Apr 22 2022

Walt Whitman – It is time to explain myself

Published by under Poetry

[44] It is time to explain myself — let us stand up (from Song of Myself)
by Walt Whitman

It is time to explain myself — let us stand up.
What is known I strip away,
I launch all men and women forward with me into the Unknown.
The clock indicates the moment — but what does eternity indicate?
We have thus far exhausted trillions of winters and summers,
There are trillions ahead, and trillions ahead of them.
Births have brought us richness and variety,
And other births will bring us richness and variety.
I do not call one greater and one smaller,
That which fills its period and place is equal to any.

Were mankind murderous or jealous upon you, my brother, my sister?
I am sorry for you, they are not murderous or jealous upon me,
All has been gentle with me, I keep no account with lamentation,
(What have I to do with lamentation?)

I am an acme of things accomplished, and I am encloser of things to be.
My feet strike an apex of the apices of the stairs,
On every step bunches of ages, and larger bunches between the steps,
All below duly traveled, and still I mount and mount.
Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me,
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there,
I waited unseen and always, and slept through the lethargic mist,
And took my time, and took no hurt from the fetid carbon.

Long was I hugged close — long and long.
Immense have been the preparations for me,
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing like cheerful boatmen,
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings,
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.
Before I was born out of my mother generations guided me,
My embryo has never been torpid, nothing could overlay it.

For it the nebula cohered to an orb,
The long slow strata piled to rest it on,
Vast vegetables gave it sustenance,
Monstrous sauroids transported it in their mouths and deposited it with care.
All forces have been steadily employed to complete and delight me,
Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.

— from Song of Myself, by Walt Whitman


/ Image by Nandhu Kumar /

I know this is a bit longer than most of the poems I send out, but don’t rush through it. Take a restful few moments to read this slowly. Enjoy the flavor of the words on your tongue, let them sweeten your thoughts.

Several of the lines from this selection ring through the decades. Find the lines that sing to you.

Like so much of Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself,’ this chapter has a wonderful sense of the sacred tumult of life. He is especially meditating upon how all of life and the ages of the past “trillions of winters and summers” has led up to this moment, to this scintillating instant.

And it is in the present moment that he discovers himself resting upon the crest of the wave of eternity:

Long was I hugged close — long and long.
Immense have been the preparations for me…

Whitman isn’t interested in some sort of religious idea of perfection. For him, what is important is to inhabit the present (“That which fills its period and place is equal to any.”) and to recognize in the present (and in yourself) the fulfillment of eons (“I am an acme of things accomplished…”).

Yet, in the messy and sometimes tragic or “murderous” fullness of the present, nothing is static. The present continuously flows into the future: “…I am the encloser of things to be,” “…and still I mount and mount.”

Whitman comes to a profound realization when he sees back to “the huge first Nothing,” and proclaims, “I know I was even there.” He is not talking about some ancient event that he was present for in the historical sense. He is recognizing a fundamental truth of reality, that all of life and form is given birth from a living Void or Womb… and his awareness was there, and is still there now. In other words, he has discovered and is shouting out the realization that awareness precedes the world of physicality and form and time, that everything is born from a spacious emptiness full of living potential. That line, “I see the huge first Nothing, I know I was even there,” sounds startlingly like a Buddhist teaching that leads the practitioner to discover Nirvana or the Nothingness that is the true foundation of reality.

In this mighty vision of reality, Whitman continuously asserts that everything has led up to the immensity of the present moment, and to the vastness of the one who inhabits it — his very own Self. “All forces have been steadily employed to complete and delight me.”

Whitman invites us to call out with him:

Now on this spot I stand with my robust soul.


Recommended Books: Walt Whitman

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Oxford Book of English Mystical Verse Song of Myself Leaves of Grass Dead Poets Society (DVD)


Walt Whitman, Walt Whitman poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Walt Whitman

US (1819 – 1892) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic : Transcendentalist

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2 responses so far

Apr 22 2022

altar

All the world
is an altar.

No responses yet

Apr 08 2022

Hafiz – Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine

Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine
by Hafiz

English version by Bernard Lewis

Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine.
Make haste, the heavenly sphere knows no delay.
Before this transient world is ruined and destroyed,
ruin me with a beaker of rose-tinted wine.
The sun of the wine dawns in the east of the goblet.
Pursue life’s pleasure, abandon dreams,
and the day when the wheel makes pitchers of my clay,
take care to fill my skull with wine!
We are not men for piety, penance and preaching
but rather give us a sermon in praise of a cup of clear wine.
Wine-worship is a noble task, O Hafiz;
rise and advance firmly to your noble task.

— from Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems, Translated by Bernard Lewis


/ Image by Jessica.Tam /

I have been witnessing an ecstatic sky ballet during the past few days. Here in Colorado, we have been getting high winds lately. Most sane land creatures, humans included, have kept hidden in their dens and holes and houses. But I, not always being so sane, have been going for walks with my fluffy dog, Apollo. While the pathways of our walk have been empty, I’ve watched as the birds delight in the strong currents of air. One day recently I looked up to watch as perhaps three dozen large hawks rode the wind, hardly ever needing to flap their wings, catching thermal columns and circling around as a group, Sufis of the sky, whirling round and round.

Another day I saw a curious group of white birds forming two, sometimes three groups, gliding together and apart, forming patterns of shared movement. At first I mistook them for seagulls, but seagulls are usually more independent in their movements, kiting and turning and challenging one another as individuals. This group of birds was engaged in a communal dance of shared movement. I then saw that they were thicker bodied, with their heads cocked back slightly and resting on their shoulders even in flight — and I realized that they were pelicans! We tend to think of pelicans as awkward when they walk, but in the sky and on water, they have an elegance and grace. In the air this day they danced as a group in balletic arcing movements.

Even on the most blustery of days, we might just look up and witness a heavenly dance…

==

It has been far too long since we last featured a poem by the great Hafiz. So today’s poem, the ecstatic words of Hafiz glow like wine in sunlight

Wine, as I have often pointed out, is a metaphor for the bliss experienced in the presence of the Beloved, in the presence of God. So, when Hafiz opens this verse with the line, “Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine,” he is proclaiming that enlightenment, the dawn, is upon him — quick, bring the divine bliss also and make me worthy to meet the Beloved!

And that stunning line, “Before this transient world is ruined and destroyed, / ruin me with a beaker of rose-tinted wine…” Hafiz is inviting total self-annihilation in the bliss of divine communion, saying he must experience it while alive. He wants to be so completely “drunk” on the presence of God within, that all of his personal sense of self dissolves.

When he tells us to “pursue life’s pleasure, abandon dreams,” Hafiz is using the common Sufi device of equating self-abandonment and sacred practices with earthly indulgence. He is not advocating hedonism. But this one parallel exists between the hedonist and the saint that the Sufis capitalize on — you must step outside of society’s norms. You must be willing to abandon everything, every aspiration and thought, every fixed perception of reality, every “dream,” for the “pleasure” of the divine embrace.

The next section, “and the day when the wheel makes pitchers of my clay, / take care to fill my skull with wine!” has a very precise mystical meaning. The “clay” he speaks of is the earthen nature of the physical body. To make “pitchers” of that clay is to purify it and form it — in order to receive the heavenly wine. Hafiz specifically wants his skull to be filled with wine. The skull is often described as the true cup that holds the divine nectar. On an energetic level, this is where the sacred drink — the wine, or amrita (or the “tea” that gave the Poetry Chaikhana it’s name) — is first received. When it is imbibed, it can then be felt in the throat, before it descends and warms the heart and belly, finally spreading throughout the entire body and awareness.

Hafiz then declares he would rather listen to a “sermon in praise of a cup of clear wine” than follow “piety, penance and preaching” for “Wine-worship is a noble task…” Here, he is poking fun at blind religious formalism. He is reminding us that true holiness comes from the direct experience of ecstatic communion — the drinking of wine — not from merely following prescribed actions that make us seem to others to be devout.

Understanding this, Hafiz exhorts himself — and us — to “rise and advance firmly” in that “noble task” of “wine-worship.” The rising he speaks of also has a specific meaning, for there is often a sensation of an energy that rises or bubbles up which accompanies the blissful drinking of the mystic’s wine. It begins in the seat and rises up through the crown. Sometimes this rising is compared with a fountain or a spring. At other times it is called a fire since the body may feel as if it is delightfully burning up. In the terminology of Yoga, this is the Kundalini Shakti, but it is a universal experience, and Hafiz knows it must fully rise and advance for the Cupbearer to fill the cup with wine.

(And I say all this as someone who has never drunk alcohol in his life. Go figure.)


Recommended Books: Hafiz

The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Love’s Alchemy: Poems from the Sufi Tradition The Hand of Poetry: Five Mystic Poets of Persia, with Lectures by Inayat Khan
More Books >>


Hafiz

Iran/Persia (1320 – 1389) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

If you are looking for versions of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky, click here.

More poetry by Hafiz

7 responses so far

Apr 08 2022

supremely complete

Remember, you are
supremely complete
in every circumstance.

One response so far

Mar 18 2022

Thich Nhat Hanh – Full Moon Festival

Published by under Poetry

Full Moon Festival
by Thich Nhat Hanh

What will happen when form collides with emptiness,
and what will happen when perception enters non-perception?
Come here with me, friend.
Let’s watch together.
Do you see the two clowns, life and death
setting up a play on a stage?
Here comes Autumn.
The leaves are ripe.
Let the leaves fly.
A festival of colors, yellow, red.
The branches have held on to the leaves
during Spring and Summer.
This morning they let them go.
Flags and lanterns are displayed.
Everyone is here at the Full Moon Festival.

Friend, what are you waiting for?
The bright moon shines above us.
There are no clouds tonight.
Why bother to ask about lamps and fire?
Why talk about cooking dinner?
Who is searching and who is finding?
Let us just enjoy the moon, all night.

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


/ Image by Erik McIean /

For those in the Southern Hemisphere, it is the beginning of autumn — and it is a full moon…

What really drew me to this poem was its contemplation of a serene Buddhist idea of emptiness. I have always loved that quality of autumn, after the boisterous life of spring and summer, we get that glorious last shock of colors and cool temperatures as things quiet down and we begin to turn inward. It is a celebration of emptiness, but not bleakness or hopelessness. It is precisely in that emptiness that we experience a renewed but sublimated sort of life, a hidden expansiveness. In that sleepy season we become more awake and aware.

A few days ago I was on a walk. The day’s breeze had worked itself up to a full bluster. Wrapped up, I set out. On my walk I encountered a family with two children flying kites. That’s an unusual sight these days, so it caught my attention. I watched as the father helped the children get their kites aloft, holding up each kite in turn to catch the wind and pull taut against the string, then slowly playing its way up higher as they let out the string.

Watching this, while thoughts of war ran through the recesses of my thoughts, I saw the flight of these kites as a metaphor for how to navigate the uncertain world during these dangerous days. The kite, like the Zen master, works with what is, yielding, opening itself, gossamer thin, to the chaos swirling all around it. When all else is battered about, it soars.

Not through force of will, but through its inherent emptiness, it rides those powerful, unpredictable currents. It rises, it dances amidst the turmoil.

Friend, what are you waiting for?
The bright moon shines above us.


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 (1926 – 2022) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

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Mar 18 2022

surf the apocalypse

When things feel chaotic or in collapse,
find the underlying currents
and flow with them.
We must learn to surf the apocalypse.

One response so far

Mar 11 2022

William Stafford – At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border

Published by under Poetry

At the Un-National Monument along the Canadian Border
by William Stafford

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

— from The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems, by William Stafford


/ Image by Jeff King /

In the midst of the world’s travails, a moment of calm, a monument to the non-event, the non-war…

Read this poem aloud so you don’t miss its delightful rhyme:

where the unknown soldier did not die…
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,

Birds fly here without any sound…
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground

I especially love the closing couplet:

hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

Be well. Remember that, despite the news, despite the many uncertainties, that the living world still awaits outside your door. Step out into it. Say hello to the people you meet… and the happily neglected fields with their heroic skies. Have a beautiful day.


Recommended Books: William Stafford

The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems My Name is William Tell Even in Quiet Places The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy Dancing with Joy: 99 Poems
More Books >>


William Stafford, William Stafford poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry William Stafford

US (1914 – 1993) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

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2 responses so far

Mar 11 2022

Seeking sunlight

Seeking sunlight the sapling
reaches out for that golden touch.
In time the tree
becomes the pathway of its own seeking.

No responses yet

Mar 11 2022

Ivan’s poetry in Nameless

I am honored to have been included in the new poetry anthology nameless: a riff of 44 images complemented by poetry, by Rashani Réa & Six Contemporary Poets. This is a delightful collection collage art by Rashani Réa, accompanied by haiku and short poems by six poets, yours truly included. One of mine from the book:

chance meeting
were we ever apart
my many selves and i?

A lovely book to sit down with and read at any page.

You can support Rashani Réa’s work by purchasing a copy through Amazon:
click here.

2 responses so far

Feb 18 2022

Mansur al-Hallaj – Your spirit is mingled with mine

Published by under Poetry

Your spirit is mingled with mine
by Mansur al-Hallaj

English version by Bernard Lewis

Your spirit is mingled with mine
as wine is mixed with water;
whatever touches you touches me.
In all the stations of the soul you are I.

— from Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems, Translated by Bernard Lewis


/ Image by Pawel Czerwinski /

In the past couple of weeks I have been reorganizing my small office space and cleaning up a lot of stored papers. In particular, I have been going through all of the mail I’ve received from the Poetry Chaikhana community over the years, quite literally hundreds of short notes, long letters, greeting cards.

I have to let you all know how profoundly moved I am by all of your messages of love and support over the past nearly twenty years, letting me know how much the Poetry Chaikhana means to you, has helped your through difficult times, has deepened your spiritual practice in some way, and has inspired you in your own creative expression. In many cases I have sent replies, but the sheer volume of correspondence has made my responses less frequent. But I read every message sent to me, and I always send an energetic response, even when I don’t send a written one. Today I am feeling especially humbled and grateful for the small mountain of letters and cards I’ve received from you all over the years.

Sending love to you all in return.

Now, for today’s poem…

The great Sufi mystic poet, Hallaj, was persecuted and eventually put to death by orthodox religious authorities for poems like this, in which he seems to be equating himself with God.

This is the danger faced by most mystics. The sacred experience is one of ecstatic union with the Divine. Where do “you” cease to be, and where does the Divine begin? In mystical union, these questions are artificial since the Divine is everywhere and no tangible sense of you as a separate individual remains. There aren’t two in which to have a relationship; there is only the One.

Particularly notice the image of wine mixing with water. This sounds like a passing metaphor, but it actually resonates with layers of esoteric meaning.

“Wine” here is not wine; it is the drink of divine union. It is the “water” of the purified soul, awakened and flavored with the fermenting fire of life. This is the celestial drink of initiates: the amrita of the yogis, the ambrosia of the Greeks, even the tea of our own poetry teahouse…

water = the purified individual soul
wine = the sweet, blissful flood of the Divine

When wine is poured into water, water takes on the nature of wine, until no difference can be perceived. This is how he comes to that final line of realization:

In all the stations of the soul you are I.

When the divine wine pours into the clear water of the soul, everything is turned to wine. God and self become indistinguishable. Rather, self is lost and only God remains.

As a result, mystics keep producing ecstatic and dangerous poems like this one, and orthodox authorities keep trying to silence or marginalize them.


Recommended Books: Mansur al- Hallaj

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality) Sufi Poems: A Mediaeval Anthology
More Books >>


Mansur al- Hallaj

Iran/Persia (9th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Feb 18 2022

nothing much

Deep awakening
requires a tremendous journey,
but nothing much
needs to happen.

No responses yet

Jan 28 2022

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 /

This past week the great soul – spiritual teacher, peace activist, embodiment of compassion – Thich Nhat Hanh passed away at the age of 95.

Thich Nhat Hanh has been such an important international figure of spirituality, integrity, and compassion, all combined with peace activism, that his passing will be felt by so many across the globe.

Perhaps more than any other, this is the poem I think of first when I think of Thich Nhat Hanh, so I thought I would share it again 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 itself, 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 (1926 – 2022) Timeline
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Thich Nhat Hanh

5 responses so far

Jan 28 2022

already brought about

Liberation is already brought about. It is already here.
What is truly essential is to fully engage yourself.

One response so far

Jan 21 2022

Thomas Merton – O Sweet Irrational Worship

Published by under Ivan's Story,Poetry

O Sweet Irrational Worship
by Thomas Merton

Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun.

By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,

Bird and wind.

My leaves sing.

I am earth, earth

All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.

A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

When I had a spirit,
When I was on fire
When this valley was
Made out of fresh air
You spoke my name
In naming Your silence:
O sweet, irrational worship!

I am earth, earth

My heart’s love
Bursts with hay and flowers.
I am a lake of blue air
In which my own appointed place
Field and valley
Stand reflected.

I am earth, earth

Out of my grass heart
Rises the bobwhite.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.

— from Selected Poems of Thomas Merton, by Thomas Merton


/ Image by Begbie Images /

Well, I seem to be mostly recovered from the Covid I picked up a couple of weeks ago. It’s been no fun, certainly, a miserable sort of flu, but not the sort of thing to bring society to a halt. I know that different people have different reactions, that the vaccine can lessen symptoms, and that vulnerable individuals can end up in the hospital, but, having come through, I find myself asking if it is truly worth all of the fear and blame and isolation that has gripped society.

I shake my head and step outside where life continues. I listen to the wind. I wait for the winter clouds to part to feel the afternoon sun on my face.

Wind and a bobwhite
And the afternoon sun.

Bobwhite, if you don’t know what it is, is a quail-like bird with a unique whistle that sounds like bob-WHITE, bob-bob-WHITE. Reading the opening lines to Merton’s poem, I imagine a walk on a slow afternoon, a gentle breeze, the airy space cut by the clear whistle of the bobwhite.

By ceasing to question the sun
I have become light,
Bird and wind.

I can see a few possible reactions to this statement. Some might read the phrase “ceasing to question” as one of religious dogma, suggesting that a certain freedom comes from no longer questioning one’s belief system. Knowing Merton’s spiritually inclusive philosophy, I don’t think that’s what he intended.

Rather than standing outside of the moment, turning the scene into an external landscape for the questioning mind to define and label and remain apart from, we become quiet and present. We merge into the moment. We don’t see a pretty seen awash in light, we become the light itself… and the birdsong and the breeze. We fill the space.

I am earth, earth
All these lighted things
Grow from my heart.

The boundaries of identity expand. Who we are is not limited by the body or the stories we tell ourselves. We are everything spread out before us, the earth itself. From the earth’s deep heart, our heart, all things grow and emerge to be bathed in the light of the sun.

A tall, spare pine
Stands like the initial of my first
Name when I had one.

I love the way a bold, solitary tree stands forth to become a signifier of — what? An initial, one’s first name, one’s personal name. But that name itself has become ephemeral, lost in the larger self. With a quiet mind, we have become not only wordless, but nameless. Finding the wider self in the wider reality, we have moved beyond names.

Out of my nameless weeds
His foolish worship.

However we define worship, reverence, the celebration of life and innate goodness, may we allow ourselves to be swept up in it fully — foolishly.


Recommended Books: Thomas Merton

Selected Poems of Thomas Merton The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton A Thomas Merton Reader The Strange Islands: Poems by Thomas Merton Thomas Merton Monk & Poet: A Critical Study


Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton poetry, Christian poetry Thomas Merton

US (1915 – 1968) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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6 responses so far

Jan 21 2022

gentle prodding

We all feel it, a gentle prodding
to let the heart open,
to know ourselves truly, to be present
and radiate ourselves into the world.

No responses yet

Jan 14 2022

Denise Levertov – Looking, Walking, Being

Published by under Poetry

Looking, Walking, Being
by Denise Levertov

“The World is not something to
look at, it is something to be in.”
— Mark Rudman

I look and look.
Looking’s a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.
Walking wherever looking takes one.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch
fanfare, howl, madrigal, clamor.
World and the past of it,
not only
visible present, solid and shadow
that looks at one looking.

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That’s
a way of breathing.

breathing to sustain
looking,
walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

— from Poems of Denise Levertov: 1960-1967, by Denise Levertov


/ Image by Amizyolaroid /

Okay, let’s start off with those wonderful lines:

Looking’s a way of being: one becomes,
sometimes, a pair of eyes walking.

This poem is a response to the Mark Rudman quote, “The World is not something to / look at, it is something to be in.” Denise Levertov answers that looking IS being.

The eyes
dig and burrow into the world.
They touch…

I suspect that Rudman was discouraging passivity and lack of presence, but Levertov, I think, is getting at something deeper still. Humans, all beings, in fact, are fundamentally beings of awareness. Each individual is a point of perception, a viewpoint in the universe. We are, each of us, “a pair of eyes walking.”

We are present through perception, not action. Yes, action and interaction can be a powerful way to force us to pay attention, but it is also common to use action to shut down the awareness. Whether in movement or in stillness, the real goal is to keep the eyes open and feel fully with the heart and with the gut. We want to do more than look, but to see and see deeply. We need to see what is ignored and glossed over, to “dig and burrow in the world.”

Even in complete stillness, truly seeing is one of the most profound actions we can engage in. People are brought to tears by a gentle gaze in the eyes. 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. I think of this when Denise Levertov writes of how the world “looks at one looking.”

And language? Rhythms
of echo and interruption?
That’s
a way of breathing.

We forget that language is built of breath. We see the written word and we read it silently. Words become mental concepts, tools of the intellect. But words are not fundamentally discrete units of meaning. They flow and stop and flow again, as the breath does. Words aren’t inherently meaningful; they are the ornaments that accompany the flow of awareness.

Words affect breath. Thoughts affect breath. Breath guides awareness.

…breathing to sustain
looking…

Through the breath, we bring the outside world inside us, inside the body, inside the awareness. The boundary between self and the world is bridged by the breath. Through breath, we touch, we feel, we internalize, we connect, we participate, we come alive. Through breath we move and we see.

…walking and looking,
through the world,
in it.

Vision, language, breath… communion.


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

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2 responses so far

Jan 14 2022

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