Sep 17 2021

David Whyte – All the True Vows

Published by at 8:05 am under Ivan's Story,Poetry

All the True Vows
by David Whyte

All the true vows
are secret vows
the ones we speak out loud
are the ones we break.

There is only one life
you can call your own
and a thousand others
you can call by any name you want.

Hold to the truth you make
every day with your own body,
don’t turn your face away.

Hold to your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.

Those who do not understand
their destiny will never understand
the friends they have made
nor the work they have chosen

nor the one life that waits
beyond all the others.

By the lake in the wood
in the shadows
you can
whisper that truth
to the quiet reflection
you see in the water.

Whatever you hear from
the water, remember,

it wants you to carry
the sound of its truth on your lips.

in this place
no one can hear you

and out of the silence
you can make a promise
it will kill you to break,

that way you’ll find
what is real and what is not.

I know what I am saying.
Time almost forsook me
and I looked again.

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice,

before it was too late
to turn my face again.

“All the True Vows” from The House of Belonging by David Whyte.
Copyright © 1997, 2004 by David Whyte.  Used by permission of the author and Many Rivers Press (  All rights reserved.

/ Image by Tevin Trinh /

I read this poem by David Whyte as a meditation on the alienation most of us feel at one time or another in our own lives. Too often we aren’t really present in our lives–

There is only one life
you can call your own…

He is saying that something powerful, even sacred, occurs when we stop contorting ourselves to reach for lives that are not our own. When we settle into ourselves, when we start to actually live our own lives, embody our own lives, we not only begin to really experience life deeply for the first time, we start to tap into “the one life that waits / beyond all others.”

Living this way, we find our true face, our true reflection.

I especially like the ending verses:

Seeing my reflection
I broke a promise
and spoke
for the first time
after all these years

in my own voice.

To rediscover our own voice, our true voice which has been socialized back into the shadows of our awareness, we have to break an old agreement, a “promise.” We must decide to no longer identify with the roles and expectations set up for us. Finally dropping the masks we wear, we discover our true face, our “reflection.” Then, “for the first time,” we can speak in our own voice.

Worth reading more than once…

David Whyte’s words hold a special place in my personal journey.

In the early 2000s, I was living with my wife on the island of Maui. It was a beautiful time in my life, but aimless. I was just doing work to get by, with no career to speak of. I was cut off from the world, by distance and by choice.

A friend sent me a series of talks by David Whyte on cassette tape, and I went for long drives along Maui’s meandering country roads, through the tall sugar cane fields and among the rows of spiky pineapple plants, listening to David Whyte’s molasses accent as he recited poetry and told stories about brilliant and troubled poets, like Antonio Machado and Anna Akhmatova.

It was Christmastime and I was quietly going through a deep and difficult self-confrontation. New Year’s Day came and went, while I hovered in that open limbo state. This combination began to ferment in my mind, the poetry and the personal crisis.

In early January it all converged. I picked up a book of conversations with the Indian sage Ramana Maharshi, read a couple of pages and—POW!—I was catapulted into an ecstatic stillness. Everything about me and my world came to a complete stop. The person I thought of as “Ivan” disappeared. It was as if some undefined, wide-open awareness was quietly witnessing the world through my eyes. An indescribable joy bubbled up inside me. The entire world was an intangible outline sketched upon a golden-white radiance, and I was a ghost happily lost in that light.

That moment set the trajectory for the unfolding of my life since. And it planted the seed for the Poetry Chaikhana. I am always thankful to David Whyte for the role he played at that transformative period in my life.


And have a wonderful weekend! The moon is growing full and luminous in the evening sky. In chaotic times, dance!

Recommended Books: David Whyte

The House of Belonging Where Many Rivers Meet

David Whyte, David Whyte poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry David Whyte

US (1955 – )
Secular or Eclectic

David Whyte grew up in Yorkshire, England. He studied Marine Zoology in Wales and trained as a naturalist in the Galapagos Islands. He has also worked as a naturalist guide, leading anthropological and natural history expeditions in various parts of the world, including treks among the mountains of Nepal.

Whyte’s poetry reflects a living spirituality and a deep connection to the natural world.

He is one of the few poets to take his perspectives on creativity into the field of organizational development, conducting workshops with many American and international companies.

David Whyte currently lives in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

More poetry by David Whyte

Share this page ~

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “David Whyte – All the True Vows”

  1. Anna M.on 17 Sep 2021 at 9:55 am

    I really re-read the poem more than ones and
    every time I got different, deeper perceptions…

    I think David White is speaking about the eternal life as one real life
    we have, but not of its relative, subjective physical expression and experiences…
    at least I felt this way…

    It is obvious for me, that he got aware of his own Light,
    that trigger any old programs, that were hidden inside
    and not has been visible before…

    This is how the processes of Awakening and Purification works simultaneously.
    We all are going trough the same processes…
    All of us!!!

    Be aware and honor yourself all the time, even in this chaotic times….

  2. Alfreda McCrayon 17 Sep 2021 at 1:19 pm

    Always appreciate the opportunity to slow down and savor poetry through this medium. Thanks so much for sharing your reflection.

  3. Joyce Stahmannon 18 Sep 2021 at 2:32 am

    Thanks so much for this beautiful description of your own awakening! Fabulous!

  4. carolon 25 Sep 2021 at 3:51 am

    I am slow to respond here, but David Whyte’s poetry is special to me. And this
    poem, coming after a lengthy and debilitating illness, speaks volumes to me.

    Thank You, Ivan

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply