Oct 16 2020

Shankara – You are my true self, O Lord

Published by under Poetry

You are my true self, O Lord
by Shankara

English version by Ivan M. Granger

You are my true self, O Lord.
      My pure awareness is your consort.
      My breath, my body are your handmaids.
I am your holy ground.

My every action is an offering to you.
      My rest is my melting into you.
Every step I take circles you.
      Every word I speak is a song for you.

Whatever work I do, that work is worship of you,
      O Fountain of Bliss!

— from This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World, Edited by Ivan M. Granger


/ Image by DieselDemon /

I feel like I should say something about this poem by the great Adi Shankara, but I’m not feeling especially verbal this morning. Sometimes it’s best for me to just step aside and let the poem speak for itself. Enjoy!

And be well.


Recommended Books: Shankara

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) A Treasury of Sanskrit Poetry Shankara’s Crest Jewel of Discrimination Upadesa Sahasri: A Thousand Teachings Shankara and Indian Philosophy
More Books >>


Shankara, Shankara poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Shankara

India (788 – 820) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Advaita / Non-Dualist

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One response so far

Oct 16 2020

immense journey

Whether our stories are epic or humble,
whether we live on the sharp edges or the flat plains,
we are all on an immense journey.

No responses yet

Oct 09 2020

Thich Nhat Hanh – Please Call Me by My True Names

Published by under Poetry

Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


/ Image by AlicePopkorn /

A number of days ago, word began to circulate that the great Vietnamese Zen teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, who is nearly 94, had stopped eating and his followers felt he may be ready to pass any day. Just a couple of days ago, however, a new message was posted by his community that he is now stable and that there is no immediate cause for concern. Thich Nhat Hanh has been such an important international figure of spirituality, integrity, and compassion, all combined with peace activism, that his passing, when it comes, will be felt by so many across the globe.

Because he has been in my thoughts this week, I thought I’d share one of his most loved poems today…

=

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Recommended Books: Thich Nhat Hanh

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


Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Nhat Hanh poetry, Buddhist poetry Thich Nhat Hanh

Vietnam/France/US (1929 – )
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Thich Nhat Hanh

2 responses so far

Oct 09 2020

gateways

We don’t find gateways.
We ourselves open.

2 responses so far

Sep 30 2020

Awhad al-Din Kirmani – Swept Away

Published by under Poetry

Swept Away
by Awhad al-Din Kirmani

English version by David and Sabrineh Fideler

At first, the way of your love
seemed easy.

I thought I’d reach
your union
with speed.

After taking a few steps,
I found
the way
is an ocean.

When I stepped in,
a wave swept me away.

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


/ Image by mikebaird /

I love what this poem has to say about the spiritual path…

At first, the way of your love
seemed easy.

I thought I’d reach
your union
with speed.

At the beginning, when we first decide to explore the path of spirit, it can appear all too easy. We imagine we just need to profess a certain belief, join a certain group, read a certain scripture, pray a certain way. Do that, and everything is assured.

Sadly, this is where much of the religious world stays stuck. This approach too often leads to narrow minds and constricted hearts.

After taking a few steps,
I found
the way
is an ocean.

But when we take those first steps beyond that overly simplistic notion and begin to explore more deeply and sincerely, we come to an honesty with ourselves. That honesty overwhelms us, if we let it, by showing us the immense path ahead. So much to strive for within ourselves, so much suffering in the world to soothe… Seeing this, how can one hope to attain heaven, or wholeness, or peace?

In that moment, the best response is one of courageous determination… without expectation. We commit to the patient inner work and outer service, not because of some immediate spiritual “payoff” of enlightenment or fixing of the world’s wrongs, but because, simply, that is what is needed. It is what the heart requires of us, so why do anything less?

Head lowered, we put our shoulders to the task. That’s when the work works on us — challenging, overturning, refining.

At some point, we stop holding back. The effort ceases to be effort and it becomes rhythm, instead. We begin to dance in the waves of the ocean we once feared.

When there is less “doing,” there is less “me” doing it. Laughing, looking around, there is no “me” there, just the movement of the waves endlessly kissing the shoreline.

When I stepped in,
a wave swept me away.


Recommended Books: Awhad al-Din Kirmani

Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition Awhad al-Dīn Kirmānī and the Controversy of the Sufi Gaze


Awhad al-Din Kirmani

(1163 – 1238) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Sep 30 2020

permission

You have permission
to be rude
when protecting the vulnerable.

No responses yet

Sep 25 2020

Denise Levertov – Beginners

Published by under Poetry

Beginners
by Denise Levertov

Dedicated to the memory of Karen Silkwood and Eliot Gralla

“From too much love of living,
Hope and desire set free,
Even the weariest river
Winds somewhere to the sea–“

But we have only begun
To love the earth.

We have only begun
To imagine the fullness of life.

How could we tire of hope?
— so much is in bud.

How can desire fail?
— we have only begun

to imagine justice and mercy,
only begun to envision

how it might be
to live as siblings with beast and flower,
not as oppressors.

Surely our river
cannot already be hastening
into the sea of nonbeing?

Surely it cannot
drag, in the silt,
all that is innocent?

Not yet, not yet–
there is too much broken
that must be mended,

too much hurt we have done to each other
that cannot yet be forgiven.

We have only begun to know
the power that is in us if we would join
our solitudes in the communion of struggle.

So much is unfolding that must
complete its gesture,

so much is in bud.

— from Candles in Babylon, by Denise Levertov


/ Image by ShinyPhotoScotland /

A beautiful, questioning poem by the American poet Denise Levertov. She is holding the Buddhist ideals of compassion and awareness up against the realization of the nature of nonbeing. She asks, how can we let go into nirvana when there is so much undone, and so much cruelty done, and so much beauty we’re disconnected from? How can we leave the living world when there is so much yet unlived?

I think Denise Levertov wants us to struggle and to strive, and discover the communion we share with each other in the process. She wants us to recognize the heaven, or the potential heaven, we already inhabit, before we rush off to vague spiritual realms.

Rather than try to offer a simple answer to the questions she is raising, let me ask what you think… How are compassion, service, respect for each other and the natural world in conflict with the pursuit of spiritual liberation and freedom from the pains of the world? How are they served by it? Does our history of imperfections make the spiritual quest irresponsible? Is the ideal of desirelessness and the awareness of nonbeing just an attempt to escape? Is it appropriate for “beginners,” greatly stumbling beginners, to rush to the end point?

Important questions… The way we answer these questions colors our path to deep awakening.


Recommended Books: Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov: Selected Poems Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967 Breathing the Water The Great Unknowing: Last Poems Candles in Babylon
More Books >>


Denise Levertov, Denise Levertov poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Denise Levertov

US (1923 – 1997) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Beat
Jewish

More poetry by Denise Levertov

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Sep 25 2020

language

Language is the first tool wielded
and the last chain escaped.

No responses yet

Sep 17 2020

Rolf Jacobsen – When They Sleep

Published by under Poetry

When They Sleep
by Rolf Jacobsen

English version by Robert Hedin

All people are children when they sleep.
there’s no war in them then.
They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.
They pucker their lips like small children
and open their hands halfway,
soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters.
The stars stand guard
and a haze veils the sky,
a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.
If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.
— God, teach me the language of sleep.

— from Night Music: Selected Poems, by Rolf Jacobsen / Translated by Robert Hedin


/ Image by Wayne S. Grazio /

For much of the past year I have been free from chronic fatigue symptoms, but they have been kicking up again in the last few weeks. So today why not a meditation on the easy wisdom of rest and sleep?

In sleep, we rediscover our simple innocent being. We are open, vulnerable, in an odd way supremely present in that unconscious state.

All people are children when they sleep.
there’s no war in them then.

All our careful defenses, which have a way of mutating into unnoticed cruelties, loosen in sleep, and slide off our shoulders like a heavy coat. All harm and armor are set aside.

…a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.

Even when our hearts struggle to trust and rest, we have a built-in biological faith that kicks in at night.

The stars stand guard…

The chest unlocks, and the stifled tide of the breath resumes its flow in and out again.

They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.

Imagine the waking world blessed with such unavoided honesty. Think what words and deeds our blossoming hearts would draw to them.

If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.

I look outside the window to see a hazy morning sun. The call of a lone finch echoes through the morning air. My breath slows and deepens. My eyelids grow heavy.

– God, teach me the language of sleep.


Recommended Books: Rolf Jacobsen

The Winged Energy of Delight The Roads Have Come to an End Now: Selected and Last Poems of Rolf Jacobsen Night Music: Selected Poems North in the World: Selected Poems of Rolf Jacobsen, A Bilingual Edition Night Open: Selected Poems


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

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

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5 responses so far

Sep 17 2020

The deepest mystery

The deepest mystery
is in the mirror.

No responses yet

Sep 04 2020

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen – There is One God

Published by under Poetry

There is One God
by Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

There is One God.
He created all beings,
And He exists beyond the beyond of religions,
Beyond the separations of race,
Religion, and philosophies.
He is beyond mind, desire, and physical vision
He is beyond the world, lust, torpor, and illusion.
God resides in that spotlessly pure place known as the heart
And sees and knows everything.
He sees each and every heart and mind and understands all things.


/ Image by Muslimnity /

There is One God.
He created all beings…

Several of the short statements of this poem can be read as rather simple, standard religious formulations. But when approached with a deeper understanding and an openness, these statements unfold to reveal profound truths…

That opening line, “there is One God,” for example, is an important affirmation in all of the monotheistic traditions. For many, this is an assertion that their image of God is the right one, while all other ideas of God are false, especially religions that embrace a multiplicity of gods.

For genuine mystics, however, the affirmation of One God is not about surface theologies. In the deepest blissful experiences of communion, the Divine is experienced as a profound, all-encompassing Unity. “There is One God” is another way of saying that God is One, God is Oneness, that all things are One in the Divine Embrace. For the mystic in deepest communion, God is the living Wholeness in which all things have their being.

Properly understood, “There is One God” is not a sectarian war cry, it is an affirmation of the sacred unified nature of reality.

“He created all beings,” similarly can be read as a bland formulation about a creator God, but from the mystic’s perspective it is a statement of observed reality. Mystics often report being flooded with a numinous light which is perceived as filling and animating all of creation. That light is recognized as the underlying strata of existence from which all beings and all things emerge. That living radiance is quite literally the source and creator of all beings.

God resides in that spotlessly pure place known as the heart…

Here again we can read this line as a pretty but rather meaningless statement about some metaphorical heart — or we can settle deeply into ourselves and experience with the mystics the space of the heart, which reveals itself to be a wide-open, bliss and love-filled space in which we come to know ourselves as we truly are in profound simplicity and innocence.

This is the pure space in which we see ourselves not as ourselves but in the image of the true Self, as an emanation of that Divine One.

…And sees and knows everything.

I know that for some who worked hard to escape the rigid ideas of their religious upbringing, a statement like this can trigger negative reactions. Too many religious leaders view God as a sort of cosmic cop, always watching and ready to punish. (I am reminded of that Christmas song, “You better watch out. You better not shout. Santa Claus is coming to town. …He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”) I hope it is obvious that this is not the nature of divine reality.

What then does a statement like this really mean, that God sees and knows everything? We’re not really talking about God as a source of information. What’s the point of God being the heavenly Google? When mystics talk about God seeing everything or knowing everything, they are not talking about data, they are talking about gnosis. Yes, in communion, one’s intuition may become highly refined and the ability to pluck surprisingly insightful pieces of information from the ether may be enhanced, but that is secondary. For many, the experience is as if one is bathing in an immense pool of Knowing itself. It is not so much the endless particles of information one sees as the living fluid that fills the spaces between all of those particles, allowing everything to interrelate and take on meaning within the universal whole. One becomes immersed not in informational knowledge so much as knowingness itself.

And from this state one sees with a compassionate understanding the living web of interconnection we all share.

The statement at the poems center is one of universalism and inclusion–

And He exists beyond the beyond of religions,
Beyond the separations of race,
Religion, and philosophies.

When we overcome simplistic theological explanations and connect more directly with the divine reality, sectarianism, prejudices, and separations fall away.

The universe with its kaleidoscopic diversity of expression is, beneath it all, a living Unity. All beings, all people are born from that same living Oneness. How then can we be troubled by differences in race or religion?


Recommended Books: Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

A Book of God’s Love Song of Muhammad Come to the Secret Garden: Sufi Tales of Wisdom Asma’Ul-Husna: The 99 Beautiful Names of Allah A Mystical Journey
More Books >>


Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Bawa Muhaiyaddeen

Sri Lanka (1900? – 1986) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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2 responses so far

Sep 04 2020

gift of life

Each day should be approached
with amazement, wonder, gratitude.
After all, what have you done
to earn the inconceivable gift of life?

No responses yet

Aug 28 2020

Clare of Assisi – Place your mind before the mirror of eternity

Published by under Poetry

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
by Clare of Assisi

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

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!
Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!
Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance!
And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself
      through contemplation!
So that you too may feel what His friends feel
      as they taste the hidden sweetness
      which God Himself has reserved
      from the beginning
      for those who love Him.

— 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


/ Image by Xavier Mazellier /

I especially like the Clare’s opening line:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity!

That could just as easily be a statement from the Buddhist canon. Think about this exhortation for a moment. What does it mean to place one’s mind before the mirror of eternity? The mirror of eternity is that which reflects everything back to us. To place the mind before it is to be utterly naked to oneself. Everything within our awareness is shown back to us, our faults and foibles, as well our victories and inherent goodness — all simply as it is. It is the unblinking view of our own heart. Imagine the steadiness, courage, and supreme humility required to truly do this. To witness our true self that openly, the ego and its constant editing of reality can’t come along.

Place your soul in the brilliance of glory!

A lot of religious language, particularly Christian language, talks about “glory.” The word is used so often that most people just skip over it as churchy filler language. But there is a reason the word “glory” keeps getting used. Glory is radiant, numinous light. Glory is that which shines. Glory is “brilliance.”

For genuine mystics, this light is not empty praise language — it is directly experienced. For the mystic, this light is perceived as being a living radiance that permeates everything, everywhere, always.

The sense of boundaries and separation, long taken for granted by the mind as the fundamental nature of existence, suddenly seems illusory, for this light shines through all people and things.

This is Clare’s “brilliance of glory.”

To “place your soul” in that brilliance is to allow the little self to be disappear into the large Self, like a lamp lost in daylight.

This is the radical path of the mystic, allowing that divine radiance to “transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead.”

I also want to point out the closing reference to “sweetness”:

So that you too may feel what His friends feel
      as they taste the hidden sweetness
      which God Himself has reserved
      from the beginning
      for those who love Him.

Those who lose themselves in the divine light in order to gain the light itself, experience — literally — sweetness on the tongue. This is the amrita of Hinduism, the ambrosia of ancient Greece, the wine of the Sufis.

When one enters the sacred ecstatic state, the sensory portion of the mind does its best to interpret the overwhelming bliss through the senses. This is why many mystics taste the most ethereal sweetness on the palette and at the back of the throat, accompanied by a warmth in the belly and heart.

That sweetness is not just a metaphor; it is real, and “reserved” for each of us, as we become an ever more intimate friend to the Friend.

Reflection, light, transformation, friendship, sweetness…


Recommended Books: Clare of Assisi

Francis and Clare: The Complete Works: The Classics of Western Spirituality All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time Sacred Voices: Essential Women’s Voices Through the Ages Sacred Companions Sacred Community: Reflections with Clare of Assisi


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

Italy (1193? – 1254) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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2 responses so far

Aug 28 2020

the true church

The awakened heart
is the true church.

No responses yet

Aug 21 2020

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi – The Moon of Your Love

Published by under Poetry

The Moon of Your Love
by Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

English version by David & Sabrineh Fideler

Not a single soul lacks
a pathway to you.

There’s no stone,
no flower —
not a single piece of straw —
lacking your existence.

In every particle of the world,
the moon of your love
causes the heart
of each atom to glow.

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


/ Image by alicepopkorn /

When I first discovered this poem I instantly fell in love with it.

Not a single soul lacks
a pathway to you.

This simple statement is so profoundly healing to the questing human heart.

In a world that places so many demands upon us, in which we pile up our own countless goals and deadlines, it becomes all too easy to feel lost and separated from the Divine. But it is never so…

There’s no stone,
no flower —
not a single piece of straw —
lacking your existence.

The pathway is to simply and entirely recognize the divine existence already present.

We imagine Herculean efforts are required, isolation, smothering asceticism, travels to exotic lands. We forget that the holiest place we can discover is immediately behind the breastbone.

Every effort, in the end, is to reach exhaustion, until we are finally too tired to continue telling ourselves stories about our lives. Finally, finally we fall silent. Finally, we witness ourselves as we are.

What we discover leaves us speechless.

In every particle of the world,
the moon of your love
causes the heart
of each atom to glow.

Every effort, the entire pathway, leads to precisely one step: a step out of the way. That’s when real opening occurs, and it is effortless. The love and light already present blossom within the heart. And every atom, all the universe, is lit up with us.

(You think I’m just spinning another pretty story, don’t you?)


Recommended Books: Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition A Critical Edition of the Divan of Muhammad Shirin Maghribi


Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Iran/Persia (1349 – 1408) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Aug 21 2020

effortless compassion

Love and compassion are effortless.
The soul is exhausted by the effort
to stop this natural outpouring
of the living heart.

No responses yet

Aug 14 2020

Wendell Berry – Sabbaths 1999, VII

Published by under Poetry

Sabbaths 1999, VII
by Wendell Berry

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.
Through stalled air, unshadowed
light, a few leaves fall
of their own weight.

The sky
is gray. It begins in mist
almost at the ground
and rises forever. The trees
rise in silence almost
natural, but not quite,
almost eternal, but
not quite.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be. Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest, even
to the slightest of His works,
a yellow leaf slowly
falling, and is pleased.

— from Given: Poems, by Wendell Berry


/ Image by Mark Grant-Jones /

It’s been a while since we’ve had a poem by Wendell Berry. And, yes, maybe this poem is for a misty autumn morning, but it suits today just as well…

Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing…

That’s the “long lesson,” the slow realization of a lifetime lived with attention: the deep satisfaction of simple moments. Grand experiences may serve as important punctuation marks to life, but it is only when we deeply engage with the gentle flow of small events that we come to know our lives. Remember, real magic is hidden; it is hidden in those quiet moments.

how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest.

And nature is our constant teacher and guide, again and again bringing us back to ourselves.

With the ongoing havoc
the woods this morning is
almost unnaturally still.

When we walk well among the woods, with the quiet attention that comes only when self is left behind, we glide through the eternal moment.

What more did I
think I wanted? Here is
what has always been.
Here is what will always
be.

And we just might come to recognize the Source of “all this” — right here, within this moment, within our own breast.

Even in me,
the Maker of all this
returns in rest…

Berry’s title tells us this poem is about the Sabbath. He understands the real meaning of the Sabbath. It is not the one day out of seven when one goes to church or synagogue. Sabbath is the living moment of sacred rest. It isn’t a question of how often we sit within a steepled hall. Until the mind quiets and comes to rest in the heart, we have not yet honored the Sabbath.

The image of the falling leaf, the reference to the day of rest, this also gently suggests something of death to us. The poet is walking through the woods in autumn and contemplating the how things end, how our own lives play out and come to a close, and there is a quiet contentment. We might find a fullness in that moment of awareness when we simply allow ourselves to be at rest in the natural rhythm of things. Death is not a horror or a source of dread but, in its right time, a strangely sweet yielding, a sabbath.

Whichever day of the week you read this, have a beautiful day of rest and contemplation!


Recommended Books: Wendell Berry

The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982 Given: Poems Selected Poems of Wendell Berry A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 The Mad Farmer Poems
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Wendell Berry, Wendell Berry poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Wendell Berry

US (1934 – )
Secular or Eclectic

More poetry by Wendell Berry

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