May 06 2016

Ala al-Dawla Simnani – What Was

Published by under Poetry

What Was
by Ala al-Dawla Simnani

English version by David and Sabrineh Fideler

Once I was here,
but now “I” am not:

If there’s really a “me,”
      it could only be you.

If any robe warms
and encompasses me now,
that very robe —
      it could only be you.

In the way of your love,
nothing was left —
neither body nor soul.

If I have any body —
If I have any soul —
then, without question,
      it could only be you.

— from Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition, Translated by David Fideler / Translated by Sabrineh Fideler

/ Image by ~W~ /

Once I was here,
but now “I” am not

Do you feel it? That sense of “I” and “me” how thin and intangible they are when you really look?

We spend most of our life energy asserting that this thing, this “me” is IMPORTANT. The problem is that that “me” is not real. The more we look for it, the more it retreats. When we finally corner it, it simply fades away, dispelled like a trick of light. What are we left with?

There is a self, but it is not a limited or selfish self. To some it borders on blasphemy to call this real Self a self at all, implying some personal possession of something so all-inclusive. Some prefer to call this center of being not “me,” but You — the Friend, the ever-present Beloved. While the “me” struts and shouts and grabs, it cannot make of itself a real and lasting thing. But that You remains, always there, waiting patiently for the braggart self to tire of its own voice and step aside.

In the way of your love,
nothing was left —
neither body nor soul.

Everything we thought we owned, everything we ascribed to that “me,”
even the body itself, they all ceased to be limited objects of the mind when the me itself is recognized as unreal. Body, self– these are seen, not as things that “I” am or possess, but as part of a fluid continuum of the greater You. Everything stops being things, and is, instead, a grand embodiment of the Eternal.

If I have any body —
If I have any soul —
then, without question,
      it could only be you.

Have a beautiful day enrobed in the Beloved.

Recommended Books: Ala al-Dawla Simnani

Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Throne Carrier of God: The Life and Thought of ‘Ala’ Ad-Dawla As-Simnani

Ala al-Dawla Simnani

Iran/Persia (? – 1336) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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5 responses so far

May 06 2016


Rogues too realize.

No responses yet

May 04 2016

Daniel Berrigan – Credentials

Published by under Poetry

by Daniel Berrigan

I would it were possible to state in so
few words my errand in the world: quite simply
forestalling all inquiry, the oak offers his leaves
largehandedly. And in winter his integral magnificent order
decrees, says solemnly who he is
in the great thrusting limbs that are all finally
one: a return, a permanent riverandsea.

So the rose is its own credential, a certain
unattainable effortless form: wearing its heart
visibly, it gives us heart too: bud, fullness and fall.

— from Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters), by Daniel Berrigan / Edited by John Dear

/ Image by Proseuche /

This past Saturday we lost Father Daniel Berrigan. If you’re not familiar with who he is, I highly recommend you look him up — you’ll find several excellent memorial articles and repostings of past interviews. Daniel Berrigan was one of those great souls to whom we in the modern era owe so much, alongside other great spiritual figures like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Thich Nhat Hanh, and Dorothy Day, people who put themselves on the line to transform society and awaken a wider compassion in the world. Father Berrigan was one of the early leaders in courageous protest against the Vietnam war and the draft. He worked throughout the Cold War against the proliferation and normalization of nuclear weapons.

He did that thing that makes us most uncomfortable about the Christian pathway: He actually lived it, not just in his head, but on the ground. He rolled up his sleeves and bore his chest as he embraced the poor, spoke up for the vulnerable, and opposed institutional cruelty and violence, done boldly, humbly, amidst the complexities of the modern world and dangers of modern power structures.

I continue to be inspired and challenged and humbled by Father Berrigan. His tireless work for peace and justice and humanity continues to reverberate and benefit us all.

And he was a poet…

In this poem, for example, we are given a couple of images to illustrate how we should understand ourselves and be in the world. In other words, what are our credentials? By what authority and quality do we come into the world and act in the world?

Like the oak tree, we should offer our leaves “largehandedly,” giving fully of ourselves and our very nature to the world. And, in winter, in bareness, the essential form that we are comes through. By not holding back our true nature, by being fully ourselves, even when when the world demands all of us, that is when we “return” and recognize that we are part of a grand, harmonious unity, “a permanent riverandsea.”

We are our own credentials. Our credentials, our spiritual stamp of approval, is there within us, in our most natural form. Like the rose, we must unfold, be as we are, allowing our innermost heart to become visible, to be seen, to let its beauty be present in the world, bringing healing to the world and to ourselves.

So the rose is its own credential, a certain
unattainable effortless form: wearing its heart
visibly, it gives us heart too: bud, fullness and fall.

Have a beautiful day, with a blossoming heart.

Recommended Books: Daniel Berrigan

Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters) Prayer for the Morning Headlines: On the Sanctity of Life and Death And the Risen Bread: Selected and New Poems 1957-1997 Tulips in the Prison Yard: Selected Poems of Daniel Berrigan Prison Poems: Selected Poems of Daniel Berrigan

Daniel Berrigan, Daniel Berrigan poetry, Christian poetry Daniel Berrigan

US (1921 – 2016) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

More poetry by Daniel Berrigan

2 responses so far

May 04 2016

act of beauty

The most mundane effort,
when approached with a sense of service
and a questing heart,
becomes an act of beauty.

No responses yet

Apr 29 2016

Lalla – I traveled a long way seeking God

Published by under Poetry

I traveled a long way seeking God
by Lalla

English version by Swami Muktananda

I traveled a long way seeking God,
but when I finally gave up and turned back,
there He was, within me!

O Lalli!
Now why do you wander
like a beggar?
Make some effort,
and He will grant you
a vision of Himself
in the form of bliss
in your heart.

— from Lalleshwari: Spiritual Poems by a Great Siddha Yogini, Translated by Swami Muktananda

/ Image by Spanishalex /

For so many mystics it is this way. After intense searching without success, what can be done but give up, or collapse? Yet a special thing happens at that very moment. We drop our expectations, our hopes, our projections about this external thing called “God.” For the first time we have truly let go of the story we’ve been telling ourselves about what God is and how we fit into the picture. It is only then that the scales fall from our eyes.

We stop straining to look, and finally see. And we see the Eternal already here, within.

Finally recognizing the all-engulfing presence of the Divine, the heart feels safe; the heart opens, it blooms, and we are flooded by indescribable bliss!

Even a spiritual mendicant like Lalla can no longer think of herself as a beggar when in possession of such wealth.

Recommended Books: Lalla

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Naked Song I Lalla: The Poems of Lal Ded
More Books >>

Lalla, Lalla poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Lalla

Kashmir (India/Pakistan) (14th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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3 responses so far

Apr 29 2016


The solution to religious extremism
is to reawaken that sweet, secret, sacred bliss within,
to gently and generously share it with others,
to create environments that invite
the continuing quest.

No responses yet

Apr 27 2016

Chogyam Trungpa – The Education of the Warrior

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

The Education of the Warrior
by Chogyam Trungpa

That mind of fearfulness
Should be put in the cradle of loving-kindness
And suckled with the profound and brilliant milk
Of eternal doubtlessness.
In the cool shade of fearlessness,
Fan it with the fan of joy and happiness.
When it grows older,
With various displays of phenomena,
Lead it to the self-existing playground.
When it grows older still,
In order to promote the primordial confidence,
Lead it to the archery range of the warriors.
When it grows older still,
To awaken primordial self-nature,
Let it see the society of men
Which possesses beauty and dignity.
Then the fearful mind
Can change into the warrior’s mind,
And that eternally youthful confidence
Can expand into space without beginning or end.
At that point it sees the Great Eastern Sun.

— from Timely Rain: Selected Poetry of Chogyam Trungpa, by Chogyam Trungpa

/ Image by Alice Popkorn /

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a hugely influential, though controversial Buddhist teacher who carried the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages within Tibetan Buddhism to America. In addition to his many talks and books on meditation, philosophy, and awareness, he also wrote about the notion of the spiritual warrior, inspired by the legendary kingdom of Shambhala.

While I am not a follower of Trungpa Rinpoche (although I live in the American city he made his home), and though I am highly critical of some of his methods and aspects of his private life, I recognize how important he has been, and continues to be, in the spiritual opening of the west. One of his teachings that I find especially fascinating is his notion of the spiritual warrior.

I am fascinated as much by our reaction within the “spiritual” community to the idea of the warrior as with the core idea itself. We can find it inspiring and energizing, especially when it remains conceptual, but just as often we find it uncomfortable or threatening to the ideal of being peaceful individuals within a peaceful world. I think those are all truly legitimate responses.

That mind of fearfulness
Should be put in the cradle of loving-kindness…

The idea of warriorship is about confrontation, with fear, with death. It is a mindset of bold action. Now, that can be immensely powerful as we maneuver though the challenges of life, or it can become quite the opposite, a pathway of brutality, domination, and self-centered purpose. Amidst the intensity of the warrior’s worldview, recognizing the difference is often difficult. That, I think, is the real measure of success in the warrior’s path, the ability to see clearly, keep the heart open and compassionate, and measure one’s true purpose while engulfed by the heat of struggle.

Nearly fifteen years ago, when I returned to the US mainland after several years living in semi-retreat on Maui, I made a conscious decision to become re-engaged with the world. Because of my extensive fasting and sparse diet, my body had grown extremely thin. I had cultivated an ethereal quality to my body and my entire energy. That may have been suited to a sadhu, but not to someone determined to participate in mainstream society. I decided to put on weight, literally and metaphorically, I changed my diet and began to eat more. I began to lift weights and, over the space of a year, put on nearly 50 pounds of muscle. And I started training in the martial arts. Ultimately, the form of martial art I settled on was — swordfighting. (I know. I’m weird.)

To most people this evolution is surprising, bizarre even. How does facing someone down with a Medieval longsword or Renaissance rapier fit in with the spiritual life, or poetry for that matter? To this day I consider myself to be essentially a pacifist, perhaps not absolutely, but in general orientation. How do I reconcile that with the violence inherent in the sword?

As someone who had spent the first three decades of his life trying to float away, I saw that I needed a practice that kept me rooted in my body. I also knew I needed to develop a hardier mindset to deal with the chronic health issues that were becoming more prominent at that time. And I had to acknowledge that I have a certain aggressive energy that I would be wise to befriend and express in healthier ways.

So why not a more “spiritual” martial art, like Tai Chi or Aikido? Part of it was that I wanted to be out of my comfort zone. I wanted to be a novice, uncertain, vulnerable, not the comfortable and confident “spiritual Ivan” in one more spiritual circle, however physically demanding. After experimenting with other martial arts, something just lit up in me at the touch of a sword. The sword is at the same time a thing of beauty and an object of fear. I felt I should explore that giddy attraction/repulsion.

Having lived so much in my mind and my ideals, I am, on a basic level, offended by the fact that just the slightest repositioning of leverage or position can mean the difference between lying dead on the ground or going on to live for another 40 years. Such a minute, physical difference just shouldn’t affect the journey of something so immense as the human soul, yet it does. And that, I suppose, is what fascinates me, that spiritual conundrum– how skill in something so specific and physical can hugely impact the unfolding experience of our being. Then the question becomes how do we face this dilemma, and how do we integrate it into our larger sense of self?

This is the difficult internal balancing act of the spiritual warrior. And everyone, regardless of lifestyle or philosophy is, in some sense, a spiritual warrior. The complex, often conflicting forces of physical, social, and spiritual life require a warrior’s approach to navigate effectively. Every action, internal or external, is a movement in harmony with some forces and in opposition to others. And, as much as we in spiritual culture love our moral and ethical purity, daily life for an adult constantly leads us into gray areas and imperfect decisions. Learning to navigate this unavoidable complexity without losing contact with our true ideals is precisely what we need and what the warrior’s path teaches us.

In other words, we all need to be warriors in some respects. We always need to remind ourselves that pacifism is not the same as passivism. I remember reading an interview years ago with another teacher on spiritual warriorship who made a critical comment about modern pacifism. The interviewer blurted out, “But what about Gandhi?” His response was, “Gandhi, what a fighter!”

I think that’s the point. And the point of Chogyam Trungpa’s poem, too. True warriorship isn’t inherently about violence, it is about facing one’s fears, possibly facing death itself, with a sense of courage, full awareness, while embodying the highest possible purpose.

Now, I am a historian, as well. I am fully aware of the terrible carnage and suffering created generation after generation by wars, fueled in part by naive, overly-romantic notions of the heroic warrior. I am not suggesting any superficial right or wrong perspective. I will say, however, that the solution to the war reflex within society is not to banish or suppress the warrior instinct. The warrior is an essential archetype within the human psyche. It is there, whether we are comfortable with it or not. What is necessary, as individuals and as a society, is to learn how to channel that intense, vigorous energy toward positive, non-destructive purposes — protecting people and endeavors that need protecting, while always questioning those who claim to speak with authority as well as our own methods.

The greatest vulnerability of the warrior mindset is falling into an ends-justify-the-means approach. As the spiritual warrior Gandhi pointed out, there are never truly any ends, only an ongoing chain of means that define the world we live in. But this potential weakness is also closely linked to the greatest strength of the warrior, which is to fully embrace the power of those means, through total dedication to the skill and action needed in any given moment as a method to embody the best possible world, within and without.

Then the fearful mind
Can change into the warrior’s mind,
And that eternally youthful confidence
Can expand into space without beginning or end.
At that point it sees the Great Eastern Sun.

Recommended Books: Chogyam Trungpa

Timely Rain: Selected Poetry of Chogyam Trungpa Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior Crazy Wisdom Training the Mind: And Cultivating Loving-Kindness
More Books >>

Chogyam Trungpa, Chogyam Trungpa poetry, Buddhist poetry Chogyam Trungpa

Tibet / US (1939 – 1987) Timeline
Buddhist : Tibetan

More poetry by Chogyam Trungpa

4 responses so far

Apr 27 2016

to be seen

This is what the soul craves,
to be seen, to be recognized,
to be truly acknowledged.
This is true not just of the human soul,
but of the world soul.

No responses yet

Apr 22 2016

Ramprasad – Tell me, brother, what happens after death?

Published by under Poetry

Tell me, brother, what happens after death?
by Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

English version by Leonard Nathan and Clinton Seely

Tell me, brother, what happens after death?
The whole world is arguing about it —
Some say you become a ghost,
Others that you go to heaven,
And some that you get close to God,
And the Vedas insist you’re a bit of sky
Reflected in a jar fated to shatter.

When you look for sin and virtue in nothing,
You end up with nothing.
The elements live in the body together
But go their own ways at death.

Prasad says: you end, brother,
Where you began, a reflection
Rising in water, mixing with water,
Finally one with water.

— from Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Ramprasad Sen – Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess, Translated by Leonard Nathan / Clinton Seely

/ Image by Sydnee Leveston /

We have had several momentous events this past week — earthquakes and volcanoes, political and social events. It’s Earth Day today. Yet, with all of that, I feel it would seem odd if I didn’t comment about the unexpected death of Prince yesterday.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, and Prince was omnipresent. I have to admit that I was not a big Prince fan. I didn’t dislike him or his music, but I was purposefully out of step with my generation. I listened to music from the 60s and 70s at that age. But regardless of my contrarian tastes, Prince’s music — and style — dominated the 80s. Purple Rain. 1999. Little Red Corvette. When Doves Cry. Even when his wasn’t the music I put into my new Walkman, I heard it everywhere. Prince’s music runs through my adolescent years.

It wasn’t until I was an adult and reconsidering the 80s music I rejected as a teenager that I came to recognize how good much of it was. And Prince has to be at the top of that creative wave. The man wrote not just good music, but decade defining anthems, fusing pop, funk, soul, new wave, along with his own unique purple spice. Not just a songwriter, he was a magnetic performer, a stunningly creative innovator, a courageous businessman who thumbed his nose at corporate control of his art, and an amazing musician who played dozens of instruments. When we think of Prince, we don’t imagine a man, we think of a musical force with eyeliner. Prince was an icon, an archetype.

The passing of such an icon is always a significant moment within culture. I was inspired to track down something I wrote in 2009 about the death of Michael Jackson that applies equally well to Prince:

He is one of those rare figures, like Bob Marley, Elvis, John Lennon, a defining figure for the entire world. There is a reason that we call the ultra famous “stars.” They are like the planets in astrology; they embody for the world a certain archetypal energy… We relate to the archetypal aura and not the person…

This archetypal role they play is also why their deaths are so traumatic to the world. Archetypes are, by their nature, eternal energies of the soul. So when a person embodying a particular archetype dies, the world feels a rupture, the planetary psyche feels disoriented and fragmented. How can that which we instinctively know to be eternal disappear from our midst? But what really happens is that the archetypal energy is released, returned back to each of us. Having seen it enacted outside of ourselves, we are again reminded to look within ourselves for those same qualities.

It is something of a truism that many of the fast-living superfamous have died at age 28 or 29. Astrologers would say that this is because that is the age when the “Saturn return” occurs. That is, after approximately 29 years, Saturn returns to its original position as when the individual was born. Saturn (Shiva in Hindu Jyotish astrology) is associated with time, restriction, death, discipline, self-examination. The idea is that the Saturn return is a crucial threshold in each person’s life. At that point, one does a self-assessment on a soul level, and prepares for the next stage of life. Sometimes the soul has fulfilled its purposes, or perhaps the person is unwilling to leave the old stage and enter the next stage of life. This is why so many deaths occur at that age.

But the cycle repeats itself. The second Saturn return happens around age 57/58, when the more active parenting and career-focused phases of adulthood are typically completed and we enter into a more mature, elder role. This is often the age of mid-life crisis. As before, our prior life roles are wrapping up and we step into an unknown new phase of life. And sometimes we step out of life altogether.

I don’t know the details of Prince’s death or anything about his private life. But, the passing of a planetary icon whose gravity shaped so much of culture, affects us all on a certain level and worthy of a brief pause to contemplate.

The era of Prince was also, in my mind, the era of the Bloom County cartoon strip. I can just picture Opus, the ponderous-nosed penguin, saying something to the effect of, “Rest in peace, O Purple One…”

Rising in water, mixing with water,
Finally one with water.

Recommended Books: Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Ramprasad Sen – Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna
More Books >>

Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

India (1718? – 1775?) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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Apr 22 2016

street names

When you know where the Beloved lives,
you are content,
no need to argue with others over street names.

One response so far

Apr 20 2016

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – The day Love was illumined

Published by under Poetry

The day Love was illumined
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

The day Love was illumined,
Lovers learned from You how to burn, Beloved.
The flame was set by the Friend
to give the moth a gate to enter.
Love is a gift from the Beloved to the Lover.

— from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian

/ Image by deskridge /

What a wonderful pair of lines–

The day Love was illumined,
Lovers learned from You how to burn, Beloved.

–passionate, startling, disturbing, and somehow inviting, all at once.

Many of the great spiritual poets, from various religious traditions, write of a divine fire, blissful, all-consuming. These lines from Sheikh Abu-Said Abil-Kheir are among my favorites on the subject.

Why this fascination with fire among mystics? In deep states of spiritual opening there is often a powerful, rising sense of heat — filled with immense love — that permeates the body. This warmth seems to emerge from the seat, flares in the belly, and rises upward, fanning out at the heart.

As this fire moves through the body, it also moves through the awareness, consuming all thoughts (or, more accurately, the tremors from which thoughts emerge). This fire burns away even the thought of “I” — only the sense of this living flame remains.

The flame was set by the Friend
to give the moth a gate to enter.

This is such a wonderful fire that mystics often describe it as a flame of love, so enchanting that, like the moth, we want to dart in and be utterly consumed.

Practitioners of yoga identify this spiritual fire with the release and rising of the Kundalini energy. But we find similar descriptions among Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, and Jewish mystics. This experience of fire during deep opening and transformation is a widely experienced state shared by mystics of all traditions. It is not a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian experience; it is a human experience… or, rather, an experience of the human yielding into the divine.

Love is a gift from the Beloved to the Lover.

Every lover wants to learn how to burn in the presence of the Beloved.

Have a wonderful, illuminated day!

Recommended Books: Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Mystics of Islam
More Books >>

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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One response so far

Apr 20 2016

gauze-like veil

We are, each of us, just a thin gauze-like veil
delicately draped over the Divine.
The slightest puff of breath
or flaming spark of fire
dispels the illusion that we are a separate substance.

No responses yet

Apr 15 2016

T. S. Eliot – At the still point

Published by under Poetry

At the still point of the turning world (from The Four Quartets)
by T. S. Eliot

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

— from Four Quartets, by T. S. Eliot

/ Image by David Spender /

This is one of those powerful poems. These lines can catch us in a dark moment, uplift when we feel stuck or lost, lead us into greater presence…

At the still point of the turning world.

That image of movement, dancing amidst stillness, right at the center point. The meeting point, not only of past and future, but of all things.

Certain ideas — important ideas — are spoken of so often within spiritual and religious dialog that the words start to lose their meaning. Words like “the present,” “centering,” “here and now…” After one has read enough books or listened to enough talks, phrases like that become expected and slip by without really registering any more.

That is when poetry comes to the rescue.

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is…

New reformulations of words and images, unexpected and lovely, gives us new eyes and new ears. We are pleasantly startled out of our mental insulation and the truth behind the word touches us anew, more deeply, with new suggestions of meaning.

A really good poem startles us out of our endless thoughts and brings us into an open state in which we encounter meaning more directly and immediately.

A truly masterful poem brings us to the still point. And there, we dance.

Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

For me, this is one of those poems.

Recommended Books: T. S. Eliot

Four Quartets Collected Poems, 1909-1962 Complete Poems and Plays,: 1909-1950 The Waste Land and Other Writings T. S. Eliot: The Poems
More Books >>

T. S. Eliot, T. S. Eliot poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry T. S. Eliot

US/UK (1888 – 1965) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by T. S. Eliot

4 responses so far

Apr 15 2016


The boundary between self and the world
is bridged by the breath.

No responses yet

Apr 11 2016

Poetry, Dreams, and Interpretation

I started the Poetry Chaikhana more than ten years ago. These days I typically feature two poems a week, but in the beginning I was sending out five or six poem emails a week! That’s a lot of poem commentary over the years. Of course, sometimes my “commentary” is really more of a meandering meditative tangent loosely inspired by a line or phrase I particularly liked. But when I am actually writing about the poem itself, its meaning, most especially its “spiritual” meaning, I hope it is understood that whatever I write is not the single, authoritative way to interpret the poem’s meaning.

This weekend I was going through some old documents, and I found something I wrote on this subject a few years back that I thought was worth sharing again–

I believe that my commentary on any particular poem should not be taken as all-encompassing or the one “right” way to understand it. Poems, by the elastic nature of their language, have no one, fixed meaning or correct interpretation. Even when the poet may have had a fixed meaning in mind, the moment that poem is shared it expands in meaning.

I like to read a poem the way I try to understand a dream: It is layered with meaning. Ask yourself a question and then look at the poem – and it will suggest a meaning to you. Ask yourself a different question and reread the same poem – you will discover a different meaning. Return to the poem five years later and discover a new meaning again. Poems change with us.

It is my hope that the thoughts and observations and occasional tangents I include with each poem inspire you to connect more deeply with the poem or be touched by it in some unexpected way. But my commentary is only one possible entranceway into the world opened by each poem. Never hesitate to suggest a different understanding of a poem, even one contrary to mine. More important than what I think of a poem is what you think of it – that’s where the magic happens!

the open field —
pheasant’s cry

~ Yamei
(Japan, 17th century)
tr. Ivan M. Granger

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

6 responses so far

Apr 08 2016

Buson – spring rain

Published by under Poetry

spring rain
by Buson

English version by Gabriel Rosenstock

spring rain —
pond and river
are one

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

/ Image by BoxTail /

I actually woke up to a brilliant, sunny day here in Colorado, but this poem still spoke to me. I think it reminds me of my childhood in rainy Oregon. Even though I have lived in sun-filled Colorado for years, in some secluded corner of my mind the rain still drums down. I carry it with me, a place of comforting shadows and quiet inturning, where everything has depth but not distinction.

This haiku by Buson reminds me of that sense– A spring shower, soft, then heavy, then light again. We hunch our shoulders against it, find shelter beneath the branch of a tree. We grow quiet and peer out through the curtain of rainfall to see a world bathed in shifting gray and deep green and milky whites. The pond nearby is barely visible in the downpour. The stream that runs by is shushed by the all-encompassing sound of the falling rain. Water from the pond, water flowing through the stream, water endlessly descending from heaven and running in rivulets everywhere, connecting it all. A unity that drenches us and invites us in.

Whether you have sun or rain, I hope you have a chance to be drenched in this beautiful day!

Recommended Books: Buson

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

Buson, Buson poetry, Buddhist poetry Buson

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

Continue Reading »

2 responses so far

Apr 08 2016

all the world

All the world
is an altar.

No responses yet

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