Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Oct 08 2014

Yunus Emre – One Who Is Real Is Humble

Published by under Poetry

One Who Is Real Is Humble
by Yunus Emre

English version by Jennifer Ferraro & Latif Bolat

To be real on this path you must be humble —
If you look down at others you’ll get pushed down the stairs.

If your heart goes around on high, you fly far from this path.
There’s no use hiding it —
What’s inside always leaks outside.

Even the one with the long white beard, the one who looks so wise —
If he breaks a single heart, why bother going to Mecca?
If he has no compassion, what’s the point?

My heart is the throne of the Beloved,
the Beloved the heart’s destiny:
Whoever breaks another’s heart will find no homecoming
in this world or any other.

The ones who know say very little
while the beasts are always speaking volumes;
One word is enough for one who knows.

If there is any meaning in the holy books, it is this:
Whatever is good for you, grant it to others too —

Whoever comes to this earth migrates back;
Whoever drinks the wine of love
understands what I say —

Yunus, don’t look down at the world in scorn —

Keep your eyes fixed on your Beloved’s face,
then you will not see the bridge
on Judgment Day.

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

/ Photo by SoulFlamer /

Yunus Emre gives us several wonderful lines in this poem…

There’s no use hiding it —
What’s inside always leaks outside.

That just about sums up the spiritual perspective of everything, doesn’t it? One way or another, the inner world always reveals itself. Whatever masks we wear eventually fall away or slowly take the shape of what lies beneath. Why hide what’s inside? We should cultivate and celebrate that inner self. It will show itself anyway.

This poem in general seems to be a critique of religious hypocrisy, and specifically it deflates the idea of religious superiority. Those first lines give us a strong image:

To be real on this path you must be humble —
If you look down at others you’ll get pushed down the stairs.

I imagine a stern qadi (or bishop or preacher or rabbi) who has spent his life carefully studying the minutia of religious law and has come to see everyone as falling short. He casts a cold eye on flawed and worldly humanity and judges them all to be far beneath him. It’s as if he is looking down a long staircase at the world.

That figure is in far greater spiritual danger than most of the people he looks down on. The thing he hasn’t recognized is how unstable those stairs are. Any distance of spiritual perfectionism we construct in our minds is inherently rigid and brittle, yet it must stand on a living, shifting ground. Those stairs will always collapse in the end.

The more people “look down on the world in scorn,” the further they fall. This is unavoidable gravity.

Even the one with the long white beard, the one who looks so wise —
If he breaks a single heart, why bother going to Mecca?
If he has no compassion, what’s the point?

Yunus Emre gives us the essential keys: humility and compassion. Everything else leads to pretense, which disjoints the soul, and false superiority, which enforces the illusion of separation and leads to collapse.

Yunus, don’t look down at the world in scorn —
Keep your eyes fixed on your Beloved’s face,
then you will not see the bridge
on Judgment Day.

We shouldn’t miss the logic of the first two lines: When we cast scornful eyes on the world, we can’t possibly see the Beloved’s face. The opposite is true, as well; when we are transfixed by the beauty of the Beloved, we see nothing but beauty. This is a clue… any religious figure who speaks with scorn, is not engulfed by the vision of the Divine and should be avoided.

The final couple of lines are also worth understanding. What does he mean about seeing or not seeing a bridge on Judgment Day? According Muslim tradition, in order to enter Paradise, one must cross as-Sirat, a bridge that is as thin as a hair and as sharp as a blade. But the purest never have to encounter the bridge. Yunus Emre is saying that it is only when we are not already lost in the vision of the Beloved that we must face the bridge. With that hair-thin bridge waiting, wasting focus on scorn is a dangerous thing, indeed.

To me, this is a powerful poem on the importance of compassion, humility, and proper spiritual focus. And it is a good reminder to us all that everything returns to the Golden Rule:

If there is any meaning in the holy books, it is this:
Whatever is good for you, grant it to others too —

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

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Oct 03 2014

Mahendranath Battacharya – Tell me, what are you doing now, Mind

Published by under Poetry

Tell me, what are you doing now, Mind
by Mahendranath Battacharya

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott

Tell me, what are you doing now, Mind,
sitting there with a blind eye?
There’s someone in your own house
but you’re so oblivious
you’ve never noticed!
There’s a secret path
with a small room at the end —
and what an amazing sight inside:
caskets filled with jewels
that you never even knew about.
There’s a lot of coming and going along that path.
Go, upstairs, to the highest room,
and you’ll see the moon rising.

Premik says excitedly,
Keep your eyes open;
if you want to be awake in yoga
you must travel this secret way.

— from Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott

/ Photo by InertiaK /

Autumn has begun to settle in where I live in Colorado. Crisp days offer new colors to the eye. The weather makes you want to wrap up warm and step outside to go in search of secret places where forgotten stories can be found amidst dappled golds and shadows. Returning home, you sip warm tea and read a favorite book.

Autumn has always seemed like the perfect season for poetry…

It is the final day of Navaratri, India’s nine day celebration of the goddess, so I thought a poem by a goddess devotee would be appropriate for today…

I love the way Mahendranath Battacharya addresses this poem to his own mind in the third person — a rather dim-witted third person, at that.

The poem becomes a sort of self-instruction while, at the same time, it gets its audience laughing. The Mind is commonly imagined to be in charge, the source of knowledge but, instead, Battacharya (like his fellow Bengali poet, Ramprasad) sees it as the fool messing everything up with its obliviousness and inability to notice what is in its “own house.” The “someone” who has crept into his house is the thieving ego.

This poem reflects the Tantric practices of Mahendranath Battacharya which emphasize a very precise knowledge of subtle energetic pathways that must be traversed by the Kundalini energy when it is awakened. With most people the Kundalini force is said to sit dormant at the base of the spine. Through spiritual practice and devotion, it is awakened as a fiery, energetic charge that rises up “the secret way” of the subtle channel along the spine, leading “upstairs” to the skull.

The “small room at the end,” the “highest room” is the mystical chamber (in some traditions referred to as the Bridal Chamber) contained in the bowl of the skull. It is here, amidst a flood of light, that the Kundalini (the Goddess Energy) joins in union with Siva (the Divine Masculine Energy), producing enlightenment and spiritual ecstasy. This is the real treasure of life, the radiant wealth each of us carries hidden within us, “caskets filled with jewels.” Find this room and “you’ll see the moon [of enlightenment] rising!”

Mahendranath Battacharya

India (1843 – 1908) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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Oct 01 2014

Rolf Jacobsen – Moon and Apple

Published by under Poetry

Moon and Apple
by Rolf Jacobsen

English version by Robert Bly

When the apple tree blooms,
the moon comes often like a blossom,
paler than any of them,
shining over the tree.

It is the ghost of the summer,
the white sister of the blossoms who returns
to drop in on us,
and radiate peace with her hands
so that you shouldn’t feel too bad when the hard times come.
For the Earth itself is a blossom, she says,
on the star tree,
pale with luminous
ocean leaves.

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

/ Photo by ShortAxel /

It’s past the summer season of apple blossoms and well into the autumn of ripe apples (at least for those of us north of the equator), but something about this poem spoke to me today. The blossoms of the apple tree glowing beneath the shining moon, a reminder to us all that even when things seem difficult, the Earth itself — and each one of us — “is a blossom… on the star tree.” If we are blossoms, that must mean we are quietly ripening with the season, and in the natural unfolding of things we will become sweet fruit in the cosmos.

Rolf Jacobsen, Rolf Jacobsen poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rolf Jacobsen

Norway (1907 – 1994) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

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Sep 26 2014

Hadewijch – The Queen of Sheba

Published by under Poetry

The Queen of Sheba
by Hadewijch

English version by Mother Columba Hart

The Queen of Sheba
Came to Solomon;
      That was in order to gain wisdom.
When she had found him, indeed,
His wonders streamed upon her so suddenly
      That she melted in contemplation.
            She gave him all,
            And the gift robbed her
      Of everything she had within —
            In both heart and mind,
            Nothing remained:
      Everything was engulfed in love.

— from Hadewijch: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality) , by Mother Columba Hart

/ Photo by priesteres /

Although my mother’s family was Catholic, my mother herself was a freethinker who didn’t want to raise me with overly rigid ideas of religion. She made sure I was exposed to the services of several different Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions so I could make up my own mind about God and religion as I grew up.

But that open-ended structure also meant that I came late to the Bible. I was in college before I really sat down and started reading the Bible. It wasn’t what I expected! How was I to understand these complex histories, stories, poems, and sayings? One thing was immediately obvious to me– a surface, literal reading of the Bible was not the way to understand its heart. I frequented the college libraries, checking out books of biblical commentary, from rather stuffy old tomes to modern New Age interpretations, all in an intense effort to discover what was really being conveyed by this enigmatic holy book.

You know, one of the sections that really had me scratching my head for a long time was the Song of Songs, sometimes called the Song of Solomon. In the center of the Bible was a love poem! An erotic love poem. The Song of Songs is a poem of pastoral lovers, alternating between the man’s voice and the woman’s voice. Although a reading of the poem won’t tell you this, tradition says that it is written by King Solomon and it relates his love affair with the Queen of Sheba. As lovely as the Song of Solomon is, what does it have to do with religion and spiritual truth? I mean, it is steamy stuff!

A little more background to help us make sense of the underlying meaning of Hadewijch’s poem: King Solomon was the son of the heroic King David. Solomon was considered the embodiment of perfect wisdom. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystics have looked to Solomon as the keeper of hidden divine knowledge. The Queen of Sheba is said to have come from Africa or Arabia. When these two great rulers met, they had a celebrated love affair.

But what does any of this have to do with spirituality? A surface telling of this story may be entertaining, but there is a deeper, esoteric meaning underlying all of this.

In the spiritual reading of this story, the figures of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon represent the classic spiritual lover and Beloved. In this lover/Beloved dichotomy, the woman typically represents the soul and the man represents God. The journeying Queen of Sheba coming to King Solomon is the searching soul awakening to love as it approaches God in His radiant wisdom.

This is how the Song of Songs, and so many other classic poems describing passionate lovers, can be simultaneously read as spiritual works. Love and passion, separation and and loss of self and union. These teach us important lessons of the spiritual journey and the relationship between oneself and the Divine.

Keeping this in mind, reread this poem by Hadewijch.

Does it make more sense now? Hadewijch is saying that the journeying soul (“The Queen of Sheba / Came to Solomon; / That was in order to gain wisdom”) encounters the Divine Presence and yields (“she melted in contemplation”) The little self becomes nothing (“Nothing remained”), yet is flooded with the great vision of reality (“His wonders streamed upon her”) and all-encompassing love (“Everything was engulfed in love”).

This is the great spiritual formula: the sweetly melting ego leads to the Divine Self; death leads to new Life.

PS – The Longing In Between Pre-order Response

We have had an excellent initial response to my announcement of the new anthology’s release in early November. Thank you, everyone, for your support of this new publication! The final elements of the book are coming together beautifully, and I think you’ll be as pleased as I am with it.

The special pricing will remain available for pre-orders placed before October 15. For more information about The Longing In Between click here.

Hadewijch, Hadewijch poetry, Christian poetry Hadewijch

Belgium (13th Century) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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5 responses so far

Sep 24 2014

New Book: The Longing In Between

I am so pleased to announce the upcoming publication of the new Poetry Chaikhana anthology, The Longing In Between. The final touches are being added now, and we have a publication date of early November.

The Longing In Between is a new collection poems by beloved classical sacred poets and a few modern visionaries — accompanied by my own thoughts, meditations, personal stories, and commentary.

As much as I love the immediacy of emails and the personal connection they allow, emails are fleeting. Particularly loved emails may get saved for a while, but inevitably they fade into the ethers. The Longing In Between gathers together poems and commentary from favorite Poetry Chaikhana emails, expanded and refined — in book form. For me, nothing can compare with the satisfaction of leaning back in a chair while leisurely turning the pages of a beloved book. I build relationships with books in ways that no email or website can approach. I really hope The Longing In Between will invite you into that sort of literary friendship.

The Longing In Between, Sacred Poetry From Around the World, Poetry Chaikhana Anthology, Ivan M. Granger
Pre-order Now!
= Coming in early November =

The Longing In Between
Sacred Poetry From Around the World

A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

before Oct 15:


A delightful collection of soul-inspiring poems from the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions, accompanied by Ivan M. Granger’s meditative thoughts and commentary. Rumi, Whitman, Issa, Teresa of Avila, Dickinson, Blake, Lalla, and many others. These are poems of seeking and awakening… and the longing in between.

Devoted readers of the Poetry Chaikhana can finally enjoy this amazing poetry paired with Ivan’s illuminating commentary in book form. The Longing In Between is a truly engaging and thought-provoking exploration of sacred poetry from around the world.

“The Longing in Between is a work of sheer beauty. Many of the selected poems are not widely known, and Ivan M. Granger has done a great service, not only by bringing them to public attention, but by opening their deeper meaning with his own rare poetic and mystic sensibility.”

author of the best-selling Ten Poems to Change Your Life series

I am announcing The Longing In Between early because the Poetry Chaikhana is offering a special pre-order deal. If your purchase a copy before October 15th–

  • You will receive a discounted price: $14.95 (rather than the full price of $16.95 USD)
  • I will personally sign your copy
  • And, most importantly, you will be offering a big help in covering the Poetry Chaikhana’s initial publication expenses

To purchase a special pre-order copy of The Longing In Between click here or the ‘Purchase’ link above for payment through PayPal. If you prefer to pay by check or money order, you can mail it to:

Poetry Chaikhana
PO Box 2320
Boulder, CO 80306

Shipping and handling: $3 US, $4 Canada, $9 International per book
(Payments should be made to “Poetry Chaikhana.” US funds, please!
And please don’t forget to include your mailing address.)

“Ivan M. Granger has woven these poems into a tapestry of great wisdom with his reflection on each poem. I can imagine each poem and commentary furnishing the basis for a daily meditation.”

author of Consider the Blackbird and A Light that is Shining

       Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt–blessed vision!–
that a fountain flowed
here in my heart.
I said: Why, O water, have you come
along this secret waterway,
spring of new life,
which I have never tasted?

       Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt–blessed vision!–
that I had a beehive
here in my heart;
and the golden bees
were making
from all my old sorrows
white wax and sweet honey.

       Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt–blessed vision!–
a blazing sun shone
here in my heart.
It was blazing because it gave heat
from a red home,
and it was sun because it gave light
and because it made me weep.

              Last night, as I was sleeping,
       I dreamt–blessed vision!–
       that it was God I had
       here in my heart.

              Antonio Machado

This is my favorite poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Actually, it is one of my favorite poems, period.

The repeated line, which I have translated as “blessed vision,” has elsewhere been rendered as “marvelous error.” Machado’s actual phrase in Spanish is “bendita ilusión,” but this “illusion” is not an erroneous delusion; it is an illusion in the same sense that a dream or vision is an illusion. It is something intangible, seen and felt but not physically there. I have the feeling that Machado is teasing us by calling the experience a dream, seeing if we are foolish enough to ignore it. Perhaps the poet can’t quite believe the beauty of his vision.

Let’s take just a moment to explore how this poem parallels the mystic’s ecstatic experience…

“The Longing In Between… presents some of the choicest fruit from the flowering of mystics across time, across traditions and from around the world. After each of the poems in this anthology Ivan M. Granger shares his reflections and contemplations, inviting the reader to new and deeper views of the Divine Presence. This is a grace-filled collection which the reader will gladly return to over and over again.”

author of Awakening Kundalini: The Path To Radical Freedom and Kali’s Bazaar

Ivan M. Granger Consider purchasing a pre-order copy of The Longing In Between and support the Poetry Chaikhana!

And thank you to everyone for all of the encouragement and support along the way!


PS- Happy Equinox and happy New Moon!

2 responses so far

Sep 12 2014

Bibi Hayati – Is it the night of power

Published by under Poetry

Is it the night of power
by Bibi Hayati

English version by Aliki Barnstone

Is it the night of power
Or only your hair?
Is it dawn
Or your face?

In the songbook of beauty
Is it a deathless first line
Or only a fragment
copied from your inky eyebrow?

Is it boxwood of the orchard
Or cypress of the rose garden?
The tuba tree of paradise, abundant with dates,
Or your standing beautifully straight?

Is it musk of a Chinese deer
Or scent of delicate rosewater?
The rose breathing in the wind
Or your perfume?

Is it scorching lightning
Or light from fire on Sana’i Mountain?
My hot sigh
Or your inner radiance?

Is it Mongolian musk
Or pure ambergris?
Is it your hyacinth curls
Or your braids?

Is it a glass of red wine at dawn
Or white magic?
Your drunken narcissus eye
Or your spell?

Is it the Garden of Eden
Or heaven on earth?
A mosque of the masters of the heart
Or a back alley?

Everyone faces a mosque of adobe and mud
When they pray.
The mosque of Hayati’s soul
Turns to your face.

— from The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Aliki Barnstone

/ Photo by Jane Rahman /

There are several important themes and images in this poem, but for now let’s bask in the poem’s rich aromas. Take a slow, deep breath…

Is it the night of power
Or only your hair?
Is it dawn
Or your face?

In addition to a nectar-like sweetness, many mystics experience a scent that can be rapturously overwhelming or tantalizingly subtle. The aroma is the intoxicating scent of what I sometimes call the Celestial Drink, variously called wine, amrita, rasa, dew, honey. But this blissful scent can also be understood as the perfume worn by the Beloved that awakens sacred ardor upon the spiritual journey.

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

Is it musk of a Chinese deer
Or scent of delicate rosewater?
The rose breathing in the wind
Or your perfume?

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.

In Bibi Hayati’s poem here, she carries the language of sacred aroma over to the scent of flowers, as well. Blossoms and flowers are natural symbols for enlightenment, the unfolding of awareness and the opening of the heart. Let us not forget, though, that flowers have a direct connection to the Celestial Drink, for their sweet perfume emanates from the sweet nectar they hold.

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

Is it a glass of red wine at dawn
Or white magic?

Let’s take a moment to contemplate this image more deeply. Let this form a visual image in your mind: a glass of wine held up to the rising sun at dawn. The rim of the glass catches the light of the early sun, lighting up in a ring of white, with the sun reflecting itself as a single starburst of light along the edge — it is an evocation of the Muslim symbol of the star and crescent. The rim of a glass catching the light — that is the crescent — and within it is held the star or sun.

One way to understand this symbol is that the circle represents the world, or perhaps the individual soul. But, to be spiritually awakened, that circle must be broken open. That edge, which is the wall of separation, is broken open by the star — the light of God, enlightenment. The crescent and the star of Islam for Muslim mystics is a succinct expression of the proper relationship between the human or the worldly with the divine reality.

The closing lines get to the heart of everything:

Everyone faces a mosque of adobe and mud
When they pray.
The mosque of Hayati’s soul
Turns to your face.

Every sacred ritual is always an outer enactment of what we must realize within. What good does it do when we face a mosque or altar or the rising sun, but our souls are turned away from the all-enchanting beauty of the Beloved?

Bibi Hayati

Iran/Persia (19th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Sep 05 2014

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi – Each Way I Turned

Published by under Poetry

Each Way I Turned
by Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

English version by Mahmood Jamal

Each way I turned
I turned to You;
Each place I reached
Was the path to You.

Each place of worship
I entered to pray,
I saw the arch of Your brow
In every arch and every doorway.

I saw the face of worldly beauty
But I saw it in the mirror of Your face.
In the manifest and the hidden,
In the ideal and the real,
All have looked and only to You.

Don’t ask about Maghribi.
He is by madness struck —
By those dark lashes of Yours!

— from Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi, Translated by Mahmood Jamal

/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /

I really like this one… It is a work of profound devotion, without an ounce of dogma.

Each way I turned
I turned to You;
Each place I reached
Was the path to You.

Each place of worship
I entered to pray,
I saw the arch of Your brow
In every arch and every doorway.

It suggests a spiritual journey of great intensity and yearning, yet, at the same time, at rest with the constant recognition of the Beloved — everywhere!

I saw the face of worldly beauty
But I saw it in the mirror of Your face.
In the manifest and the hidden,
In the ideal and the real,
All have looked and only to You.

We don’t have to strain our eyes looking, looking, looking. Wherever we are, whichever path we are on, we just have to see.

Catching constant glimpses of the Eternal in the minute and mundane and manifest, as well as in the most elevated and most inward… everything in and out and all around becomes a window to the Divine. Who can then act sober and sane?

Don’t ask about Maghribi.
He is by madness stuck —
By those dark lashes of Yours!

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Iran/Persia (1349 – 1406) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Sep 03 2014

Granum Sinapis

Published by under Poetry

Granum Sinapis
by Granum Sinapis (Anonymous)

English version by Karen J. Campbell

In the beginning
high above comprehension
is the word, eternally.
O rich treasure,
where the beginning eternally bore the beginning!
O paternal bosom,
out of which, in bliss,
the word flowed forth eternally.
Yet the womb still
held fast to the word, truly.

Of the two, one flowing forth,
ember of love,
binding both,
known to both,
so flows the sweetest spirit
in complete symmetry,
The three are one:
do you know, what? No,
it alone knows itself completely.

The enmeshment of the three
harbors deep terror.
No reason has ever
comprehended this circle:
here is a depth without bottom.
Check and mate
to time, to shapes, to space!
The circle of mysteries
is a source of everything;
its point of origin rests, completely immutable, in itself.

Leave your doings
and climb, insight,
the mountain of this point!
The way leads you
into a wondrous desert
which extends wide
and immeasurably far.
The desert knows
neither time nor space.
Its nature is unique.

Never has a foot
crossed the domain of the desert,
created reason
has never attained it.
It is, and yet no one knows what.
It is here, there,
far, near,
deep, high,
so that
it is neither the one nor the other.

Light, clear,
completely dark,
without beginning and also without end,
it rests in itself,
unveiled, without disguise.
Who knows what its dwelling is?
Let him come forth
and tell us of what shape it is.

Become as a child,
become deaf, become blind!
Your own substance
must become nothingness;
drive all substance, all nothingness far from you!
Leave space, leave time,
eschew also all physical representation.
Go without a way
the narrow foot-path,
then you will succeed in finding the desert.

O my soul,
go out, let God in!
Sink, my entire being,
into God’s nothingness,
sink into the bottomless flood!
If I flee from you,
you come to me,
if I lose myself,
I find you:
O goodness extending over all being.

— from German Mystical Writings: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and others, Edited by Karen J. Campbell

/ Photo by Hamed Saber /

This is an amazing poem to me. It gives us so much to explore and meditate upon, but let’s particularly look at the references to the experience of God as a desert.

This language almost has a Buddhist feeling to it, a sense of a great spiritual vastness, a living emptiness, “God’s nothingness.” You could say that the desert is what the Buddhists would call Nirvana.

The desert is eternal, “The desert knows / neither time nor space.” It is unlike anything else (since all of creation emerges from its emptiness), “Its nature is unique.”

“Never has a foot / crossed the domain of the desert…” Not only does this line tell us that the desert is not a physical location; it is also revealing the more subtle truth that you — the little you, the ego you — cannot enter the desert. The desert cannot be comprehended by the logical mind (“created reason / has never attained it”), it can only be directly experienced.

What a haunting riddle:

It is, and yet no one knows what.
It is here, there,
far, near,
deep, high,
so that
it is neither the one nor the other.

You can say that the desert is what it is, beyond the ability of the conceptual mind to define it. It is everywhere and always. It is not limited by the duality of this as opposed to that; it is the living harmony of all things at once.

I love the truth of the lines: “it rests in itself, / unveiled, without disguise.” There is no effort in its existence, and for us to perceive it, we too must become truly effortless, natural, stepping free from the constant work of the ego-mind’s distractions. To do this we must, “Become as a child, / become deaf, become blind!” We must “Leave space, leave time…” We must be completely open and free from the safe limitations of preconceptions, we must even “Go without a way…” “Then you will succeed in finding the desert.”

It is only when we leave behind the little self that we can finally discover the vast Self of God. “O my soul, / go out, let God in!” “…if I lose myself, / I find you” Then and only then do we find the “goodness extending over all being.”

Granum Sinapis (Anonymous)

Germany (14th Century) Timeline

The poem “A Grain of Mustard Seed of the Most Beautiful Divinity” or “Granum sinapis de divinitate pucherrima” (usually referred to simply as the “Granum sinapis”) probably dates from the early 1300’s in Germany.

Although its author is unknown, it is thought to have been written by a student of the great German mystic Meister Eckhart. Some suggest that it was Eckhart himself who was the author.

More poetry by Granum Sinapis (Anonymous)

4 responses so far

Aug 27 2014

Mahmud Shabistari – One Light

Published by under Poetry

One Light
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Andrew Harvey

What are “I” and “You”?
Just lattices
In the niches of a lamp
Through which the One Light radiates.

“I” and “You” are the veil
Between heaven and earth;
Lift this veil and you will see
How all sects and religions are one.

Lift this veil and you will ask —
When “I” and “You” do not exist
What is mosque?
What is synagogue?
What is fire temple?

— from Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut

/ Photo by Pieroc /

“I” and “You” — What is Shabistari talking about here? “I” and “You” is the normal perception of separation. Here “I” stand, and “You” are a separate entity over there. It is the perception of duality in which we see the entire universe as a fragmented existence of separated beings and objects. On the one hand, that perception allows one’s self to feel supremely important in contrast to all else, but it also isolates us and imprisons us in a physicalized notion of reality. Even when we touch, we never quite make contact. The heart ever yearns for real unity.

To show us the way out of this perceptual trap, Shabistari has given us an image to contemplate: a lamp surrounded by latticework. The lamp shines with a single light, but the lattices divide up the radiance into several individual shafts of light. He tells us the world of separation between “I” and “You” is like that — one light divided into many rays.

Think about this image a little more. So long as we look outward, we continue to only see separated beams of light reaching through the air patterning the wall. But the moment it occurs to us to instead follow the light, we turn around and discover the single light that is its source. Finally seeing that single light, we then know that there has only ever been that one light. Does the lattice somehow create many lights of the one light? No. It is still the one light, but expressing itself through the many beams. To prove this to ourselves, all we need do is remove the latticework (“lift this veil”), and then the light shines everywhere, undivided. And the whole time the light itself has never changed its action or nature.

Shabistari makes an interesting shift in the second verse. The separation of “I” and “You” is expanded to be understood in the realm of the world’s religious divisions. And the metaphor of the lamp’s lattice has become a veil (which, of course, covers the face of the Beloved). Even the many sects and religions are one — when we finally look inward toward the light that shines at the heart of each tradition. To one who has lifted the veil and witnessed the underlying Beauty, the distinctions of each tradition and theology no longer separate them. Instead, we can say that the best of each religious tradition adorns the Face differently — but it is the same Face.

Lift this veil…

…and separation is lost, the soul’s isolation ends. And every place becomes a place of worship.

Mahmud Shabistari, Mahmud Shabistari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mahmud Shabistari

Iran/Persia (1250? – 1340) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Aug 22 2014

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Secret Language

Published by under Poetry

Secret Language
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

Every part of you has a secret language
your hands and your feet
say what you’ve done
and every need brings in what’s needed
pain bears its cure like a child

— from Secret Language: Rumi A Celebration in Song (Music CD), by Ramananda

/ Photo by woodleywonderworks /

The continuing crackdown by police against protesters in Ferguson, Missouri has inspired me to mediate on our ideas of race…

Looking at me, most Americans would call me white, but less and less does that mean something to me. Ethnically, I’m a typical American mutt, with ancestry from numerous countries, not all of them European. I have always had a diverse group of friends, from different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

My closest friend in early childhood was a Nigerian boy, the son of students who had moved to the United States to attend the local university. Though I certainly don’t claim to understand race from his perspective, our friendship alerted me to questions of race and racism early on.

More recently, my friendship with a Pawnee man has led to several fascinating conversations on race and identity. He said something that startled me: There is no such thing as race. There is culture, there is appearance, but there is no race. My initial reaction was that it’s a nice idea to espouse as a countermeasure to the ongoing problems of racism, but race itself is a simple fact, isn’t it? It took a bit of deeper thought on my part before the truth of what he was saying struck me — the actual, biological truth of the statement, not simply the ethical rightness behind it.

Let’s take a few minutes together to go beyond the question of racism and see if we can dismantle the underlying presumption of race itself…

There is no such thing as race. Yes, there are noticeable physical characteristics, and we can loosely identify some characteristics with populations from specific geographical areas, but there is no such thing as a white race, a black race, or any other race we want to name.

A white person may be someone with fair skin and blue eyes and we may be accurate in saying that he has some ancestry that goes back to northern Europe, but it is false to say he is a member of the white race, as distinct from other races.

The fact is that there is no central characteristic of a white race or black race or any race. How can that be, you ask? We could mention several details like hair or eyes, but the most obvious distinction is skin color.

But think about skin color for a moment. That northern European may have very pale skin, but if we travel south through Europe to the Mediterranean, the common skin tone is much darker. Are they still “white”? Are we still talking about the same “race”? (The 19th century was uncertain on this point, by the way.)

Let’s go further south, down the boot of Italy, through Sicily, and hop the Mediterranean to northern Africa. The average skin tone has gotten darker still, but it hasn’t changed as much as some might imagine. In many ways Mediterranean Europeans have more in common with their Mediterranean African neighbors than with their fellow Europeans further north. By crossing the Mediterranean, have we switched races yet? How much change in skin tone constitutes a change in race? What is the definitive border? Can we mark it on the color wheel?

We can keep going south, across the Sahara into central Africa. And though we keep asking the same questions, the answer keeps eluding us. Where is the clear dividing point between the races?

There is no such racial borderline. The only time that border exists is when we don’t look for it. In truth, there is no race, only a spectrum of human appearance. The idea of distinct groups of people that we divide into races is an artificial cultural notion built on assumption and sloppy observation.

A question to take with you into the day: If we are not a world of black people and white people and every other race, but simply people of varied appearance, what does that mean in our day-to-day lives? What does that mean to the tensions in Ferguson?

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (Persia) (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Aug 20 2014

Mary Oliver – Can You Imagine?

Published by under Poetry

Can You Imagine?
by Mary Oliver

For example, what the trees do
not only in lightning storms
or the watery dark of a summer’s night
or under the white nets of winter
but now, and now, and now – whenever
we’re not looking. Surely you can’t imagine
they don’t dance, from the root up, wishing
to travel a little, not cramped so much as wanting
a better view, or more sun, or just as avidly
more shade – surely you can’t imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind,
and then only in its own mood, comes
to visit, surely you can’t imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.

— from Long Life: Essays and Other Writings, by Mary Oliver

/ Photo by Marco Arment /

From the towering redwoods and ancient yews, to the forgotten blades of grass beneath our feet, plants are our teachers.

I’ve often contemplated how the plant world embodies such pure life and beauty, without the constant anxiety to be somewhere else. Wherever it has purchase, a plant lives out its purpose with unrestrained green joy.

They find a patch of earth, a place of sun, and settle into the long rhythm of days and years, quietly becoming themselves.

surely you can’t imagine they just
stand there loving every
minute of it, the birds or the emptiness, the dark rings
of the years slowly and without a sound
thickening, and nothing different unless the wind

Perhaps we can imagine it. With the sweep of the wind and the turning of the year, perhaps we can even imagine they dance.

A bush upon a windswept bluff leans into the stream of air and itself becomes the fulfillment of the landscape. A sapling seeking sunlight beneath a canopy of elder trees reaches out for that golden touch and, over time, becomes the pathway of its own seeking.

surely you can’t imagine
patience, and happiness, like that.

Perhaps we can.

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

US (1935 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Aug 15 2014

Rabindranath Tagore – On many an idle day

Published by under Poetry

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time (from Gitanjali)
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

On many an idle day have I grieved over lost time. But it is never lost, my lord. Thou hast taken every moment of my life in thine own hands.
      Hidden in the heart of things thou art nourishing seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.
      I was tired and sleeping on my idle bed and imagined all work had ceased. In the morning I woke up and found my garden full with wonders of flowers.

— from Gitanjali, by Rabindranath Tagore

/ Photo by XpopsicleX /

It has been a difficult week for the heart, if you follow the news. There is, of course, continuing desperation and tragedy in Israel/Palestine. The rise of ISIS in Iraq. The images of militarized police responses in Missouri.

And then we hear of the suicide of Robin Williams. Sometimes we can bring ourselves to grieve for a lone individual we recognize, when numbers in the hundreds and thousands numb us.

Some weeks are especially heartbreaking for the empathic soul. Be nurturing with yourself and loved ones this week. And let that inner burning strengthen your steel…

I thought the image of a garden and growth would be healing–

This chapter from Tagore’s Gitanjali, like most of the book, is addressed directly to God as a sort of a prayer. But Tagore is not asking for something. He is acknowledging a surprising truth, he is proclaiming to God the dawning realization that growth is taking place in his “garden” of spiritual awareness always, secretly, quietly, even when he despairs of his own efforts. He “imagined all work had ceased” — he felt his own spiritual work had come to nothing and his deflated spirit temporarily gives up — but he wakes up surprised to find his “garden full with wonders of flowers.” This happens all the time for those striving spiritually, but why?

The metaphor of a garden to represent one’s spiritual awareness is an ancient one used throughout the world, and it is perfect for what is being said here. Think about a garden for a moment. What is it? First, it is a place where things grow, a place of life. It is the opposite of death, which is the state of nonspirituality. The plants of the garden are rooted in the earth, yet they reach upward toward the light of the sun. On an even subtler level, a garden is a place of nourishment and of beauty. What grows in our spiritual gardens feeds us through its “fruitfulness,” and it brings beauty, the awareness of harmony to our consciousness. The flowers of the garden represent the spiritual qualities that have opened within us, that in turn cause us to open to the Divine. The flowers are within us, and we are the flowers. From the yogic point of view, the flowers sometimes represent the chakras that open during spiritual awakening. Also, a garden is a place of contemplation and rest. It is a place where we give ourselves permission to simply be, to settle into the present moment. The garden represents the soul at rest in the living presence of the Divine.

But, returning to this verse from the Gitanjali, why is a garden such a perfect metaphor here? Because every plant of the garden grows with a life of its own. The gardener, the spiritual aspirant, may need to till the ground and plant the seeds, water them regularly, keep them free from encroaching weeds — but for all that work, the gardener does not actually make the seeds grow and flower. The gardener just prepares the environment, but it is the divine spark of life “Hidden in the heart of all things” that nourishes “seeds into sprouts, buds into blossoms, and ripening flowers into fruitfulness.”

Tagore is surprised to realize that his only job is to prepare the garden bed and keep it ready, but the growth of the seeds is effortless, for the seeds are alive with the vitality of God. Even when he can conceive of no further effort, the seeds still grow. The seeds WANT to grow. And they will grow. It is their nature to grow once given the right environment. All we have to do is prepare ourselves, make ourselves ready. The spiritual growth will happen of its own accord. Then one morning we wake up surrounded by “wonders of flowers!”

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

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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Aug 08 2014

William Blake – The Divine Image

Published by under Poetry

The Divine Image
by William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is God, our Father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
Is man, His child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity and Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

— from Music of the Sky: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Patrick Laude / Edited by Barry McDonald

/ Photo by poivre /

This poem is from Blake’s Songs of Innocence, a collection of poems addressed to children. It has an intentional sing-song quality, easy to remember.

If you’re like I am, you probably cringe at that line in the final stanza referring to “heathen, Turk or Jew.” The phrase sounds disparaging taken out of context. But reread what Blake is actually saying: He is using the common prejudice of the day, that white European Christians are superior to all others, and he turns it on its head. He declares that “Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell / There God is dwelling too.”

In other words, Blake is offering a truly universal vision of God that transcends religious, racial, and cultural boundaries. God isn’t limited to specific dogmas. God doesn’t favor one skin color or one national flag. God dwells where the human heart in fruition has made a home for “Love, Mercy, Pity, and Peace.”

Where there is love, where there is mercy and compassion and empathy, where there is deep peace — that is where God is found among people, regardless of who those people are or by what name they call God.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

If more poems like this were read, think how different the world would be.

William Blake, William Blake poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Blake

England (1757 – 1827) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Aug 06 2014

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – This moment

Published by under Poetry

This moment
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

This moment
comes to rest in me,
many beings in one being
In one wheat-grain
a thousand sheaf stacks.

Inside the needle’s eye
a turning night of stars.
This moment —
This LOVE.

— from The Illuminated Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks

/ Photo by Ha-Wee /

Leave it to a poet like Rumi to give us a phrase like–

Inside the needle’s eye
a turning night of stars.
This moment —
This LOVE.

The beauty of the image and words is so transporting that we can miss the profound esoteric truth being revealed here:

The human spirit, in its constant quest and hunger, looks for ever larger, greater experiences that expand our reach until we can encompass and hold everything. Even in the spiritual journey we want to be so big we don’t have to deal with the mundane moment. And this is the hardest part — letting go of that impulse.

You see, here’s the secret Rumi whispers to us in these lines… Don’t get bigger; get smaller. Become so small that you can finally rest in the tiniest of spaces — “this moment.” Do that, come to rest here, right here, fully, and this moment, which you feared would be so small you’d suffocate (“inside the needle’s eye”), surprises you by becoming a window to the Infinite (“a turning night of stars”).

Do that, and your heart unfolds in ways you hadn’t known possible, flooding you with an all-encompassing awareness of bliss and love.

It is not a journey of years, it is a journey of one moment–

This moment —
This LOVE.

(PS – The book this poem is taken from — The Illustrated Rumi — comes with some stunning artwork, digital collages you can spend a hours gazing at… along with the wonderful poetry, of course!)

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (Persia) (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Aug 01 2014

Dariya – Who can describe the Source of the universe

Published by under Poetry

Who can describe the Source of the universe
by Dariya

English version by K. N. Upadhyaya

Who can describe the Source of the universe,
Containing this world, the underworld and clusters
      of galaxies manifested in higher regions?
The One whose luster, like a luminous gem,
      illumines the universe,
Which poet can comprehend and follow
      the pattern of His manifestations?

It is the Merciful Lord
      who bestowed His grace on me,
And I could see the glory
      of His entire manifestations.
The play of love of the Limitless Primal Being,
      I did see in entirety.
This is an inaccessible and unfathomable Divine Wonder,
How can any poet give its description?

— from Dariya Sahib: Saint of Bihar, Translated by K. N. Upadhyaya

/ Photo by Topo3486 /

Who can describe the Source of the universe…?

This is a question often raised by sacred poets. Even those overcome by the most profound vision of the Divine find the art of words failing them.

This verse is the mystic’s dilemma: The Grand Vision can be witnessed, participated in, but the mind can’t comprehend it or define it in a way that can be truly communicated.

Which poet can comprehend and follow
      the pattern of His manifestations?

The reason for this is that the reasoning mind understands reality by dissecting it. The intellect slices reality into manageable pieces that it can comprehend and manipulate. But the Divine Presence witnessed by mystics in deep communion is the Wholeness of reality.

That Totality permeates everything, has no boundaries. The physical eyes do not see it; it is not a play of light and dark, but an eternal all-pervading radiance or presence.

The One whose luster, like a luminous gem,
      illumines the universe…

It is formless because form is defined by boundaries. How then can the poor intellect (or the poor poet) hope to describe that which transcends every definition?

This is an inaccessible and unfathomable Divine Wonder,
How can any poet give its description?

This doesn’t mean the intellect can’t try, by resorting to metaphor, but the communication of this truth ultimately comes not through words but through participation.

Dariya, Dariya poetry, Sikh poetry Dariya

India (1634 – 1780) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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Jul 30 2014

Marina Tsvetaeva – I know the truth

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I know the truth
by Marina Tsvetaeva

English version by Elaine Feinstein

I know the truth — give up all other truths!
No need for people anywhere on earth to struggle.
Look — it is evening, look, it is nearly night:
what do you speak of, poets, lovers, generals?

The wind is level now, the earth is wet with dew,
the storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet.
And soon all of us will sleep under the earth, we
who never let each other sleep above it.

— from Tsvetayeva: Selected Poems, by Marina Tsvetaeva / Translated by Elaine Feinstein

/ Photo by KellyB. /

I return to this poem regularly, and it brings me to a halt each time. There is such a mature, weary compassion in these lines.

The question is not whether we will live or die. We all live (though we may not always feel as if we do). And we all die (though we may discover that death is not what we imagined).

The real question is, while we move and act upon the earth, do we ease the suffering of others or add to it? Will we let each other rest above the earth, or only beneath it?

Life and death are a given. It is what we do with them that matters.

The whole while the earth says, “Is not every beautiful thing yours already?” And the night sky, for all its immense movement, is completely at peace. So what has humanity lost sight of?

May our eyes see, though our hearts break.
May our hearts break, that they may open.
May our hearts bleed, that we know life flows through them.

Marina Tsvetaeva, Marina Tsvetaeva poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Marina Tsvetaeva

Russia (1892 – 1941) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Jul 23 2014

Theodore Roethke – In a Dark Time

Published by under Poetry

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

/ Photo by mill56 /

This 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, you 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.

Learn to work deeply amidst the darkness; discover what is really you slowly emerging from the shadows, for that is your stable landmark when all else shifts about.

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

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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