Apr 19 2019

Li-Young Lee – One Heart

Published by at 9:46 am under Poetry

One Heart
by Li-Young Lee

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing. The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.
The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

— from Book of My Nights, by Li-Young Lee

/ Image by hashmil /

It is both Passover and Easter this weekend, a time to celebrate liberation, the renewal of life and hope and possibility.

Look at the birds. Even flying
is born

out of nothing.

To take flight, birds launch themselves into apparent emptiness. Of course, successful flight requires an awareness that the sky is not truly empty, but a realm of subtle substance that can support us.

One must cultivate an inner emptiness and lightness in order to let go of the comforting certainty of the earth, to confidently leave it behind and meet that intangible space of open sky, and there dance among its secret currents.

The first sky
is inside you, open

at either end of day.

This, I think, is an important reason why practices such as fasting and other expressions of moderate asceticism are encouraged on occasion by most spiritual traditions. Forget the tormented dogmas of self-denial that tend to lead to hatred of the body — which should automatically be seen as a spiritual dead end. The real purpose of these sorts of practices is not disdain for the body but, rather, to awaken in our awareness that sense of openness, spaciousness, and inner quiet… while allowing the body to rest and regenerate and become more finely attuned to our higher purposes in life.

If we don’t cultivate awareness of the inner sky, the “first sky,” we fail to recognize that taking flight in the world around us is our natural expression. Instead, we fear that we will fall.

The work of wings

was always freedom, fastening
one heart to every falling thing.

Perhaps we can think of flight as intentionally falling without ever hitting the ground. We leap into space, letting that inner emptiness lift us up. And perhaps what we thought was fear was in reality the exhilaration of the heart encountering the openness of the living moment while we soar upon nothing.

(This is a poem I have featured more than once, but each time I come across it again, it carries new life, and I think, Oh, I have to share this with the Poetry Chaikhana once more!)

Have a beautiful day!

Recommended Books: Li-Young Lee

Book of My Nights Rose The City in Which I Love You Behind My Eyes: Poems

Li-Young Lee, Li-Young Lee poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Li-Young Lee

US (1957 – )
Secular or Eclectic

Li-Young Lee has a fascinating family history. Lee’s maternal grandfather was the first president of the Republic of China. His father, however, came from a family of businessmen and gangsters. During the Chinese Civil War, Lee’s father was attached to a nationalist general who switched sides, which resulted in Dr. Lee becoming the personal physician to Mao Tse-tung for a brief time.

Li-Young Lee was born after the war when his family had moved to Indonesia. While Lee was still a toddler, his father was jailed for political reasons for nearly two years. When he was eventually released, the family moved about for a while. In Hong Kong Lee’s father became a hugely successful evangelical preacher and businessman.

Lee’s father was an emotional man and, after an argument, he dropped everything and left with his family, finally settling in the United States, where Dr. Lee became the minister of a small church in Pennsylvania.

Li-Young Lee grew up in the US and studied at the University of Pittsburgh. He currently lives in Chicago.

More poetry by Li-Young Lee

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4 responses so far

4 Responses to “Li-Young Lee – One Heart”

  1. Allanaon 19 Apr 2019 at 12:54 pm

    Thank you so much. Exactly what I needed to read today.

  2. Baion 19 Apr 2019 at 1:30 pm

    Powerful poem. I love its simplicity. Thank you!

  3. Baion 19 Apr 2019 at 1:33 pm

    I wonder where the first line came from in my previous posting.

  4. Olga T.on 22 Apr 2019 at 5:24 am

    Blessed Passover. Happy Easter.
    Flying, as we keep ourselves grounded; quite a balancing act for us mere mortals.
    Thank goodness we get a chance to try it, day after day, year after year, with these special days acting as milestones, reminding us, it is a never-ending process.

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