Apr 21 2014


Build up a tolerance for the unknown.

How can you be at home in the immense, mysterious,
and formless Self,
when you are only at ease with what the mind has defined?

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Apr 18 2014

Thomas Merton – The Sowing of Meanings

Published by under Poetry

The Sowing of Meanings
by Thomas Merton

See the high birds! Is their’s the song
That dies among the wood-light
Wounding the listener with such bright arrows?
Or do they play in wheeling silences
Defining in the perfect sky
The bounds of (here below) our solitude,

Where spring has generated lights of green
To glow in clouds upon the sombre branches?
Ponds full of sky and stillnesses
What heavy summer songs still sleep
Under the tawny rushes at your brim?

More than a season will be born here, nature,
In your world of gravid mirrors!
The quiet air awaits one note,
One light, one ray and it will be the angels’ spring:
One flash, one glance upon the shiny pond, and then
Asperges me! sweet wilderness, and lo! we are redeemed!

For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power –
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,

Until, in the amazing light of April,
Surcharging the religious silence of the spring,
Creation finds the pressure of His everlasting secret
Too terrible to bear.

Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash, and shower us with light,
While the wild countryside, unknown, unvisited of men,
Bears sheaves of clean, transforming fire.

And then, oh then the written image, schooled in sacrifice,
The deep united threeness printed in our being,
Shot by the brilliant syllable of such an intuition, turns within,
And plants that light far down into the heart of darkness and oblivion,
Dives after, and discovers flame.

— from Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton

/ Photo by NemanjaJ /

Where I live in Colorado we finally feel spring awakening, eager to awaken. The reviving world calls me to step out my front door, too stroll…

Ponds full of sky and stillnesses

…to see what is secretly waiting to blossom…

For, like a grain of fire
Smouldering in the heart of every living essence
God plants His undivided power –
Buries His thought too vast for worlds
In seed and root and blade and flower,

The question often comes up: What does that line about “asperges” mean? “Asperges” is a reference to the Catholic rite of sprinkling holy water on the congregation, especially associated with Easter mass. It comes from the first word (in Latin) of Psalms 51:9, which is traditionally chanted in Catholic masses during Easter. So Merton is making a reference to anointing, sanctification, purification, and Easter…

I hope you find a way to step into the awakening world this Easter weekend.

Then every way we look, lo! rocks and trees
Pastures and hills and streams and birds and firmament
And our own souls within us flash, and shower us with light…

Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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2 responses so far

Apr 18 2014

speaks to us

The Earth speaks to us,
and gives us a vocabulary
to speak back.

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Apr 16 2014

Wendell Berry – The Peace of Wild Things

Published by under Poetry

The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— from Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, by Wendell Berry

/ Photo by TheBroth3R /

My wife and I have been going for walks recently in an area called Roger’s Grove. The park has a small lake with a couple of islands at its center. It is a favorite spot for Canadian geese this time of year. As we stroll around the lake we sometimes see a gray heron standing in meditative stillness among the reeds along the banks. Most recently we noticed some new visitors: one and then two bright white pelicans, looking a bit awkward in form but moving with the grace of swans upon the lake’s surface.

Yesterday, we had an unexpected sight: Those two pelicans had become thirty pelicans! The lake was filled with these bright white beings! We walked around the lake in an awed daze. We watched as these stunning birds paddled around the lake in groups, tacking together in their movements, like a synchronized drifting dance, all gliding to the left and then, with some unseen signal, all turning right again. They even dipped their heads beneath the water all at once, sometimes several times in a row, down and up and down and up, a quiet undulation rippling through through group. They seemed to revel in this sleepy synchronicity of movement beneath the warming sun.

It was a magical moment. A healing moment. An encounter with the peace of wild things.

That’s just it– these, like all living beings, experience struggle, trauma, death, yet they continue to reside in the present moment and celebrate the bliss of a sweet afternoon when it is upon them. And in this way wild things are teachers to us all.

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I want to acknowledge what a potent month this is. We just had a full moon with an eclipse. Major planetary alignments occurring too. We are in the middle of Passover. And, for Christians, it is Holy Week leading up to Easter this Sunday. A time for renewal and reformulation of self and society.

Sending blessings and peace…

Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

12 responses so far

Apr 16 2014

we learn the way

We learn the way
by knowing our hearts.

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Apr 11 2014

Paramahansa Yogananda – Prayer for the Great Enlightenment

Published by under Poetry

Prayer for the Great Enlightenment
by Paramahansa Yogananda

O August God, Beloved Father, Oversoul of the Universe, Spirit of Spirits, Friend of Friends! unravel for me the mystery of my existence. Teach me to worship Thee in breathlessness, in sleeplessness, in deathlessness.

In the stillness of my soul, possess me; may I be conscious of Thine immortal presence in and around me. I yearn to know Thee, O secondless, O True Unique!

— from Whispers from Eternity, by Paramahansa Yogananda

Something for us today by the great 20th century ambassador or Indian spirituality, Paramahansa Yogananda.

unravel for me the mystery of my existence

As I reread this one line, it occurs to me that this is the heart of every prayer. This is the essential plea of every soul, whether one is religious or not. We all fundamentally feel this deep urge to discover who and what we are, what gives our lives meaning and purpose.

We humans are meaning-seeking creatures and, most importantly, we need to know how we ourselves fit within the landscape of meaning.

But we often don’t recognize how important meaning is to us. Meaning is more important than life and death. We all naturally and instinctively shy from death. But what is the most terrible form of death? Meaningless death. When we feel death has meaning, as the completion of a life that has had meaning, then death loses its sting. This might suggest to us that we should strive not so much to avoid death or loss, but we should live our lives passionately seeking meaning and the mystery of our existence, for then everything we experience, easy and difficult, serves a purpose and satisfies the hunger of the soul.

So, whether in prayer or in action or in attitude, we should be constantly calling out to the universe: “unravel for me the mystery of my existence.”

Teach me to worship Thee in breathlessness, in sleeplessness, in deathlessness.

Breathlessness, sleeplessness, deathlessness… Yogananda is here referring to common attributes of yogic samadhi. Samadhi is the yogic term for the ultimate union between the individual self and the Supreme Self. In this deepest meditative communion, the individual is often infused with a profoundly subtle air that renders the external breath less necessary. The breath may become so shallow that it completely stops or very nearly stops, and the body rests in a profound stillness.

As to sleeplessness, some yogis actually do not sleep. But, more broadly, this might be understood as the profound, continuing wakefulness of enlightened consciousness. The new awareness that one experiences in samadhi is like awakening from a lifelong sleep. To remain in this awakened awareness is to be “sleepless.”

And to be deathless… While there are certainly stories of deathless spiritual adepts in all traditions, spiritual deathlessness is not really describing someone whose body does not eventually die. With the profound awakening of samadhi, one is flooded with an utterly new sense of life. It is a state of being reborn or born anew. And though the body may yet experience illnesses, injuries, and eventually death, in this deepest communion you know yourself as beyond those experiences. Even when death claims the body in due course, you know well that it has no part of you. The body has its beginning and its ending, but you, in yourself, are simply as you are, without beginning or end. In the mystery of your existence, you dwell in an eternal state of being watching the phenomenal experiences pass through your awareness.

This is what we yearn to remember. Sincerely seeking this is true worship.

Paramahansa Yogananda, Paramahansa Yogananda poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Paramahansa Yogananda

India (1893 – 1952) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

More poetry by Paramahansa Yogananda

4 responses so far

Apr 11 2014


A helping hand
is a holy thing.

No responses yet

Apr 09 2014

Anna Swir – Happy as a Dog’s Tail

Published by under Poetry

Happy as a Dog’s Tail
by Anna Swir

English version by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

Happy as something unimportant
and free as a thing unimportant.
As something no one prizes
and which does not prize itself.
As something mocked by all
and which mocks at their mockery.
As laughter without serious reason.
As a yell able to outyell itself.
Happy as no matter what,
as any no matter what.

as a dog’s tail.

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

/ Photo by Ivan M. Granger /

I should start by apologizing for the unannounced hiatus in the poetry emails recently. Those of you who follow my personal Facebook page know that I celebrated a birthday last week, but it was followed quickly by the unexpected death of a beloved family dog named Koda. He was part of our family for nine years. Koda was a rescued dog with significant behavioral issues that made day-to-day life challenging for us. But he was also a very loving and loyal companion. Both my wife and I formed a strong bond with Koda, made stronger because of his special needs and the challenges they created in our life.

My wife and I needed time to grieve and celebrate and bless Koda’s passing.

…And I thought this poem by Anna Swir would be sweet, simple eulogy — a reminder of how happiness is so perfectly embodied by a dog’s wagging tail.

Give your loved ones (those with a tail and those who are tailless) a big hug today.

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

Poland (1909 – 1984) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Anna Swir

6 responses so far

Apr 09 2014


You need just this:

to the essential.

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Mar 28 2014

R. S. Thomas – The Moor

Published by under Poetry

The Moor
by R. S. Thomas

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

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

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

/ Photo by xelcise /

Something for you today by the Welsh poet and clergyman, R. S. Thomas…

It was like a church to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Wales (1913 – 2000) Timeline

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9 responses so far

Mar 28 2014


First there must be thirst.

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Mar 24 2014

Akka Mahadevi – Breath for fragrance

Published by under Poetry

Breath for fragrance
by Akka Mahadevi

English version by A. K. Ramanujan

Breath for fragrance,
who needs flowers?

With peace, patience, forgiving and self-command,
who needs the Ultimate Posture?

The whole world become oneself
who needs solitude,

O lord white as jasmine.

— from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan

/ Photo by Healzo /

I apologize for the unannounced hiatus in the poetry emails. The past couple of weeks have been a masala mixture of technical problems one day, some busy projects with my day job, a bit of social time with friends, that demanding chronic fatigue, and the need for meditative moments too.

And Spring is upon us! (…for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. You Aussies and South Africans are training me well.)

A mantle of snow one day, and the next blue skies and the first tentative greens. Having endured winter’s solitary discipline, we lift our eyes and discover color once again. We find new warmth in the sunlight, the lungs expand, the heart beats more easily, life flows… and we notice the world once again.


I keep returning to the poetry of the great Mahadeviyakka. Her poetry continuously plays with the tension between the discipline of an accomplished yogini and the sheer delight of one whose heart has blossomed. Her words tease and dance and overturn the grim efforts our spiritual strivings.

Breath for fragrance,
who needs flowers?

On your walk you come upon an ornamental plum tree in early bloom. How can you not stop, stand on your toes and bring your nose close to a pink blossom and inhale the sweet perfume? It speaks to us of beauty, joy, life. The flower’s fragrance has led us to our breath and to the present moment.

When we have already learned to live in the fulness of our breath, our teacher the flower has done her job. (Though I myself am not bold enough to cast all flowers aside.)

With peace, patience, forgiving and self-command,
who needs the Ultimate Posture?

Isn’t this a wonderful insight? Each religion and spiritual tradition has its own particular obsessions. In yoga, especially in hatha yoga, there is a strong conceptual link between asana (“seat” or “posture”) and the spiritual energetics of body and awareness. The “Ultimate Posture” or “Supreme Seat” can be understood in the literal sense as attaining and maintaining the perfect physical posture, or it can be understood as being seated in awakened awareness.

Mahadevi cuts through the accumulated centuries of psycho-spiritual technicalities and postural perfectionism, reminding us that when we have attained peace, patience, forgiveness, and mastery, that is itself the Ultimate Posture.

The whole world become oneself
who needs solitude

And in deepest communion, when the little self has melted into the living Self of all selves, then there is only Self. Why then isolate yourself to be by yourself? In a closet or in a crowd, we are seated majestically in the Self, every rising thought and new encounter carries the blessing of self-recognition.

Akka Mahadevi, Akka Mahadevi poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Akka Mahadevi

India (12th Century) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shaivite (Shiva)

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Mar 24 2014

where you are

Be where you are.

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Mar 24 2014

Abe Books and Amazon

The book lovers on the Poetry Chaikhana may have noticed over the past couple of weeks that book links in the poem emails and on the Poetry Chaikhana website now usually go to Abe Books rather than Amazon.

Amazon is in a fight with several state governments over sales taxes. One of those states is Colorado, where I live. Amazon has decided to fight back by revoking all sales commissions earned by the Poetry Chaikhana because of that Colorado residency. Amazon book sales no longer benefit the Poetry Chaikhana.

For that reason, I have switched the Poetry Chaikhana book links to work with Abe Books. The site may seem unfamiliar at first, but in many ways it is much better. Abe is a network of independent booksellers from all around the world. Each time you click on a Poetry Chaikhana book link, you will find a listing of the best prices available in both new and used editions — and you are supporting small booksellers in the process. And because some of the poetry books I feature are obscure and hard-to-find, Abe’s independent bookseller network is more likely to have copies available.

One significant exception: I am still listing the Poetry Chaikhana’s publications, like Real Thirst, through Amazon, however. I know that sounds contradictory, but there are technical benefits for doing so.

The next time you come across an amazing poem that just sings to you and you want to purchase the book it was published in, please try the Poetry Chaikhana link, and buy a copy from the Abe Books list. You will be supporting the Poetry Chaikhana, poetry publishers, and independent booksellers.

AbeBooks.com. Thousands of booksellers - millions of books.

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Mar 17 2014

Music: Andalusian Music – Oud & Guitar

Published by under Music

A little music for you today…

This music is a mixture of Arabic/North African and Spanish influences. We tend to think of Spain as being a land of Catholic uniformity, but let’s not forget that much of the Iberian peninsula was ruled by Muslims for several centuries. Prior to the Spanish Inquisition and the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain in 1492, Spain was a land of rich and complex mixing of cultures and religions — Christian, Muslim, and Jewish — that produced amazing heights in science, philosophy, art, music, poetry, and mysticism.

This music is a sweet reminder to us. Enjoy.

One response so far

Mar 14 2014

Clare of Assisi – What you hold, may you always hold

Published by under Poetry

What you hold, may you always hold
by Clare of Assisi

English version by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP & Ignatius C. Brady, OFM

What you hold, may you always hold.
What you do, may you do and never abandon.
But with swift pace, light step,
      unswerving feet,
      so that even your steps stir no dust,
go forward
      securely, joyfully, and swiftly,
on the path of prudent happiness,
      believing nothing
      agreeing with nothing
      which would dissuade you from this resolution
      or which would place a stumbling block for you on the way,
so that you may offer your vows to the Most High
in the pursuit of that perfection
to which the Spirit of the Lord has called you.

— from Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality, Translated by Regis J. Armstrong, OFM CAP / Translated by Ignatius C. Brady, OFM

/ Photo by trinket /

This poem by Clare of Assisi clearly has a beauty about it, but it isn’t necessarily clear on the first reading what she is truly talking about. What, for example, is it that is held which she hopes may always be held?

Clare wrote this poem in a letter to Blessed Agnes of Prague, whom she is encouraging into ever deeper states of union with the Divine.

What is “held” in the first line is the awareness of God within, what Clare refers to elsewhere in her letter as Agnes’s “many virtues” with which she is already “adorned.”

What Agnes (and we) “do” in the second line is the continual practice of that awareness, which must be done “with swift pace, light step, / unswerving feet.”

But why must our steps “stir no dust”? The dust is the busy-ness of the world, reflecting our busy thoughts. Action must be performed without inner disturbance. Action must be performed without it even being action in the ways defined by the world. We must move through life without leaving a personal (egoistic) trace of our passing. This is similar to the metaphor used in the East that, for the enlightened, all action is like writing in water.

When you do so, you “go forward / securely, joyfully, and swiftly, / on the path of prudent happiness,” that is, on the supremely poised path of divine bliss.

Clare of Assisi, Clare of Assisi poetry, Christian poetry Clare of Assisi

Italy (1193? – 1254) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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3 responses so far

Mar 14 2014

holy things

Body and mind –
these are holy things
that must be fed holy things.

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