Poetry and prose that connect us
Sometimes it can be difficult to express the emotions we are feeling. At times like this we can often find others who have expressed it for us, through painting, sculpture, poetry or prose. On this page we will regularly add a poem or piece of prose that might express our experience, give us pause for reflection, or simply share in how words can bring us together.
We recently received some words from a member of the Hospice community, expressing her experience of grief and the response in her when people ask how she is. We are very grateful that Hazel has allowed us to share the poem, we think her words will resonate with many. Hazel’s poem got us searching for more words about living with loss. We hope you find some connection and understanding in poems we have chosen.
Missing You Painting by Deana Markus
Thanks for Asking By Hazel Millard
Thanks for asking...
(big smile) I'm fine...
I'm not really...but I can't find the words right now
as we stand in the car park with the wind blowing
and the ticket about to expire.
Thanks for asking...
(feeble smile) I'm ok...
I'm not really...but I can see you are in a hurry
yes, get the shopping in
the frozen stuff is melting.
Thanks for asking...
(shrug) ach, y'know...plodding on...
I'm not really but every day is like wading through treacle
one step forward, two back
I guess that's still progress of sorts.
Thanks for asking...
(sigh) to be honest...I'm hollow...
I'm not really...but that's how it feels...just a shell
all hollowed out
trying to fill up the space with purpose.
thanks for asking
it means a lot that you did.
Woodland Reflected Ruth Bunnewell https://www.artdoglondon.co.uk/ruth-bunnewell
In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Missing Sibling Painting by Josh Honeyman | Saatchi Art
Talking to Grief by Denise Levertov
Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.
I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.
You think I don't know you've been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
my house your own
and me your person
my own dog.
For Absence by John O’Donohue
May you know that absence is alive with hidden presence,
that nothing is ever lost or forgotten.
May the absences in your life grow full of eternal echo.
May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere
Where the presences that have left you dwell.
May you be generous in your embrace of loss.
May the sore well of grief turn into a seamless flow of presence.
May your compassion reach out to the ones we never hear from.
May you have the courage to speak for the excluded ones.
May you become the gracious and passionate subject of your own life.
May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle words or false belonging.
May you be embraced by That in which dawn and twilight are one.
May your longing inhabit its dreams within the Great Belonging.
(Taken from To Bless the Space Between Us – A Book of Blessings ISBN 978-0-385-52227-4 Convergentbooks.com)
This month we offer three poems by Danna Faulds. The author of seven books, including Go In and In and Limitless; Danna practices Yoga and Meditation daily and this practice is at the heart of her writing.
MESSENGER, MONOTYPE OF THE DAY #402 – Sybil Archibald
Instructions By Danna Faulds
Hold the silence like
a mother holds her child.
Hold your ground while
all around you structures
crumble into nothing.
Focus on the still point
in your centre until you
are filled with light, until
Spirit speaks to you in
words you understand,
until the love in your
heart grows so strong
it must be shared.
The Weaver and the Loom. By Danna Faulds
Sit here for a bit.
Place yourself outside the frenzied pace of life.
Slow down long enough to appreciate birds in flight,
water drops like prisms in the grass and countless shades of green.
Step off the fast track and listen to the sound of breath and birdsong.
Take a moment to just be,
and in the being, know the whole of this creation,
mystery and madness, passion and profanity,
know it all as one, stunning tapestry.
and the thin line between sacred and profane simply fades away.
There is nothing then to reconcile.
All the disparate are woven on the loom of life.
Sit here for a bit
and your unique place in the pattern becomes clear.
Take the still point with you when it’s time to walk away.
Make the choice to see affinity,
to watch the picture taking shape as thread joins thread.
Dare to be the weaver and the loom,
creator and creation, the sower and the sown.
In a moment of stillness,
all that came before is seen as one.
Forever Blue Abstract - by Nancy Merkle
Limitless By Danna Faulds
Sun says, “Be your own
illumination.” Wren says,
“Sing your heart out,
all day long.” Stream says,
“Do not stop for any
obstacle.” Oak says,
“When the wind blows,
bend easily, and trust
your roots to hold.”
Stars say, “What you see
is one small slice of a
single modest galaxy.
Remember that vastness
cannot be grasped by mind.”
Ant says, “Small does not
mean powerless.” Silence
says nothing. In the quiet,
everything comes clear.
I say, “Limitless.” I say,
For more information on Danna’s published material:
This month the world feels a turbulent place, battered by storms and fearful of war. Our poems echo that turbulence in grief.
They express the shock and pain of losing someone we love, but also offer us hope and stillness in the evolution that comes from knowing, loving and losing, someone so precious.
As we think of the people of Ukraine and anxious relatives around the world, fearing for them; we offer poems that recognise the pain of fear and loss, but also the deep hope that we not only survive but grow. We grow because of the love we have experienced and lost.
Those we miss and mourn are forever part of us, they help form the person we become.
When Great Trees Fall
When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down,
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.
When great trees fall
small things recoil into silence,
eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die,
the air around us becomes,
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
dependent on their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds formed
and informed by their
radiance, fall away.
We are not so much maddened,
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of
And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.
― Maya Angelou
Copyright © 2015 by The Estate of Maya Angelou
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
How Do We Go On
How do we go on,
After the unthinkable happens?
How can we carry the burden of knowing
The world can be cruel and dangerous,
And the future so unpredictable?
How do we grieve with empty arms
And a mind filled with echoing memories?
We are stronger than we know,
And this is how we show it –
Holding each other,
Giving comfort in the midst of pain,
Through our actions and the things we say,
Making the world just a little bit better,
Every single day.
Never taking life for granted,
Knowing that it can be snatched away.
This world may bring deep darkness,
But we are the bearers of light,
We’ll join our flames together,
And shine in the blackest of nights.
- John Mark Green
Because the smallness of our being
is our only greatness.
Because one night I was in a room
listening until only one heart beat.
Because in these last years I’ve
worn and worn and nearly worn out
my black funeral shoes.
Because the gesture of after words
means the same thing no matter
who speaks them.
Because faith, belief, forever
are only words, no matter.
Because matter disappears
always and eventually.
Because action is not matter
that spent, changes being.
And if death, too, is a change of being
perhaps action counts.
And if death is a land of unknowing,
perhaps we do well to live with uncertainty.
And if death is a forested land,
it would be good to learn trees.
And if death is a kingdom,
it would be good to practice service.
And if death is a foreign state
we should loosen allegiance to this one.
And if the soul leaves our body
then we must rehearse goodbye.
- Kimberley Blaeser
- Originally published in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Issue 54. Copyright © 2014 by Kimberly Blaeser. Used with the permission of the author.
Thich Nhat Hanh (October 1926 – January 2022)
"Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free," – Thich Nhat Hanh
As I sat down to write this month’s addition to the Between the Lines pages I learnt the news of the death of Thich Nhat Hanh. A global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered around the world for his pioneering teachings on mindfulness, global ethics and peace.
Ordained as a monk aged 16 in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh (often affectionately referred to as Thay) soon envisioned a kind of engaged Buddhism that could respond directly to the needs of society. He was a prominent teacher and social activist in his home country before finding himself exiled for calling for peace. Described as “The father of Mindfulness”, he played a key role in introducing mindfulness and creating mindful communities (sanghas) around the world. We regularly use his words and teachings in our Mindfulness sessions here at the hospice. We thank him for his gift of peace and acceptance, and hope you also find peace in his words.
This Body Is Not Me - Thich Nhat Hanh
This body is not me, I am not caught in this body.
I am life without boundaries. I have never been born,
and I shall never die.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations of my wondrous true mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
birth and death are only doors through which we
pass, sacred thresholds on our journey.
birth and death are just a game of hide and seek.
So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say goodbye,
say goodbye, to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source at every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.
Thay taught of Interbeing, we cannot separate our existence from the whole of nature, we are all part of the same existence. The key to living is understanding suffering and offering compassion and love, to create peace within and in the world. This is illustrated by his own description of what he sees in a simple piece of paper.
To discover more of the writings and teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh please find more information here: https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/key-books/
"It is my conviction that there is no way to peace—peace is the way," - Thich Nhat Hanh
Searching for Poetry for the beginning of the year, we came across Poet, Artist and Ordained Minister Jan Richardson. Based in Florida USA, Jan has attracted an international audience drawn to the spaces of welcome, imagination, and solace that she creates in both word and image.
Jan’s books include The Cure for Sorrow, Night Visions, In the Sanctuary of Women, and the recently released Sparrow: A Book of Life and Death and Life. So many of her poems felt at home on these pages, don’t be surprised if she pops up again soon.
Her words and Images are copyrighted, so if you would like to use any of her poems or images please visit her website to find out more https://www.janrichardson.com/
For Those Who Have Far to Travel
An Epiphany Blessing
If you could see
the journey whole,
you might never
might never dare
the first step
that propels you
from the place
you have known
toward the place
you know not.
one of the mercies
of the road:
that we see it
only by stages
as it opens
as it comes into
There is nothing
but to go,
and by our going
take the vows
the pilgrim takes:
to be faithful to
the next step;
to rely on more
than the map;
to heed the signposts
of intuition and dream;
to follow the star
that only you
to keep an open eye
for the wonders that
attend the path;
to press on
beyond what would
from the way.
There are vows
that only you
the secret promises
for your particular path
and the new ones
you will need to make
when the road
you could not
Keep them, break them,
make them again;
each promise becomes
part of the path,
each choice creates
that will take you
to the place
where at last
you will kneel
to offer the gift
the gift that only you
before turning to go
This blessing appears in Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons
Blessing in the Chaos by Jan Richardson
To all that is chaotic
let there come silence.
Let there be
of the clamouring,
of the voices that
have laid their claim
that have made their
home in you,
that go with you
even to the
but will not
let you rest,
will not let you
hear your life
or feel the grace
that fashioned you.
Let what distracts you
Let what divides you
Let there come an end
to what diminishes
and let depart
all that keeps you
in its cage.
Let there be
into the quiet
that lies beneath
where you find
you did not think
and see what shimmers
within the storm.
As December sees our shortest days and darkest nights, Christmas can be a very challenging time for many.
Our bodies feel the urge to hibernate, to hunker down and conserve energy, yet, often we are in a rush to reach the light of Spring and we may miss the gift that winter offers us. So, this month we seek inspiration from the Solstice and celebrate the darkness.
This is an abbreviated excerpt of "A Celebration of Winter Solstice" from The Circle of Life by Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr.
"There is a tendency to want to hurry from autumn to spring, to avoid the long dark days that winter brings. Many people do not like constant days bereft of light and months filled with colder temperatures. They struggle with the bleakness of land and the emptiness of trees. Their eyes and hearts seek colour. Their spirits tire of tasting the endless gray skies. There is great rejoicing in the thought that light and warmth will soon be filling more and more of each new day.
"But winter darkness has a positive side to it. As we gather to celebrate the first turn from winter to spring, we are invited to recognize and honour the beauty in the often-unwanted season of winter. Let us invite our hearts to be glad for the courage winter proclaims. Let us be grateful for the wisdom winter brings in teaching us about the need for withdrawal as an essential part of renewal. Let us also encourage our spirits as Earth prepares to come forth from this time of withdrawal into a season filled with light.
"The winter solstice celebrates the return of hope to our land as our planet experiences the first slow turn toward greater daylight. Soon we will welcome the return of the sun and the coming of springtime. As we do so, let us remember and embrace the positive, enriching aspects of winter's darkness."
By Joyce Rupp
This year I do not want
the dark to leave me.
I need its wrap
of silent stillness,
of long-lasting embrace.
Too much light
has pulled me away
from the chamber
Let the dawns
let the sunsets
let the evenings
while I lean into
the abyss of my being.
Let me lie in the cave
of my soul,
for too much light
steals the source
Let me seek solace
in the empty places
of winter's passage,
those vast dark nights
that never fail to shelter me.
Artwork by Lucy Campbell
Winter Solstice: A Gift of Love
by Carolyn Riker
Maybe, it’s sacred to breathe slower,
walk softer, into the winterish nights
and let it seep into the shortened
days of ancient grey.
Maybe, it’s hypnotic to
study the fire’s flame
and watch candle lights glow
along an edgeless night’s frame.
Maybe, winterberries accent
the fields as crimson reminders
of wild saffron centred violets
as they slumber beneath the bitter chill.
And maybe I have taken
field and form of hibernation
into my cave, a nest of
cerulean and opaque hues of
blankets and quilts and softest of pillows;
a gathering of tea, the nectar of handhold splendour,
longing for silent whispers of fresh snow.
Maybe winter is my companion
and my comfort of much needed silence;
how I embrace her blackest of precious pearls
the graceful midnight’s turn of velvet and
down of warmth of knowing
rabbits sleep safe and softly below.
Maybe, I am able to burrow next to
my own soul’s deepest throes;
my heart aches to replenish and
my mind’s prism
is at last able to paint canvas
of infinite sky and speculative wonder.
And maybe, it is sacred to
rest under the artic chill
till springs lightness tugs me forth,
and my aged budding
is once again renewed.
Two Wolves by Franz Marc – Oil painting
There is a story, usually attributed to the Native American tradition, which illuminates different ways of paying attention.
An Elder, talking to a child, says, “I have 2 wolves fighting in my heart.
One wolf is fearful, vengeful, envious, resentful, and deceitful.
The other wolf is compassionate, loving, generous, truthful and peaceful.”
The child asks, “Which wolf will win the fight?”
The Elder responds, “The one I feed.”
The elder goes on to explain
“It doesn’t mean we try to deny, or hurt or kill the angry wolf. If we did that, we’d end up in a long battle, all the while somehow making that wolf more powerful through our hostility and fear.
Hating that wolf sucks the strength right out of us.
Instead, we calmly pay attention to the angry wolf, and let go of believing they may have the answers.
If we can do that, the angry wolf ends up lying down next to us, no longer an enemy.”
“We help strengthen the kind and loving wolf, giving it nourishment and support, so that we can follow it.
That peaceful wolf can become our steady companion and show us the way through all kinds of different life experiences.
Restful or chaotic, enjoyable or disappointing, experiences may come and go, but we can have a guide with us through it all.”
What I love about this story is the simple reminder that the compassionate wolf is there all the time, not just when we “conjure it” when we pay attention or through Mindfulness.
We are used to paying attention to the fearful, resentful or angry wolf, because its growl is louder;
but the realisation that fighting with it only makes it stronger and leaves us exhausted is a revelation.
If we accept the angry wolf, it has no reason to fight us.
If we feed the compassionate wolf we notice its strength and stability.
The more we pay attention to its presence the more we truly know that feeling to be there all the time.
This month’s poems are listening for that inner voice.
The Journey by Mary Oliver
Abstract Art Original Landscape WILD ABANDON by MADART Painting by Megan Duncanson
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do-
determined to save
the only life you could save.
Unconditional. By: Jennifer Paine Welwood
Wassily Kandinsky Yellow Red Blue c 1925 painting
Willing to experience aloneness,
I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear,
I meet the warrior who lives within;
Opening to my loss,
I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness,
I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed
Into its radiant jewel-like essence.
I bow to the one who has made it so,
Who has crafted this Master Game;
To play it is purest delight -
To honor its form, true devotion.
In September the Hospice held Nightwalk at RHS Rosemoor for the first time. It was a wonderful evening, full of heart, with nearly 900 women walking through the woods and gardens coming across all sorts of creations to stimulate the senses, lights, music, dancing, and in one corner of the woods, poetry.
We thought we would share a couple of the pieces we recorded for the event. Hope you enjoy them.
Hallelujah - by Miranda Broadhead
Loss held in hands folded into prayer
In the cathedral hush of the high trees.
I carry you in my blood,
Each step on this path luminous,
Lit with you,
Filled with a hymn to the lines carved into your dear face
To the sad sweet smile of your weathered soul,
To the flaws of your complicated beauty.
The trees fling wide their beautiful branches in welcome
In memory of you.
I walk queen-like, tall and quiet,
On the ground beneath them,
Holding all that was unspoken between us
All that was harsh and unforgiven
All that was joyful and filled with seeing.
I say to the trees
Talk to me of loss
They sway in tender ceremony,
exalting in the soft holding of the darkness.
Breath – by Daniel Beaudry
Tree, gather up my thoughts
like the clouds in your branches.
Draw up my soul
like the waters in your root.
In the arteries of your trunk
bring me together.
Through your leaves
breathe out the sky.
A Hymn to Time – Ursula K. Le Guin 1929 – 2018
Time says “Let there be”
every moment and instantly
there is space and the radiance
of each bright galaxy.
And eyes beholding radiance.
And the gnats’ flickering dance.
And the seas’ expanse.
And death, and chance.
Time makes room
for going and coming home
and in time’s womb
begins all ending.
Time is being and being
time, it is all one thing,
the shining, the seeing,
the dark abounding.
From Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014 (PM Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Ursula K. Le Guin. Used with the permission of PM Press.
Searching for this month’s poems I was also looking for some new voices to read them. As I looked I stumbled on two powerful poems to share.
Japanese Maple was Clive James’ farewell poem. Based on a hope that he would live to see the Maple Tree, his daughter planted, turn red; James writes of accepting he is about to die and in this acceptance life around him feels more vibrant.
Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:
Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?
Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:
Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colours will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.
From Clive James' Sentenced To Life
[recording of Clive James, himself reading, from Youtube]
Then I came across Rudyard Kipling’s My Boy Jack – written after the loss of his only son, in the First World War. My thoughts turn to all those parents who lost Children in Afghanistan, who are now reliving the loss and trying to make sense of what it was all for, while other parents fear for their children’s future. Closer to home, Parents at the hospice have been saying goodbye to their child and trying to make sense of how this could happen, why it is their child that has to die. This month, our thoughts are with all parents who mourn the loss of their child and those parents saying goodbye to their family as they reach the end of their life.
My Boy Jack (1915)
“Have you news of my boy Jack? ”
Not this tide.
“When d’you think that he’ll come back?”
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Has anyone else had word of him?”
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.
“Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?”
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind—
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.
Then hold your head up all the more,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!
My Boy Jack – Read by Ralph Fiennes
As we emerged from lockdown rules to “freedom day” I was struck by how few people were feeling a sense of freedom. With cases rising and people being “pinged” everywhere, there seemed to be an air of uncertainty, even anxiety with many feeling a shift towards individual responsibility, rather than the shared collective good. Then came the news of floods and fires and a sense of hopelessness pervaded. It is so easy in this climate for fear and anxiety to overwhelm, leaving us feeling paralysed and unable to take the next step.
So, I went in search of a poet who could, inspire us, remind us of the, often unseen, harmony of the universe. A universe that binds us all together and reminds us that all we are facing is transient, part of a much bigger, incomprehensible plan. When we come to know this to be true, everything settles, it is all ok, even when it isn’t. Native American poet Joy Harjo reminds me that my job is to be open and to know the power of kindness. We are all connected, there is no “us and them”, no conflict with nature. We are all part of the whole, we come from the earth and go back to the earth.
Joy Harjo - 1951-
- Joy Harjo was appointed the new United States poet laureate in 2019. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1951, Harjo is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. She is the author of several books of poetry, including An American Sunrise, which is forthcoming from W. W. Norton in 2019, and Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W. W. Norton, 2015). She is a current Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Once the World Was Perfect
Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.
From Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo.
Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star's stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun's birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother's, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
"Remember." Copyright ©1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo.
Sun makes the day new.
Tiny green plants emerge from earth.
Birds are singing the sky into place.
There is nowhere else I want to be but here.
I lean into the rhythm of your heart to see where it will take us.
We gallop into a warm, southern wind.
I link my legs to yours and we ride together,
Toward the ancient encampment of our relatives.
Where have you been? they ask.
And what has taken you so long?
That night after eating, singing, and dancing
We lay together under the stars.
We know ourselves to be part of mystery.
It is unspeakable.
It is everlasting.
It is for keeps.
Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo.
This month sees our annual Floating Bye event. Normally hosted on Instow Beach, it is an opportunity for us to come together to remember loved ones we have lost. This year we will again be streaming the event online at 6pm on July 25th. We hope you can join us for a chance to think about those family members and friends we miss.
With this in mind this month’s poems share the themes of Floating Bye, the first “A Ship Sailed” by Henry Van Dyke was written as a metaphor for dying, to comfort those left behind. The second was written by our very own Miranda Broadhead and premiered in last year’s Floating Bye Service. Written during lockdown Miranda poignantly captures the everyday things we miss when we are separated from someone we love.
A Ship Sails
By Henry Van Dyke
I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze
and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength,
and I stand and watch until at last she hangs
like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says,
' There she goes! '
Gone from my sight... that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar
as she was when she left my side
and just as able to bear her load of living freight
to the place of destination.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment
when someone at my side says,
' There she goes! '
there are other eyes watching her coming...
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout...
' Here she comes! '
And that is dying.
Missing you in lockdown
By Miranda Broadhead
If I was there, I’d ask you how many pieces of toast you would like
And if you still wanted mayonnaise on them
I’d water the flowers in the courtyard
And tell myself not to raise my eyes heavenwards when you say something irritating
It’s not nice.
I’d lean over the paper with you as you pointed to something
You think would interest me
And repeat ten times a day
No, you can’t come in the bathroom – let me wee in peace.
I’d brush past you and touch you
A thousand times a day,
- casually, in passing,
As though it were the most ordinary thing in the world
Slumping next to you on the sofa,
Touching your arm in the car to draw your attention to some beauty I know you’d love
Handing the crossword over to you (reluctantly) when I can’t finish it
I’d kiss you goodnight
Then talk some more
Then kiss you goodnight again
If you were here now,
I would do those things, too
But know they are a feast.
Let Evening Come Jane Kenyon
Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.
No Night Without You
By Helen Steiner Rice
There is no night without a dawning
No winter without a spring
And beyond the dark horizon
Our hearts will once more sing…
For those who leave us for a while
Have only gone away
Out of a restless, care worn world
Into a brighter day.
By Elizabeth Bishop More Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost, that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
“Wild Geese” is a soothing reminder to connect yourself to nature, even when it feels like the world is falling down around you.
. “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
( Wild Geese Selected Poems ISBN 13: 9781852246280)
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
This third poem, manages to convey the depths of grief, whilst offering hope in the simplest of stanzas.
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
This month we feature two poems by Irish, Poet, Author and Priest John O’Donohue (1 January 1956 – 4 January 2008). He was a native Irish speaker, and as an author is best known for popularising Celtic spirituality. He authored several books, including Anam Ċara, Beauty, and To Bless the space between Us, a collection of blessings published posthumously after his death in 2008.
In a recent conversation with someone bereaved, I was struck by how articulately they described the depth of their loss and how it seemed impossible that anyone else could truly understand how it felt. “Even those who had loved and lost him too, can’t share this grief as they didn’t share his life as I did”. There is something in the lines of John O’Donohue that recognises this sense of intense loneliness in grief, and yet he gives us hope that in the end we reconnect with our love when we come to understand we still carry them within us.
For Grief John O'Donohue
When you lose someone you love,
Your life becomes strange,
The ground beneath you becomes fragile,
Your thoughts make your eyes unsure;
And some dead echo drags your voice down
Where words have no confidence
Your heart has grown heavy with loss;
And though this loss has wounded others too,
No one knows what has been taken from you
When the silence of absence deepens.
Flickers of guilt kindle regret
For all that was left unsaid or undone.
There are days when you wake up happy;
Again inside the fullness of life,
Until the moment breaks
And you are thrown back
Onto the black tide of loss.
Days when you have your heart back,
You are able to function well
Until in the middle of work or encounter,
Suddenly with no warning,
You are ambushed by grief.
It becomes hard to trust yourself.
All you can depend on now is that
Sorrow will remain faithful to itself.
More than you, it knows its way
And will find the right time
To pull and pull the rope of grief
Until that coiled hill of tears
Has reduced to its last drop.
Gradually, you will learn acquaintance
With the invisible form of your departed;
And when the work of grief is done,
The wound of loss will heal
And you will have learned
To wean your eyes
From that gap in the air
And be able to enter the hearth
In your soul where your loved one
Has awaited your return
All the time.
In “To Bless the space between Us” John describes the gift of blessings; “The word Blessing evokes a sense of warmth and protection; it suggests that no life is alone or unreachable.”
He offers a blessing for those in pain and grief:
by John O’Donohue
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life
I chose the poems for this month's pages a couple of weeks ago (it takes a little while to get them recorded and uploaded to the site). They both speak of the need to understand the darkness and the sorrow before we can experience the light and the joy. How we must look within to find our happiness rather than seeking it out there with others.
However as I sit here in sunshine on this the first day of March, with a real sense of Spring in the air and a tentative plan for our way out of Lockdown, I feel a sense of hope and renewal, so forgive me if I sneak one more poem in this month; As we start to hope and plan for the months ahead of us, possibly feeling anxious about what the changes may mean, here is a blessing For A New Beginning by John O'Donohue (There will be more from him next month).
FOR A NEW BEGINNING
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life's desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
From his books 'To Bless the Space Between Us' (US) / Benedictus (Europe)
Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Lao Tzu was a Chinese philosopher, believed to have lived in the 6th Century BC, although he may also have been entirely mythical. He is credited with writing the sacred text Tao Te Ching. His philosophy and teaching has been passed down and embellished for over two thousand years and forms the basis of Daoism (Also translated as Taoism.)
“There is a story about the three great Asian spiritual leaders (Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Buddha). All were meant to have tasted vinegar. Confucius found it sour, much like he found the world full of degenerate people, and Buddha found it bitter, much like he found the world to be full of suffering. But Lao Tzu found the world sweet. This is telling, because Lao Tzu’s philosophy tends to look at the apparent discord in the world and see an underlying harmony guided by something called the ‘Dao’.” https://www.theschooloflife.com/thebookoflife/the-great-eastern-philosophers-lao-tzu/
This poem brings us back to the simplicity of the Daoist message that all we need can be found, here, now, within.
Always we hope
someone else has the answer
Some other place will be better,
some other time
It will all turn out.
This is it.
No one else has the answer.
No other place will be better,
and it has already turned out.
At the center of your being you have the answer;
you know who you are and what you want.
There is no need
to run outside
for better seeing.
Nor to peer from a window.
Rather abide at
The center of your being;
for the more you leave it
the less you learn.
Search your heart
the way to do is to be. LAO TZU, translator unknown
After the long month of January we look hopefully for the first signs of Spring, and cherish the few more minutes of light in the sky, daily.
This month we have two different poems, one acknowledging how we can be swept up in all the "doing" and "stuff" and miss the chance to stop and simply "be", Dear You. The other reflects on facing our own death, and what is our part in this vast existence? Introduced by Maria Popova
“ The astronomer and poet Rebecca Elson (January 2, 1960–May 19, 1999) was twenty-nine when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma — a blood cancer that typically invades people in their sixties and seventies. Throughout the bodily brutality of the treatment, throughout the haunting uncertainty of life in remission, she met reality on its own terms — reality creaturely and cosmic, terms chance-dealt by impartial laws — and made of that terrifying meeting something uncommonly beautiful.
When she returned her atoms to the universe, not yet forty, Elson bequeathed to this world 56 scientific papers and a slender, stunning book of poetry titled A Responsibility to Awe — verses spare and sublime, drawn from a consciousness… life-affirming the way only the most intimate contact with death — which means with nature — can be.”
“We are all navigating an external world — but only through the prism of our own minds, our own subjective experience… The majesty of the universe is only ever conjured up in the mind.” - Rebecca Elson
ANTIDOTES TO FEAR OF DEATH by Rebecca Elson
Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars. Those nights, lying on my back,
I suck them from the quenching dark
Til they are all, all inside me,
Pepper hot and sharp.
Sometimes, instead, I stir myself
Into a universe still young,
Still warm as blood:
No outer space, just space,
The light of all the not yet stars
Drifting like a bright mist,
And all of us, and everything
But unconstrained by form.
And sometime it’s enough
To lie down here on earth
Beside our long ancestral bones:
To walk across the cobble fields
Of our discarded skulls,
Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis,
Thinking: whatever left these husks
Flew off on bright wings.
Taking time to remember
Taking time to remember those we love with words and images offering comfort in this time of social isolation
Mindfulness with Miranda
Paying attention to the present moment may help with anxiety, stress and exhaustion
In the Making - Being and doing together
An opportunity to be hands on and to get absorbed in the doing and in the making.