only are we and all things “still arriving,” but the illusion of boundaries and separate being falls away. The notion of identity expands and recognizes itself just as naturally in all things witnessed. We find we are not just the person watching the bud on the Spring branch, but in our arriving we are equally the Spring bud, the young bird, the caterpillar in the flower, the jewel waiting in the stone. This is not some poetic game of words; it is what we actually perceive.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive.

When we finally see this truth, for the first time we can truly witness the world as it is. And that is what this poem is most about: witnessing. Thich Nhat Hanh invites us to courageously witness the panorama of life, wonders and horrors alike. Through this honest witnessing, we are not spectators watching others from a distance; no, it all unfolds upon us and in us. We are witnessing ourselves in many forms. We recognize that anything that happens anywhere in the world, is actually happening to us. Everything done, is done by ourselves… to ourselves. There is no unfolding experience in the world that we are not participants in.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

This is why compassion is not altruistic. This is why service is no effort. When we finally see things as they are, it is all part of our own selves. When we offer our heart, when we offer our hand, we are simply helping ourselves. Who among us, when he touches a hot iron, doesn’t immediately pull back and then soothe the burn under cool water? That’s not altruism, it is the natural response to pain in one’s body. When we see clearly, we see we are all of one body, and the joys and pains of any other is our own as well.

Compassion and a heart that has broken open are the natural result of being awake to this truth, and they are no effort at all.


Recommended Books: Thich Nhat Hanh

Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy & Liberation


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Nov 30 2016

Kamalakanta – The black bee of my mind

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The black bee of my mind is drawn in sheer delight
by Kamalakanta

The black bee of my mind is drawn in sheer delight
To the blue lotus flower of Mother Shyama’s feet,
The blue flower of the feet of Kali, Shiva’s Consort;
Tasteless, to the bee, are the blossoms of desire.
My Mother’s feet are black, and black, too, is the bee;
Black is made one with black! This much of the mystery
My mortal eyes behold, then hastily retreat.
But Kamalakanta’s hopes are answered in the end;
He swims in the Sea of Bliss, unmoved by joy or pain.

— from Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar, by Elizabeth U. Harding


/ Image by Meanest Indian /

In the imagery associated with the goddess Kali (Shyama), black is the divine color, for it is the color of mystery, of the night, that which is beyond knowing, the color that swallows all other colors.

My Mother’s feet are black, and black, too, is the bee…

With devotion, the busy bee of the mind becomes quiet and “black” like the vast, still mystery of God (or, rather, Goddess). Drawn to the center of awareness, it loses itself in the blissful nectar’s sweetness, until…

Black is made one with black!

Beautiful!

(Kali isn’t normally depicted as such an old woman, but the eyes of the woman in this photograph, so quiet and keen within that beautifully weathered face, just made me think, “Those are the eyes of the mother goddess peering into our hearts…”)

=

Many of you have expressed serious concerns and fears to me about the state of the world in recent weeks. Worldly problems need to be confronted and addressed on the practical level at which they exist, but if they are addressed only at that level, the underlying problems are never resolved or even fully recognized. I personally believe that the ideal is an integrated approach in which we cultivate deep quiet, and then combine that with vigorous action. What that looks like in each individual life is different, unique to our own strengths and circumstances.

This approach creates a dilemma, no doubt about it. It is very difficult to spend the day dealing with the intense, constant specificity of a busy life engaged with the challenges of the world, sometimes even having to navigate the psychic extremes of conflict and confrontation, yet returning again and again to meditation and prayerful quiet. What is the solution? Practice. Dedication. Acceptance of the difficulties that arise in a life lived with heart and compassion. But also, we can draw strength from recognizing how the active and the inner feed each other. When we tap into those moments of deep peace, we can discover in ourselves a clarity and purpose which strengthen our actions, while daily action and service in the world reinforce the deepest values of the heart. Whatever we do in the world becomes a ritual of sorts, an embodied affirmation through interaction, validating what we have learned, highlighting where we yet need strengthening and refinement.

I encourage each of us, each in our own unique way, to reach out and work for a better, kinder, safer, more just world. What we do can be small or it can be grand. It doesn’t have to be what other people expect or recognize or recognize as “service.” It just has to satisfy the heart’s instinct to help. And then support that with whatever creative or quiet pursuits feed the spirit — meditation, prayer, poetry, play.

Me, personally, I’m pretty good at the internal life, but fiery and erratic with the outer stuff, especially when I witness cruelty. That’s the balance I work at, learning steadiness and patience in my worldly activity, while not letting that draw too much energy away from my internal, creative life. Add ME/chronic fatigue syndrome to the mix and I have a rich practice that keeps me challenged and engaged. What is the particular balance you work at?

Sending love to everyone.


Recommended Books: Kamalakanta

Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar


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Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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Nov 23 2016

Pablo Neruda – Poetry

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Poetry
by Pablo Neruda

English version by Anthony Kerrigan

And it was at that age… Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don’t know, I don’t know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don’t know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating planations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke free on the open sky.

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


/ Image by futurowoman /

I often extol the virtue of silence and profound inner stillness, but today, in honor of the International Day of Words, let’s honor the healing and transformative power of words. The International Day of Words was started by a South American organization to remind us all how essential dialog, communication — words — are if we are to avoid violence.

Think about this beyond our surface platitudes about communication and peace for a moment. Violence only erupts when we feel unable to speak or be heard. The violence reflex occurs when words not being exchanged. Words are the preventative medicine against violence.

Of course, the dilemma is that it is never one way. All parties must be listening as well as talking. But when expression is suppressed and the pathways of communication are shut down, that’s the time to duck.

Poetry is the pathway to peace. We’re talking real words, deep words, not chatter. Words, and more generally all forms of expression that give voice to our hopes and humanity, are the sign of well-being within society.

So a few words by Neruda for us today in honor of the words that unleash us, that speak through us, that the world waits to hear spoken…

=

The autobiography of a poet and his art.

And it was at that age… Poetry arrived
in search of me.

It isn’t that he sought poetry but, rather, that poetry sought him. He was simply watching the world. In watching, he lost himself–

there I was without a face
and it touched me.

–and poetry came to him.

Every art beneath its surface craft is about seeing. And true seeing requires selflessness. (I use seeing in the widest sense of deep perception. Music and hearing fit comfortably within my definition of “seeing” too.) The ego-self always — always — colors and fogs our vision. Deep art requires stepping free from the ego’s blinders, to see honestly and fully. The ancient schools would say, only when we see — without self — do we have something to say. Only then is the artist ready.

and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
deciphering
that fire

The path of the artist is also the path of awakening.

Egolessness, spiritual awakening, and art… This raises an obvious question: Why then do so many great artists embody just the opposite, exhibiting immense egos and imbalanced lives? Not everyone is taught to approach their art as a path of clarity and awakening, but there is still the artist’s desperate need to see beyond the limits of the ego. The result is that each artist develops his or her own unique way to lurch briefly free from ego to catch those pure moments of inspiration and vision.

and suddenly I saw
the heavens
unfastened
and open,
planets,
palpitating planations,
shadow perforated,
riddled
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

But such an aggressive, chaotic approach becomes traumatic for the awareness, and the individual must then counterbalance by reinforcing the ego once again. This also explains why too many visionaries and artists turn to drink and other narcotics: to cope with these violent swings of consciousness.

Better to learn meditation and stillness and patience. Most of all, one must know the naked self. That’s how to stand whole before the immense vision.

Actually, you don’t just stand there, you step into it — a fulfillment, an overflowing, an expansion, a merging.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
void,
likeness, image of
mystery,
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke free on the open sky.

That mystery then seeks you out, your arm, your hand, and the pen it holds.

and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
nonsense,
pure wisdom…


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 >>


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Nov 16 2016

Kahlil Gibran – Good and Evil

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Good and Evil
by Kahlil Gibran

And one of the elders of the city said, Speak to us of Good and Evil.
And he answered:
Of the good in you I can speak, but not of the evil.
For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst?
Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts it drinks even of dead waters.

You are good when you are one with yourself.
Yet when you are not one with yourself you are not evil.
For a divided house is not a den of thieves; it is only a divided house.
And a ship without rudder may wander aimlessly among perilous isles yet sink not to the bottom.

You are good when you strive to give of yourself.
Yet you are not evil when you seek gain for yourself.
For when you strive for gain you are but a root that clings to the earth and sucks at her breast.
Surely the fruit cannot say to the root, “Be like me, ripe and full and ever giving of your abundance.”
For the fruit giving is a need, as receiving is a need to the root.

You are good when you are fully awake in your speech,
Yet you are not evil when you sleep while your tongue staggers without purpose.
And even stumbling speech may strengthen a weak tongue.

You are good when you walk to your goal firmly and with bold steps.
Yet you are not evil when you go thither limping.
Even those who limp go not backward.
But you who are strong and swift, see that you do not limp before the lame, deeming it kindness.

You are good in countless ways, and you are not evil when you are not good,
You are only loitering and sluggard.
Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.
But in some of you that longing is a torrent rushing with might to the sea, carrying the secrets of the hillsides and the songs of the forest.
And in others it is a flat stream that loses itself in angles and bends and lingers before it reaches the shore.
But let not him who longs much say to him who longs little, “Wherefore are you slow and halting?”
For the truly good ask not the naked, “Where is your garment?” nor the houseless, “What has befallen your house?”

— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran


/ Image by butler.corey /

As I was considering which poem to send out this morning, I came across this meditation on good and evil by Kahlil Gibran. I last featured this poem and commentary about six years ago, and I thought it might be worth sharing again…

I like this meditation on good and evil. It challenges assumptions and and raises important questions. Gibran suggests there is only good, for that is everyone’s inherent nature, and what we call evil is simply being lost and uninspired. He calls us to be compassionate to those who are selfish and cruel, for they suffer from greater poverty than the homeless and greater hunger than the starving; they suffer from poverty of the soul.

I strongly feel one should never passively allow the hard-hearted to inflict harm or hoard what belongs to all. Such actions must be opposed with strength and courage and cunning. The vulnerable must always be protected. That is a basic duty. But even complete success in one such action does not stop the fundamental dynamic of harm, just that particular instance. We must always remember that those who inflict harm and encode selfishness into systems and institutions, those people are also seeking their way, just blinded by their spiritual poverty. That’s where the real, patient work of the ages is found… finding how to open eyes and hearts long used to to being shut, finding how to redirect them toward the forgotten goodness and generosity held within.

One line I do question, however, is, “Pity that the stags cannot teach swiftness to the turtles.” To suggest that some people are stags and others turtles might be read to imply that our spiritual unfolding is fixed. Every human being harbors something of the heavenly within. There is no speed to the process. All that is needed is the right reminder of what we already are. Then begins the steady process of discovering how to encourage that ember and let its warmth permeate all aspects of our lives. Turtles don’t need to become stags. Humans simply need to become themselves. Humans just need to become more human.

But how to reach those who would armor themselves against the urging of their own hearts? No simple formula, nor single action nor organization can accomplish this. Not a year nor a generation nor a century will accomplish this. Still, that is what must be done. That is the real, hard, slow work given to us all to accomplish, each in our own lives, our work, our world.

Knowing our work, let’s be impatient to begin and supremely patient in its accomplishment. Knowing our work, what cause is there for anything but joy in turning to it each day?

In your longing for your giant self lies your goodness: and that longing is in all of you.


Recommended Books: Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet The Beloved: Reflections on the Path of the Heart Broken Wings Jesus the Son of Man Kahlil Gibran: His Life & World
More Books >>


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Lebanon/US (1883 – 1931) Timeline
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Secular or Eclectic

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Nov 11 2016

Theodore Roethke – In a Dark Time (thoughts on the election)

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In a Dark Time
by Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood —
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks — is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is —
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

— from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, by Theodore Roethke


/ Image by iNeedChemicalX /

I know many of us are deeply disturbed and frightened by the results of the US elections this week. I won’t say that things are okay. I will just say what I have said elsewhere in recent days:

Before election day and after election day, the work remains the same– to give a helping hand, to protect the vulnerable, to cultivate a livable future, to be less blind to others, to be fully present, to embody love in a troubled world.

=

This poem by Roethke is one of those poems to keep close in difficult times.

In a dark time, the eye begins to see

The struggle against despair, disorientation, darkness. The solitary individual lost in a lost world. We have all been there at some point in our lives. Deep seekers have a particular tendency to travel through those shadowed spaces.

I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.

That despair is often a deep seated sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the human world presented to us. It can feel uncaring, limited, violent, broken, and incomplete. In other words, it is a place that does not accept the individual as he or she is. To operate in the human world, we are forced into games of pretense and self-disguise. It is a feeling of homelessness and isolation.

What does one do when the soul is at odds with circumstance? It creates a terrible crisis. As social creatures, we align with the group mind, often without awareness or consent. The more naturally we do this, the better we fit into society and exist in the human world. But what about the eccentrics and visionaries, those who resist that psychic pull in order to answer the soul’s need to be itself and see beyond social artifice?

The edge is what I have.

They tend to dwell at the edges. That is where both danger and possibility are found. There we gain the possibility of seeing clearly for the first time, witnessing reality as a complete and self-fulfilled individual.

But the danger is very real, as well. No longer relying on socially constructed reality as our boundary we also lose our safe landmarks. The psyche becomes disoriented and fragile.

To navigate this necessary dark night of the soul, the seeker and the artist must cultivate a highly refined inner sense of balance and discipline. This is an important reason for developing a vigorous spiritual practice. Without the necessary inner solidity, the tendency is to rely on dangerous crutches, like excessive drinking and drug use — a terrible problem for so many creative non-conformists.

Think of it this way: The normal consensus reality is like the rigid shell of an egg. It does an excellent job of safely containing the unformed individual and protecting it from exposure to the unknown outside reality. But, if the individual remains within that shell forever, he never experiences the fullness of life. Through spiritual practice, one awakens the fire of life and takes on inner solidity and form. Then, when the shell has become too confining, we can break free into the open air without danger of fragmentation, ready to encounter the new world.

…Those dark periods we experience, they do actually serve a purpose, awakening clarity of vision and a compassionate heart. When we feel most vulnerable and lost, we are often going through our greatest growth and transformation, readying for the blaze of light.

Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

We must learn to work deeply amidst the darkness. We discover who we really are slowly emerging from the shadows, for that is our stable landmark when all else shifts about.

The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

=

Which poem do you read when you are troubled or frightened? What gives you comfort, clarity, or courage? Let me know.

Sending love.


Recommended Books: Theodore Roethke

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke Theodore Roethke: Selected Poems On Poetry and Craft The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke
More Books >>


Theodore Roethke, Theodore Roethke poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Theodore Roethke

US (1908 – 1963) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Theodore Roethke

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Nov 04 2016

Yunus Emre – We entered the house of realization

Published by under Poetry

We entered the house of realization
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

We entered the house of realization,
we witnessed the body.

The whirling skies, the many-layered earth,
the seventy-thousand veils,
we found in the body.

The night and the day, the planets,
the words inscribed on the Holy Tablets,
the hill that Moses climbed, the Temple,
and Israfil’s trumpet, we observed in the body.

Torah, Psalms, Gospel, Quran —
what these books have to say,
we found in the body.

Everybody says these words of Yunus
are true. Truth is wherever you want it.
We found it all within the body.

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


/ Image by herfairytale /

We encountered the house of realization,
we witnessed the body.

Not only is the sacred always present — right here, right now — but that holiness is actually felt within the body.

When we talk of “the body” we tend to have a very concrete, materialistic idea of what we mean, this physical thing composed of muscle and bone. Its boundaries are hard and limited. In the end this body-thing contains very little.

But the body is more than this. Consider your dreams for a moment. In dreams, often you have a body there, as well. It is clearly not the same as the physical body, yet it too is your body within the reality of the dream. That dream body is capable of many actions and even transformations the physical body cannot. But is it not your body?

Both bodies, the physical body and the dream body, become the seat of our perception through which we experience the reality of the moment. Both bodies in some way are us.

These are just two of the many bodies we experience.

Let us call all of these collective bodies we inhabit the Body. Or we may call this the Self. This is the unedited and fully integrated being one is.

That limited package of organs and actions and sensory inputs doesn’t seem so claustrophobic to the spirit anymore.

The whirling skies, the many-layered earth,
the seventy-thousand veils,
we found in the body.

So when a mystic declares that entire worlds are found within the body, that isn’t just poetic metaphor. What this body actually is is much more than we first imagine. The boundaries of the body, which we once thought to end abruptly at the skin, are actually not there at all. The body continues, opening itself outward. All that we encounter and experience but imagine to be outside ourselves, all of that is actually contained within the body.

Here is what Yunus Emre is saying: By looking within the body, the body expands to encompass the universe. The fullness of reality is not outside oneself. It can never be fully recognized and integrated within the consciousness by looking outward. But by looking inward it is all there. And it is all you. Within the body.

Not only are all the pieces found within the body, but there they fit together harmoniously to form an integrated and harmonious whole. The natural interconnectedness of reality is recognized, which is the deep truth of all traditions.

Torah, Psalms, Gospel, Quran —
what these books have to say,
we found in the body.

In this expanded view of the Body/Self, let us not disregard the physical body, which was our starting point. The vision of harmonious immensity found within does, in fact, touch and affect the physical body too.

This vision is perceived as a rapturous bliss permeating all levels of awareness, including the physical body. In the physical body, every cell feels awakened, alive, sanctified. The whole body, from the most subtle to the most physical, vibrates with delight.

I am reminded of Kabir, the great Indian poet, who sang:

How could I ever express
How blessed I feel
To revel in such vast ecstasy
In my own body?

The touch of the Divine is tangible, it is felt… and it is always there, within the body.

Everybody says these words of Yunus
are true. Truth is wherever you want it.
We found it all within the body.


Recommended Books: Yunus Emre

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


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

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Oct 28 2016

Dionysius the Areopagite – Lead us up beyond light

Published by under Poetry

Lead us up beyond light
by Dionysius the Areopagite

English version by Ivan M. Granger

Lead us up beyond light,
beyond knowing and unknowing,
to the topmost summit of truth,

where the mysteries lie hidden,
unchanging and absolute,
in the dazzling darkness
of the secret silence.
All light is outshined
by the intensity of their shade.

Our senses are flooded, our minds blinded
by such unseen beauty
beyond all beauty.


/ Image by Sudhamshu /

You may not be familiar with them, but the lines are hugely important in the history of Western mysticism and spirituality. Virtually all European esoteric traditions have drawn inspiration and meaning from them. So take a moment to reread them and consider what is being said and why Western mystics have been inspired by them through the centuries.

In particular, that phrase about the “dazzling darkness,” like a Christian koan, is contemplated endlessly and keeps reappearing in esoteric writings.

Dionysius is saying something about knowledge and the limitations of knowledge, using the metaphor of light and darkness.

Lead us up beyond light,
beyond knowing and unknowing,
to the topmost summit of truth…

We might say that intellectual knowledge is knowledge dependent on things being visible, in the light. But clearly Dionysius feels that such knowledge does not attain the “topmost summit of truth.”

There is another level of knowing, deeper, more obscure, yet all-encompassing. This is the knowledge sought by the mystic. This is the knowledge found within deep inner silence. This is the knowledge that connects us with genuine truth. Amidst this darkness, the truth shines.

…where the mysteries lie hidden,
unchanging and absolute,
in the dazzling darkness
of the secret silence.

But this language of darkness and blindness and unknowing as descriptions of this ultimate knowledge is more than evocative metaphor and playful contradiction.

That wonderful phrase, the “dazzling darkness,” is a reference to a very real state of awareness experienced in deep communion when the mind has settled completely into stillness and no longer projects a conceptual overlay upon reality.

We can even say that seeing (in the normal sense) stops, while perception opens as if for the first time. A person is no longer seen as a person, a table is no longer seen as a table. Surfaces and categories — the foundation of mundane perception — become ephemeral, dreamlike, insubstantial. One stops witnessing the surface level of reality in the common sense, and this can be compared to blindness or darkness. Yet everything shines! Everything is seen to be radiant with a living interpenetrating light. And the same light shines in everything.

This is the dazzling darkness of Dionysius. This is why many mystics assert they no longer even see the world and, instead, only see God. It is not that they bump into furniture when they walk across a room; perception on the mundane level doesn’t stop (except in the most ecstatic states), but surfaces take on a thin or unreal quality; it only occupies a minimal level of the awareness. It is as if the world everyone always assumes to be the real world, the visible world, is actually a world of shadow, but underlying that is an unseen world of brilliance and indescribably beauty.

Our senses are flooded, our minds blinded
by such unseen beauty
beyond all beauty.

This is the dazzling darkness sought by mystics throughout the ages.

=

Speaking of darkness, Halloween is coming up, Samhain in Celtic tradition, the Dia de los Muertos. This is considered to be a time of year when the veil between this world and the Otherworld thins, when we can reconnect with the spirits of our ancestors, when can gain unexpected insight. It is a time of magic and reconnection and stepping into the unknown.

And it is a time of the good darkness. This is the time of year (in the northern hemisphere) when the light of summer and the harvest season recedes, the days grow shorter, and the darkness of winter takes ascendance. This is the good darkness that balances the year. With darker, shorter, colder days, we are less active and turn inward. It is a time that reminds us to return to the dark cave of home and self. It is in this internal, inturning time that we gain insight and strength and, through endurance, find ourselves renewed and ready for the new light to come in springtime. This darkness is the time of spiritual practice that prepares us for the springtime of life and enlightenment. For only in darkness does new life gestate. Only in darkness do our eyes learn to see.

So let’s celebrate those who came before us and made a way for us in the world. Let’s celebrate the infinitely unknown possibilities yet available to us. And let’s celebrate the good darkness — and the light and life we discover there!


Recommended Books: Dionysius the Areopagite

The Essential Mystics: Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages


Dionysius the Areopagite, Dionysius the Areopagite poetry, Christian poetry Dionysius the Areopagite

Syria (6th Century) Timeline
Christian

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Oct 26 2016

Wu Men Hui-k’ai – The Great Way has no gate

Published by under Poetry

The Great Way has no gate
by Wu Men Hui-k’ai

English version by Eiichi Shimomisei

The Great Way has no gate,
A thousand roads enter it.
When one passes through this gateless gate,
He freely walks between heaven and earth.


/ Image by frestro79 /

A koan for us today. A thousand roads enter it, but there is no gate. When we pass through this gateless gate, we are liberated.

We always want to understand, as if we can think our way into heaven. But a confounded head, paired with a striving heart is a powerful combination. From that friction enlightenment can be sparked.

We don’t find gateways. We ourselves open.


Recommended Books: Wu Men Hui-k’ai

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


Wu Men Hui-k’ai

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

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Oct 26 2016

Video: Poetry as Transformative Experience

A short video in which I discuss poetry, mysticism, and transformation, exploring ideas, such as–

– There is something inherently esoteric in all poetry
– Poetry is the natural language of mystical experience
– Poetry affects thought patterns and rhythm of breath
– Poetry and trance
– Poetry is built of words, which are built of breath
– We participate in the poet’s breath
– Poetry can convey sacred experience directly

From a 2008 interview with Ivan M. Granger by the Ecstatic Arts and Theater Project

Links:

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com
The Poetry Chaikhana
Poetry from all the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions. Explore by poet, tradition, theme, or timeline.

http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/Publications/The_Longing_In_Between/
The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World
An anthology of sacred poetry edited with commentary by Ivan M. Granger — including this haiku by Issa.

Theme Music by The Yuval Ron Ensemble. Used by permission.

Copyright 2016 Poetry Chaikhana

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Oct 21 2016

Ivan M. Granger – Every Shaped Thing

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

Every Shaped Thing
by Ivan M. Granger

Sighing,
every shaped thing
turns
heavenward.

Your altar
cannot seat
the thousand thousand
idols.

Holding them,
what do you have?

Each gilded god
says:

“I am
impoverished
by the sun.

I can only
point
up.”

— from Real Thirst: Poetry of the Spiritual Journey, by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by maxpower /

it has been quite a while since I featured one of my own poems. This morning I heard this one running through my thoughts…

I wrote this poem when I lived on Maui years ago. I had just finished a meditation and stepped outside to gaze at the forest of eucalyptus trees. Slowly looking around, I saw how everything is reaching, turning, pointing heavenward. The material world, when objectified can become a confusing tangle of solidity, separation, and objects of desire, but in that moment, with my mind at rest and my eyes clear, the world danced before me, filled with a golden light. And I saw that while the world hides the Eternal, at the same time it ardently reveals it.

In that pure moment it was clear to me that everything is giddy with its own inner light. Consciously or unconsciously, everything is always orienting itself toward the light from which it draws its own life. All of creation — every person, every thing, even every idea, “every shaped thing” — is just a reflection of the divine radiance present everywhere.

That beauty, that luminosity is both the snare and the key for us as souls active within the material world.

Whenever we desire a thing… or person or experience, we artificially deify it. The desire and mental fixation becomes a form of worship. We may tell ourselves, “I want this, I want that,” but what we unknowingly crave is not the thing itself, it is that spark of the Eternal glimpsed within it. The desired object becomes a “gilded god” — false in the sense that it is not truly the wholeness we seek; but also, like an “idol” or icon, when approached sincerely and openly, it embodies something essential for us: it points to the Divine which it reflects.

The frustrating truth is that no individual can ever gather enough objects of desire to satisfy desire. Every time we acquire that desired object or experience — a new job, a new lover, money, an ice cream sundae — there is a fleeting sense of satisfaction… and then it is gone. Within minutes we are once again feeling desire and looking for the next object to hang that desire on. We’re looking for the next thing that sparkles. But it is not the object we actually seek, it is that shine. And that shine is the spark of the Divine.

When we learn to see in gold the glimmer of the sun, then we see that everything shines — everything! — ourselves included. It is not possessing that object or experience that we desire, it is that we ache to recognize and participate in that glow. And everything glows. Recognizing this is when the heart is truly satisfied and comes to rest.


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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Oct 19 2016

Fakhruddin Iraqi – These perfumes

Published by under Poetry

These perfumes
by Fakhruddin Iraqi

English version by William Chittick and Peter Lamborn Wilson

These perfumes:
      musk, clove…
all from the hyacinthine shadows
      of those tresses.
You think you hear
      a nightingale’s song…
No. It is the voice
      of the Rose.

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


/ Image by Zwoing /

I wanted to bring you a hint of perfume today…

This brief poem has that delightfully ambiguous Sufi tendency of using erotic language when describing the heart’s yearning for the Eternal.

Iraqi starts with several sensuous evocations of perfume: musk, clove, hyacinth. Can you smell them?

Many mystics experience a scent that can be rapturously overwhelming or tantalizingly subtle. This blissful scent can also be understood as the perfume worn by the Beloved (“of those tresses”) that awakens sacred ardor upon the spiritual journey.

And, of course, perfume is scented oil, oil being the substance used to anoint and initiate.

To suggest the almost erotic sense of divine union, sometimes the earthier scent of musk is described. Musk is the aphrodisiac oil of the musk deer. Deer, being creatures of profound silence and shyness, are themselves symbols of the elusive Beloved.

The scent of flowers is often evoked, as well. Blossoms and flowers are natural symbols of enlightenment, the unfolding of awareness and the opening of the heart.

And, of course, the flower precedes the fruit, whose juice ultimately yields wine…

Iraqi then shifts from perfume to song. He speaks of the nightingale and the rose.

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 the lover, the seeker, the Sufi. So the nightingale’s song is the crying out of creation for the Beloved.

But here Iraqi turns the imagery around and asserts that what is heard is not the nightingale, but the “voice of the Rose.” He seems to be saying that when we call out to God, we are actually hearing God calling to us. Said in an even more all-encompassing way, all of creation is a part of God, and its every song, when heard with an open ear, is really the song of God to God. Every song is the voice of the Rose. Your own song is the Rose’s song within you.


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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Oct 12 2016

Rainer Maria Rilke – I believe in all that has never yet been spoken

Published by under Poetry

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.
May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.

Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,
I will sing you as no one ever has,

streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.

— from Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, by Rainer Maria Rilke / Translated by Joanna Macy


/ Image by Lel4nd /

What can I say to this poem — but Yes!

I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for

may for once spring clear
without my contriving.

May we all find the key that unlocks within ourselves creativity, capability, compassion…. that our lives may become a more perfect song to the Eternal.

May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back…

So what waits within you?


Recommended Books: Rainer Maria Rilke

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


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

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
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Oct 07 2016

Lisel Mueller – Why I Need the Birds

Published by under Poetry

Why I Need the Birds
by Lisel Mueller

When I hear them call
in the morning, before
I am quite awake,
my bed is already traveling
the daily rainbow,
the arc toward evening;
and the birds, leading
their own discreet lives
of hunger and watchfulness,
are with me all the way,
always a little ahead of me
in the long-practiced manner
of unobtrusive guides.

By the time I arrive at evening,
they have just settled down to rest;
already invisible, they are turning
into the dreamwork of trees;
and all of us together —
myself and the purple finches,
the rusty blackbirds,
the ruby cardinals,
and the white-throated sparrows
with their liquid voices —
ride the dark curve of the earth
toward daylight, which they announce
from their high lookouts
before dawn has quite broken for me.

— from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems, by Lisel Mueller


/ Image by MariaWillhelm /

This poem makes me think of my wife. She is always noticing the small encounters of the day and how they seem to draw our attention out of its patterns in order to whisper to us of what is coming up on our path.

…always a little ahead of me
in the long-practiced manner
of unobtrusive guides.

Birds are a particular favorite of hers. Their song, sometimes sharp, sometimes melodic, calls out for attention. With their gift of flight, the way they perch high on treetops and lampposts, they are messengers, watchers, sentinels. And among their own kind, they are gossips too.

My wife is always listening to what birds have to tell her.

Lisel Mueller’s poem especially evokes birdsong at those two liminal periods, dawn and dusk, when everything is changing, our reality is shifting, when the world is handed off between day and night.

There is a tree outside our bedroom window. When we leave the windows open, we can hear the birds’ first tentative calls in the gray light before dawn. But I especially like the communal, nestling chucks and soft chirps as they are settling themselves down among the branches in the early evening. At home within the descending dark, they become part of the fading branches and leaves until they are purely the voice of the slumbering tree itself–

already invisible, they are turning
into the dreamwork of trees

And the world quietly turns, carrying us all. From their high place, the birds see the coming dawn first. They call out to it, and call out to us to wake and witness and celebrate with them.

.myself and the purple finches…

ride the dark curve of the earth
toward daylight, which they announce
from their high lookouts
before dawn has quite broken for me.

Have a beautiful day!


Recommended Books: Lisel Mueller

Alive Together: New and Selected Poems Second Language: Poems The Need to Hold Still: Poems Dependencies: Poems


Lisel Mueller, Lisel Mueller poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Lisel Mueller

US & Germany (1924 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Oct 05 2016

Mary Oliver – Mysteries, Yes

Published by under Poetry

Mysteries, Yes
by Mary Oliver

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds
will never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

— from Evidence: Poems, by Mary Oliver


/ Image by OlivierAccart /

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
to be understood.

It is so easy to go about our lives and our world, relegating every encounter to the realm of the familiar. Everything can feel mundane, known, uninteresting. In our minds, we name each object or person or experience, we label and categorize, and so we move on, numb, thinking we know our lives. Yet, doing so, we have missed something essential.

Though we may have known a person for a lifetime, each new encounter, each new moment, is an entirely new world. A familiar walk presents itself anew to us each day. Every square foot of ground, each new breath, the passing moment itself is a universe of marvels just waiting for us to pay attention once again. The way to drop that inured exterior is to hush the jaded mind, to simplify the purposes of the heart, and to open the eyes.

That’s when we discover the mysteries once again.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Nice to have answers. They give us a sense of certainty, solid ground, landmarks.

But answers should be grasped loosely and occasionally allowed to slip away as we journey. Answers imply a certain vantage point. Every answer has a geometry to it. The individual stands at a point looking at some aspect of truth along a certain line of arc. Here’s the thing: As we journey and grow, we ourselves change, the landscape changes, the view changes. This doesn’t mean that the truth itself changes, but the angle has changed and perhaps the aspect of truth we are viewing has changed or expanded.

The old answer is not less true from the original point-of-view, but it no longer accommodates the new position and view.

This is why we should be cautious with people claiming THE answer. It implies stasis, rigidity. Such people are often stuck. Worse, their certainty is too often threatened by our movement and life.

Does this mean no answers? Of course not. But true answers, answers that hold up from many positions and angles, must necessarily be open-ended, adaptable, and inclusive. Real answers must welcome new questions. And, when they cannot adapt, they must allow themselves to fall away in favor of more complete representations of truth.

Of course, even the best “answer” is still but a description of truth, and not truth itself. When we want truth and not answers, we must go naked, free from artificial definitions, and encounter the entirety with mute astonishment.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.


Recommended Books: Mary Oliver

New and Selected Poems Why I Wake Early Dream Work House of Light Thirst: Poems
More Books >>


Mary Oliver, Mary Oliver poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Mary Oliver

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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