Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Feb 07 2014

Wallace Stevens – Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

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Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections,
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

— from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens


/ Photo by phoenix wolf-ray /

I once heard a story about Wallace Stevens: His work as an insurance salesman required him to spend a lot of time on the road. As his poetry gained recognition, he was offered academic positions to focus exclusively on his writing, but he refused to leave his job, saying that his poetry drew its rhythm from the steady flow of lines on the road as he drove.

I’d be hard-pressed to clearly define what I like about the poetry of Wallace Stevens, but I keep coming back to it with a smile. This poem, for example, his best known… it’s just one of those perfect poems. Each little verse is practically a haiku. The words don’t even entirely make sense, but they just pull you into the still, present moment.

These blackbirds haunt the frigid quiet and accent the bare landscape with their coal dark presence. Their watchfulness and small movements impinge upon our awareness, suggesting something of the void or an intelligence from some hidden realm reaching into the human world and whispering, “you are not all there is.” An intimation that is both hopeful and haunting — feelings entirely right for a cold winter’s day.

I read this poem on a snowy Colorado day, and the world goes quiet, dusk trickles in through bare branches, my misty breath lights up in the moonlight.

And, what is that? A blackbird? Or some watchful shadow of myself?






Wallace Stevens, Wallace Stevens poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wallace Stevens

US (1879 – 1955) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 05 2014

Ram Tzu – Every time

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Every time
by Ram Tzu (Wayne Liquorman)

Ram Tzu knows this…

Every time
You find an answer,
The question
No longer seems important.

— from No Way: For the Spiritually “Advanced”, by Wayne Liquorman


/ Photo by WiciaQ /

This poetic statement works both ways…

When you find a true answer, it consumes the question until only the answer remains.

But also…

We should be careful of pursuing only answers. Too often that numbs us to the living Mystery which lives more in the openness of questions than in the comfort of pat answers.

So here’s to answers that consume the question, and questions too big for answers!






Ram Tzu (Wayne Liquorman), Ram Tzu (Wayne Liquorman) poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Ram Tzu (Wayne Liquorman)

US (1950 – )
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist
Secular or Eclectic

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Feb 03 2014

Rainer Maria Rilke – I live my life in widening circles

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I live my life in widening circles
by Rainer Maria Rilke

English version by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

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

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


/ Photo by striatic /

A difficult bout of chronic fatigue, but I’m rebounding. Exhaustion, begone! Shakiness, migraines, away with you! Poetry awaits…

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

I circle around God, that primordial tower.

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

And that courageous line–

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

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

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

We walk with our whole selves–

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

On this roundabout road to God, we encounter the mystery of self. And in that self beyond definition we find the primordial tower standing at the center.






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

Germany (1875 – 1926) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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Jan 27 2014

Sharafuddin Maneri – If you welcome me, than I am Your accepted one

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If You welcome me, then I am Your accepted one
by Sharafuddin Maneri

English version by Paul Jackson

If You welcome me, then I am Your accepted one:
If You do not, I am still Your rejected servant!
I should not be worried whether You accept or reject me:
My task, in either state, is to remain preoccupied with You!

— from In Quest of God: Maneri’s Second Collection of 150 Letters, by Sharafuddin Maneri / Translated by Paul Jackson


/ Photo by rachel_titiriga /

Here in America people are gearing up for the Super Bowl. I’m especially aware of football fever because one of the two teams that made it to the Super Bowl this year is from Colorado, where I live. Everyone is wearing the colors of the Denver Broncos, flying Broncos flags. Even for someone who is not a sports fan, you can feel the sense of regional pride and shared experience while everyone readies for the big game.

Of course, the question on everyone’s lips is, will we win? Who will claim ultimate victory?

Then I read this poem by Shaikh Maneri, and I laugh. This poem is exactly the opposite of all that focus on winning. In this short meditation on the path to God, success and failure are beside the point.

As a seeker, whether or not we will be “accepted” by God and melt into that supreme bliss is not the question that should preoccupy our minds on the path. When we are constantly measuring our spiritual successes and failures, we don’t walk our path well, with the necessary poise and patience.

What is important is not so much how close our relationship with God is or how distant it seems — but recognizing the relationship itself. The satisfaction is found in our very devotion to the Absolute. A mature lover finds fulfillment in loving, without the need for constant reassurances. That is enough for the steady journey. –And, so long as we keep that sacred focus, it gives us victory even in defeat.

This poem reminds me of a Hindu story of a great saint who took the path of rejection all the way to God. As a young man, he hated God. He acutely felt every bit of suffering and wrong in the world, and he blamed God for it all. His hatred of God obsessed him. He constantly muttered his recriminations to God. His every thought and feeling was focused through his anger… on God. And his focus became so keen, that it was enough, and the bliss of enlightenment came upon him.

“Accepted” by God, “rejected” by God… The Eternal neither accepts nor rejects us, for how can we ever be truly separate from that which always and everywhere IS? But in our limited awareness we can create roadblocks and imagine them to be outside ourselves. Success in dispelling those illusions of separation from God is not always easy or obvious. But by remaining preoccupied with our purpose, our entire life force becomes oriented toward it; our energies flow toward our focus, and more and more they flow around whatever distractions and stuckness block the way.

Our job is not to emerge with the victory cup while the crowds roar their approval. Neither is our job to avoid the bitter disappointment of failure. No, our job as spiritual seekers is to overwhelm both success and failure with vibrant, joyful, and constant celebration of the Divine already within us.






Sharafuddin Maneri

India (1263 – 1381) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 22 2014

Lakota (Anonymous) – Three Lakota Songs

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Three Lakota Songs
by Lakota (Anonymous)

English version by Frances Densmore & Brian Swann

May the sun rise in splendor
May the earth appear in light

A      wind
wears
me

Look

It is
sacred

A rainbow hoop

wears
me

Everybody
sees me
coming

— from Song of the Sky: Versions of Native American Song-Poems, by Brian Swann


/ Photo by StillWater /

May the sun rise in splendor
May the earth appear in light

Pause from the daily rush for a moment in order to recognize what a truly breathtaking place it is we all inhabit. Each and every day begins with such shining majesty, and you and I are given the great gift of being witness to it. We didn’t have to do something special to earn this privilege other than be born.

It’s easy to confuse priorities in the midst of daily pressures. But we all need to periodically remind ourselves to stop and honor that unearned gift by actually noticing it.

Awe at what we encounter daily can feel exhausting… at first. But the quieter we become, the more we recognize it as our true state of being.

“A wind wears me… A rainbow hoop wears me…” I love these lines. The “me” could be the light of the sun, or it could be us. Heard this way, it is the proper recognition that we are ornamentation for the living world. We are accents upon the beautiful face of creation.

As humans we tend to take ourselves so seriously that we forget that we do not exist for ourselves; we are expressions of the living whole. And that particular sparkle of witnessing awareness we carry, that does not belong to us, but it is there to reflect the countless colors of existence back upon itself so that the living world may know itself more fully.

Look

It is
sacred






Lakota (Anonymous)

US (19th Century) Timeline
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : American Indian

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Jan 17 2014

Izumi Shikibu – Watching the moon

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Watching the moon
by Izumi Shikibu

English version by Jane Hirshfield

Watching the moon
at midnight,
solitary, mid-sky,
I knew myself completely,
no part left out.

— from Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, Edited by Jane Hirshfield


/ Photo by gavdana /

This particular poem is one of my favorites in its use of the moon, so I thought I’d feature it today in honor of the recent full moon.

Whenever the moon appears in a poem, we can read it as a reference to illuminated awareness — whether intended or not by the poet — and the meaning of the poem unwraps itself in fascinating ways…

The blissful state reveals itself as a shining light, as a luminescence permeating the still field of the mind. There is a sense of light from an undefined ‘above,’ silence, a fullness of vitality, and deep rest.

In sacred poetry, particularly in Zen poetry, this is often expressed as the full moon in the night sky.

The moon is the individual consciousness that shines only by reflecting the constant light of the sun, which is unbounded awareness. Individual consciousness, like the moon, waxes and wanes, sometimes bright and clear, sometimes dark.

When the moon, consciousness, is full, it is round, whole, complete, perfectly reflecting the light of divine awareness. The full moon is enlightenment. It is Buddha-mind. It is the soft light that illumines the land below when all is at rest.

With this understanding, reread Shikibu’s poem. Do you feel the power of the statement beneath its beautiful words?

When she says she is “Watching the moon,” she can be describing the deep meditation practice of witnessing the radiance of opened awareness. To do so “at midnight” carries the double meaning of a late night meditation (which is often the best time for deep contemplation), but midnight also suggests the depth of nighttime, the great Void. We perceive the enlightened mind shining quietly within emptiness. There is nothing else present but the light of the moon. There is only awareness. (I have read alternate translations that say “at dawn” rather than midnight, which carries additional rich meanings.)

The poet specifically describes the moon as “solitary” and “mid-sky.” In this profound communion, the awareness is recognized as being absolutely alone in the sense that there is no ‘other,’ nothing outside of its sphere; it is “solitary.” And it is the center point of being; it is the heart, it is the core; the moon is “mid-sky.”

When we stand silently bathed by the light of the moonlight, we finally experience our true nature. We know ourselves “completely” — all of the seemingly disjointed and conflicting parts of ourselves are seen to be parts of a unified whole, “no part left out.” We are the wholeness.






Izumi Shikibu

Japan (974? – 1034?) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Jan 15 2014

Fukuda Chiyo-ni – whatever I pick up

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whatever I pick up
by Fukuda Chiyo-ni

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

whatever I pick up
is alive —
ebbing tide

— from Haiku Enlightenment, by Gabriel Rosenstock


/ Photo by JanieGirl80 /

When I read this haiku, it says a lot to me.

whatever I pick up
is alive –

Those first two lines speak of life, discovery, surprise, delight, and the rich variety of the world.

As a young child growing up in Oregon, I loved visits to the coast. Much of the Oregon coast is rocky, cold, moody — perfect for tide pools. I still remember being little more than a toddler and walking among the wet rocks to discover hidden tide pools, little pockets of water filled with the most colorful, strange life forms: anemones, star fish, mussels, tiny fish darting about, and the occasional hermit crab scuttling for cover. Each little tide pool was a wonderland of life!

But the poet’s last line–

ebbing tide

–it hints at death.

She’s right, of course. You have to wait until the ebbing tide to reveal all that magical life. But the ebbing tide itself is a pulling away. It can feel like a personal diminishment or loss, one of nature’s reminders of death.

So perhaps the poem is suggesting to us that it is only when we recognize the reality of death that the richness of life is fully revealed to us. It is a melancholy insight, but death is simply there, to be addressed by each soul. And death is, in some ways, the ultimate teacher that challenges each and every one of us to never take any moment of our lives for granted.

We tend to imagine that death is the loss of awareness and the loss of self, but not so. Whatever we may believe about an afterlife, death itself, when we accept its unavoidable presence, actually serves to awaken awareness and fan the fires of life within us. Death reminds us that life is not measured in quantity of years but in the fulness of our moments. The truth of death gives us permission to pause and notice that whatever we pick up is alive.






Fukuda Chiyo-ni, Fukuda Chiyo-ni poetry, Buddhist poetry Fukuda Chiyo-ni

Japan (1703 – 1775) Timeline
Buddhist

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Jan 13 2014

Akha – Where there is no sense of the world

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Where there is no sense of the world
by Akha

English version by Krishnaditya

Where there is no sense of the world,
What can one preach of true and false?
Whose birth, act, form, or name is there?
What boundary, where there is no town?
Akha, where there is no body to begin with,
The indivisible remains, as is.

— from Wings of the Soul: Poems of Akha: The Spiritual Poet of India, Translated by Krishnaditya


/ Photo by Leland Francisco /

A riddle-like poem to tease our minds on this Monday morning…

When the idea of separation falls away, when there is no “this” as opposed to “that,” when there is no “me” separate from “you,” when we are overcome with the grand vision of everything, everything flowing together in a single, living, unified whole — how can we then talk about body and boundary, or get caught up pride and self-righteousness.

When there is no separation, there is also no lack, and therefore nothing to accomplish or change. We can then take our first full breath and settle into reality as it is — indivisible.






Akha

India (1600? – 1650?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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Jan 10 2014

Natsume Soseki – The lamp once out

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The lamp once out
by Natsume Soseki

English version by Soiku Shigematsu

The lamp once out
Cool stars enter
The window frame.

— from Zen Haiku: Poems and Letters of Natsume Soseki, by Natsume Soseki / Translated by Soiku Shigematsu


/ Photo by fotojenny /

This haiku is one that leaves me in silence.

On the most literal level, Natsume Soseki is giving us the image of a lamp going out. When that strong, close light is no longer there, our eyes can then see the stars in the night sky through the window. Just three lines are enough to give us that beautiful moment.

But, of course, the meaning expands, with several possible interpretations. One way to read it is that the lamp light could suggest the ego. That is the familiar light we normally live by. It is useful in that it allows us to interact effectively with the immediate environment. But we forget that it also affects our focus and limits our full vision. It is only when it finally goes out, that we can see vastness of the night sky and its glistening, heavenly stars…

Have a beautiful day… and a clear night!






Natsume Soseki, Natsume Soseki poetry, Buddhist poetry Natsume Soseki

Japan (1867 – 1916) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Jan 08 2014

Yunus Emre – The lover is outcast and idle

Published by under Poetry

The lover is outcast and idle
by Yunus Emre

English version by Kabir Helminski & Refik Algan

My soul,
the way of the masters
is thinner than the thinnest.
What blocked Solomon’s way was an ant.

Night and day the lover’s
tears never end,
tears of blood,
remembering the Beloved.

“The lover is outcast and idle,”
they used to tell me.
It’s true.
It happened to me.

I tried to make sense of the Four Books,
until love arrived,
and it all became a single syllable.

You who claim to be dervishes
and to never do what God forbids —
the only time you’re free of sin
is when you’re in His hands.

Two people were talking.
One said, “I wish I could see this Yunus.”
“I’ve seen him,” the other says,
“He’s just another old lover.”

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


/ Photo by serhatdemiroglu /

I’ve missed the poetry of Yunus Emre. It’s been too long since our last dervish excursion with Yunus…

My soul,
the way of the masters
is thinner than the thinnest.
What blocked Solomon’s way was an ant.

Statements like this — “thinner than the thinnest,” “the way is narrow,” etc. — make it sound like the only way to real insight requires extremes that few are willing or capable to go to. We assume that every action, every thought, every impulse must be strictly regulated and control in order to pass the test and get our dervish diploma.

But that’s not it. It’s not that the intent seeker must live his or her life as a sort of psychic anorexic, harshly starving away every detail of life. No, the “thinness” of this road is a way of saying that our own sense of self and self-importance must be thinned. The successful mystic must be supremely humble, which can be as easy or as difficult as we choose to make it. Acquiring the necessary humility a healing exhalation, a loving embrace of all beyond our boundaries, or it can be a painful enforced humiliation — our choice.

But supreme humility, that’s the key. The inflated self cannot fit through this thinnest way.

Night and day the lover’s
tears never end,
tears of blood,
remembering the Beloved.

Tears, blood, pain… Sounds enticing, right? But don’t reflexively turn away from this idea too quickly. Here’s how I understand this sort of passionate statement: We, all of us, already feel this pain, all the time, we have just trained ourselves to ignore it. This is the fundamental pain of separation and isolation. As long as we imagine that we are separate from the people we love, the life we desire, the world we hope for, and, of course, God or some ultimate sense of Reality, as long as we imagine ourselves separated from these things, we feel pain. That pain is the universal human existential experience. Every relationship, all of society is built on this pain and how we deal with it.

Mystics, being crazy folks, embrace this pain, rather than run from it. To do so is an act of courage and self-honesty. It is a determination to encounter reality as it is, rather than the comfortable fantasy we want to project. Doing this also develops compassion and empathy for the secret struggles of others.

Perhaps most importantly, though, actively embracing the pain of separation opens hard-to-find pathways along the spiritual journey. Surprisingly, the pain itself becomes the doorway to reunion. By allowing oneself to become completely vulnerable to that pain, to surrender to it, the mystic finds the pain transformed into the blissful touch of the Beloved.

In other words, the ache of separation, viewed with a steady gaze, reveals itself to be a bridge of connection. It doesn’t seem logical from a distance, but it’s true: Yearning is union. So embrace those tears, but with purpose and confidence, and you’ll find an immense smile awaiting you beneath them.

“The lover is outcast and idle,”
they used to tell me.
It’s true.
It happened to me.

“Outcast and idle.” I like this phase on a few levels. The lover, the seeker, the mystic… why are they outcast? As I mentioned above, they view the world different, with commitment and honesty, a determination to see things as they actually are. That makes just about everyone else uncomfortable. The normal state is self-protection and hiding. It’s not really that everyone has something to hide, we just reflexively hide anyway. We want so much to be our masks, that the steady gaze of someone determined to see honestly frightens us, and we push them away. They become outcasts.

This doesn’t mean that the path of the mystic is necessarily one of isolation or lack of connection. It just means that you connect in a different way, hopefully in a way that is ultimately healing for those around you.

The word “idle” here is especially interesting to me. Idle can imply lazy, which the lover is not, or inactive, which might apply in the sense that the lover becomes free from self-will. Action flows through the lover, but doesn’t originate with the lover. Or we can say that the lover is idle in the sense of being still, at peace. The lover may or may not be active in the world, but there is a radiating quiet within her and her actions. Idle.

I tried to make sense of the Four Books,
until love arrived,
and it all became a single syllable.

These lines are wonderful.

We can study religious law and tradition, impress those around us with how well we’ve memorized it all, how closely with follow the letter of the law — but what does it really mean? Not much, until divine love bursts from our chest. And then… well, the irony is that we don’t need all those words any more. Everything is then resolved into a single word.

You who claim to be dervishes
and to never do what God forbids —
the only time you’re free of sin
is when you’re in His hands.

Ah, those troublesome mystics. They keep telling us that it’s not about rigidly following the rules. The rules don’t exist to be followed; they exist to point out a destination. The rulekeepers hate to hear the real truth: The rules, when the work, exist only to help us to yield into the embrace of the Beloved. That’s the only measure that counts.

Two people were talking.
One said, “I wish I could see this Yunus.”
“I’ve seen him,” the other says,
“He’s just another old lover.”

Have a beautiful day, all you old lovers.






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

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Jan 06 2014

Maya Angelou – On the Pulse of the Morning

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On the Pulse of Morning
by Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Mark the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spelling words
Armed for slaughter.

The rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A river sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more.
Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your brow
And when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The river sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing river and the wise rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew,
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek,
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the tree.

Today, the first and last of every tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the river.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.

Each of you, descendant of some passed on
Traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot…
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru,
Bought, sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the tree planted by the river,
Which will not be moved.

I, the rock, I the river, I the tree
I am yours–your passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

— from The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou, by Maya Angelou


/ Photo by particlem /

Welcome, all of us, to the new year. May 2014 be one of blessings, new possibilities, sweet serendipities, long, leisurely moments of serenity, days of vigorous, satisfying activity. May the new year bring clarity, creativity, and renewed purpose. And even our challenges, may they strengthen us.

I thought this poem by the great Maya Angelou would be a good one with which to start off the new year.

Our history is in the earth, in rock and tree, our shared home. We stand upon our past. And that past speaks to us, calling us back to ourselves. History’s tears and terrors turn our hearts back to the peace that is every soul’s true nature. Seeing the past, acknowledging and accepting all of it, with head and heart engaged, that courageous act unblinds us. Only then are we freed to see distant horizons, and witness new dawns.

When you feel stuck, when the world feels stuck around you, take a moment to sit upon a rock, listen to a tree. They are yourself, and the selves of all who have gone before. They carry the collective wisdom of the eons.

A few of the lines that particularly stand out to me:

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness…

Come, clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I
And the tree and stone were one.

Today, the first and last of every tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the river.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the river.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.

Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

…And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful new year for you!

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.






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

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Dec 20 2013

Jacopone da Todi – Love beyond all telling

Published by under Poetry

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

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

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

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

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

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

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

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


/ Photo by AquaSixio /

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

Too often statements like this can sound like a formula of religious piety, but it is more than that. These are the direct experiences of the mystic. The chest warms, the heart opens and seems to encompass all of creation. This is not just an idea or some philosophical notion — it is felt tangibly in the body as well as the soul. Love floods in, and a sense of utter harmony, rightness, the “goodness” of being. And many mystics also witness a dazzling gold-white light like an ocean that radiates through everything, showing the multiplicity of creation to secretly be a shining unity.

It is this that Jacopone da Todi is writing of.

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

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

These verses are a call to the religious minded to not be content with thinking one has found the truth or assertions of belief alone. Or even to imagine that it is felt through elevated or refined emotions. He is proclaiming that the real truth is somehow more direct and surprising than that. All mental conceptualization is limited by the intellect and imagination, yet the reality we seek is beyond the thinking mind’s ability to conceive of…

Light beyond metaphor…

He who witnesses Your splendor
Can never describe it.

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

The very notion of self melts amidst that immensity…

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






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

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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Dec 18 2013

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Inner Wakefulness

Published by under Poetry

Inner Wakefulness
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

This place is a dream
only a sleeper considers it real
then death comes like dawn
and you wake up laughing
at what you thought
was your grief

A man goes to sleep in the town
where he has always lived
and he dreams
he’s living in another town
in the dream he doesn’t remember
the town he’s sleeping in his bed in
he believes the reality
of the dream town
the world is that kind of sleep

Humankind is being led
along an evolving course,
through this migration
of intelligences
and though we seem
to be sleeping
there is an inner wakefulness,
that directs the dream
and that will eventually
startle us back
to the truth of
who we are

— from The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks


/ Photo by Alice Popkorn /

Yesterday, December 17th, was the 740th anniversary Rumi’s “Wedding Day,” that is, of his death. Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi is a titanic, open-hearted figure in the world, and his influence throughout the world and down through the centuries is immense. The continuing ripple effects of his poetry and his spirit have much more impact on most lives today than mere conquerors. That’s the sort of hero the world really needs.

A few thoughts on today’s poem…

This place is a dream
only a sleeper considers it real

Dreams and waking up… The metaphor of being spiritually “awake” is used a lot but not always with deep reflection. It’s an easy concept to grasp, though it’s not taken very seriously most of the time because, of course, the person thinking about the idea of waking up is already awake in the most literal sense, right? The surprising answer is, Not really.

Become profoundly dedicated to your own process of awakening, find your moment, seize it, or, rather, yield into it… and see what you think then.

The experience of sudden opening reported by most mystics is startlingly on of actually waking up. It’s as if you’ve been drifting through life in a dream state and just not known it. Nothing around you has changed, but you finally, truly see things as they are. The dream-like barrier of mental filters and projections that has stifled your perception for so long falls away like a heavy blanket. You blink, look around yourself, and are surprised to realize you’ve been in a sort of half-seeing trance all your life… and now you are awake.

Perhaps just as surprising — and much more confusing to the intellect — is the simultaneous recognition that while you were in that dream state, there was still some part of your awareness that was always fully awake, quietly, patiently watching in the background. It’s just that now that inner wakefulness has come to the forefront. …A reminder to us that we don’t really need to “wake up;” instead, we just need to get out of the way of that part of ourselves that is already awake.

and though we seem
to be sleeping
there is an inner wakefulness

And from a purely poetic point of view, I really like the lines–

Humankind is being led
along an evolving course,
through this migration
of intelligences

To me this suggests that each experience, each “dream,” each person’s life is part of a grand migration of the human spirit, a journey of deepening remembrance and renewal.






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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Dec 13 2013

Kahlil Gibran – Reason and Passion

Published by under Poetry

Reason and Passion
by Kahlil Gibran

And the priestess spoke again and said: Speak to us of Reason and Passion.
And he answered, saying:
Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon which your reason and your judgment wage war against your passion and your appetite.
Would that I could be the peacemaker in your soul, that I might turn the discord and the rivalry of your elements into oneness and melody.
But how shall I, unless you yourselves be also the peacemakers, nay, the lovers of all your elements?

Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul.
If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas.
For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.
Therefore let your soul exalt your reason to the height of passion, that it may sing;
And let it direct your passion with reason, that your passion may live through its own daily resurrection, and like the phoenix rise above its own ashes.

I would have you consider your judgment and your appetite even as you would two loved guests in your house.
Surely you would not honour one guest above the other; for he who is more mindful of one loses the love and the faith of both.

Among the hills, when you sit in the cool shade of the white poplars, sharing the peace and serenity of distant fields and meadows — then let your heart say in silence, “God rests in reason.”
And when the storm comes, and the mighty wind shakes the forest, and thunder and lightning proclaim the majesty of the sky, — then let your heart say in awe, “God moves in passion.”
And since you are a breath in God’s sphere, and a leaf in God’s forest, you too should rest in reason and move in passion.

— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran


/ Photo by zabaraorg /

This is such an interesting section of Kahlil Gibran’s “The Prophet,” especially the way he emphasizes the positive nature of passion. Religious and spiritual traditions, both East and West, have a tendency to want to control or even suppress passion. Passion is sex. Passion is emotion. Passion is powerful, intense, turbulent.

Gibran acknowledges that “passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.” Passion, without limitation or conscious guidance, can become a chaotic, consuming force in our lives. But he doesn’t say we should get rid of passion or that reason should subjugate it. He speaks in terms of balanced, integrated use of passion in our lives.

Passion is the engine in our lives. Gibran gives us this image of a ship: passion is the ship’s sails, and reason is the rudder. The sails catch the power of the wind, propelling the ship forward. Passion is power, vitality, life!

But movement without direction is, at best, meaningless and, at worst, can lead us onto rocks. That’s why we need the rudder of reason to intelligently use the power of passion’s movement so that we can reach our destination.

One is not “good” and the other “bad.” Both reason and passion are necessary. They must be understood, brought into harmony, used effectively to balance each other.

This may sound like a bit of a tangent, but I’m reminded of the imagery of the Christian Nativity. 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.

I especially like Kahlil Gibran’s summations at the end–

“God rests in reason.”

“God moves in passion.”

Movement and stillness, when we balance both we have discovered how to dance!






Kahlil Gibran, Kahlil Gibran poetry, Christian poetry Kahlil Gibran

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

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Dec 06 2013

Maya Angelou – Seek patience

Published by under Poetry

Seek patience
by Maya Angelou

Seek patience
and passion
in equal amounts.

Patience alone
will not build the temple.

Passion alone
will destroy its walls.


/ Photo by Luizdesign /

The passing of Nelson Mandela is a huge event in the world. For me, as with so many of you, he was an important icon, a great soul who inspired me to be more in myself and strive for more in society.

The world was certainly blessed by the life of Nelson Mandela, a man of courage, brilliance, and dignity, who opened a pathway of healing, not only for the people of South Africa, but for all of us around the world. He gave us a vision of hope for the future.

With Madiba’s passing, we have received an invitation and a challenge: Can we, individually and collectively, step up and step through into a better, more just, more inclusive world? Will we strive against the forces of inertia and fear, meeting them with strength, tenacity, and heart? And can we yet do so with joy and a wide-open heart? Mandela’s life says to us, it can be done.

…One further thought: Every image of Mandela you are likely to see in the next few weeks is of the thin, gentle, aging sage, with his sparkling eyed smile. The image I’ve included is a variation of that same wise face. But do yourself a favor and search the Internet for photos of Mandela as a bearded young man. You can see a surprising strength of body supporting his strength of character. But you still might catch that sparkle in his eye too.






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

US (1928 – )
Secular or Eclectic

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Dec 04 2013

Anna Swir – My Body Effervesces

Published by under Poetry

My Body Effervesces
by Anna Swir

English version by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

I am born for the second time.
I am light
as the eyelash of the wind.
I froth, I am froth.

I walk dancing,
if I wish, I will soar.
The condensed lightness
of my body
condenses most forcibly
in the lightness of my foot
and its five toes.
The foot skims the earth
which gives way like compressed air.
An elastic duo
of the earth and of the foot. A dance
of liberation.

I am born for the second time,
happiness of the world
came to me again.
My body effervesces,
I think with my body which effervesces.

If I wish,
I will soar.

— from Soul Food: Nourishing Poems for Starved Minds, Edited by Neil Astley / Edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce


/ Photo by Joy Krauthammer /

I only recently discovered the poetry of Polish poet Anna Swir. (Her full name is actually Anna Swirszczynska, but I guess it has been shortened by translators for syllabically limited English speakers.)

This poem, in particular, really grabbed my attention.

I am born for the second time.
I am light
as the eyelash of the wind.
I froth, I am froth.

Just those opening lines alone bring a giddy sort of self-recognition and slows our pace to an easy saunter.

And then the following lines–

I walk dancing,
if I wish, I will soar.

Reading those lines, we too begin to move more lightly, playfully. And we start to rise…

An elastic duo
of the earth and of the foot. A dance
of liberation.

…That meeting of earth and foot, a place to stand, to gently push against, and to move upon.

I am born for the second time,
happiness of the world
came to me again.

Okay, I can’t hold back: one quick metaphysical tangent– Religious traditions all over the world, not just Christianity, make references being being born again, a second birth, a spiritual birth, a renewed self. Yet what they fail to mention is that this second birth is not the result of affirming some doctrine; it comes through deep inner opening… and it is accompanied by the most profound giddy bliss! It’s as if there is some great secret delight underlying all of creation, and in that moment of rebirth, the happiness of the world washes over you.

My body effervesces,
I think with my body which effervesces.

From the intellect’s point-of-view, that pervasive joy doesn’t quite make sense. All you have to do is read the day’s news to know how much suffering and trauma exist in the world. Yet there is also this effervescent joy. And it’s not just an idea of joy; it is felt, by every cell of your body. Your body just bubbles with an uncontainable bliss.

Sometimes the situation requires thinking with the intellect in order to engage with the challenges and struggles that churn on the surface of life. But it is just as important is discovering our inherent effervescence, and learn to “think” with that body so we can engage with the world through that deep joy. The intellect can argue that that’s nice, but it is ineffective at solving problems. But try that effervescence. It “knows” something even more powerful: that joy and love are highly contagious. And that’s the most effective work.

So, next time you feel your feet rising, don’t fight it…

If I wish,
I will soar.

Fierce Eye, Gentle Heart – Card Sales!

Wow! The interest in the Fierce Eye, Gentle Heart Card Set has been fantastic! In less than 2 days we’ve already sold out of our initial printing!

But don’t worry — if you have placed an order or want to place an order, I am working with the printer to have more cards ready as soon as possible. They should be available in one to two weeks. Since this card set is a new item, I didn’t anticipate how hugely popular it would be, and so I ordered too few cards initially. But more are coming soon!

If you are interested in receiving a set of these cards in December, place your order soon, and I will do everything I can to get them to you on time.

International Shipment

Several of you have asked about shipping outside the US. As of yesterday, the PayPal order form has been updated to with international shipping prices. So please feel free to order from the UK, Australia, India, Pakistan… I can’t absolutely guarantee that international deliveries will arrive before the end of the year, but I’ll do my best to make it possible.

Non-PayPal Orders

I have received a few questions from people who would like to order but prefer not to use PayPal. You can always send a check or money order (in USD, please) to:

Poetry Chaikhana
PO Box 2320
Boulder, CO 80306
USA

If you mail in payment, I will do my best to get shipments out for the earliest possible delivery.

I do not yet have a merchant credit card account set up. That means I do not have the ability to process credit card numbers directly — sorry.

Thank you, everyone, for your enthusiastic response!






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

Poland (1909 – 1984) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Anna Swir

3 responses so far

Dec 04 2013

Card Set Updates

Fierce Eye, Gentle Heart – Card Sales!

Wow! The interest in the Fierce Eye, Gentle Heart Card Set has been fantastic! In less than 2 days we’ve already sold out of our initial printing!

But don’t worry — if you have placed an order or want to place an order, I am working with the printer to have more cards ready as soon as possible. They should be available in one to two weeks. Since this card set is a new item, I didn’t anticipate how hugely popular it would be, and so I ordered too few cards initially. But more are coming soon!

If you are interested in receiving a set of these cards in December, place your order soon, and I will do everything I can to get them to you on time.

International Shipment

Several of you have asked about shipping outside the US. As of yesterday, the PayPal order form has been updated to with international shipping prices. So please feel free to order from the UK, Australia, India, Pakistan… I can’t absolutely guarantee that international deliveries will arrive before the end of the year, but I’ll do my best to make it possible.

Non-PayPal Orders

I have received a few questions from people who would like to order but prefer not to use PayPal. You can always send a check or money order (in USD, please) to:

Poetry Chaikhana
PO Box 2320
Boulder, CO 80306
USA

If you mail in payment, I will do my best to get shipments out for the earliest possible delivery.

I do not yet have a merchant credit card account set up. That means I do not have the ability to process credit card numbers directly — sorry.

Thank you, everyone, for your enthusiastic response!

No responses yet

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