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.
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.
By Kaveri Patel
You who always have
so many things to do
so many places to be
your mind spinning like
fan blades at high speed
each moment always a blur
because you’re never still.
I know you’re tired.
I also know it’s not your fault.
The constant brain-buzz is like
a swarm of bees threatening
to sting if you close your eyes.
You’ve forgotten something again.
You need to prepare for that or else.
You should have done that differently.
What if you closed your eyes?
Would the world fall
apart without you?
Or would your mind
become the open sky
flock of thoughts
flying across the sunrise
as you just watched and smiled.
This month we feature two poems by the same poet, Danna Faulds, who credits her practice of meditation for the gift of her creative voice.
BREATH OF LIFE By Danna Faulds
I breathe in All That Is-
to take everything in,
as if my heart beats
the world into being.
From the unnamed vastness beneath the mind,
I breathe my way into wholeness and healing.
Each Breath a “yes,”
and a letting go, a journey, and a coming home.
BIRTHRIGHT By Danna Faulds
Despite illness of body or mind, in spite of blinding despair or habitual belief, who you are is whole.
Let nothing keep you separate from the truth.
The soul, illumined from within, longs to be known for what it is.
Undying, untouched by fire or the storms of life,
there is a place inside where stillness and abiding peace reside.
You can ride the breath to go there.
Despite doubt or hopeless turns of mind, you are not broken.
Spirit surrounds, embraces, fills you from the inside out.
Release everything that isn’t your true nature.
What’s left, the fullness, light and shadow, claim all that as your birthright
As we reach the deepest part of winter, it may not be the obvious choice to find a poem about being in nature, but even if we are going out less, maybe we can close our eyes and remember the feeling of being among the trees, in open fields or overlooking the sea, wherever you find stillness and peace. Here's Wendell Berry's meditative response to nature.
A Timbered Choir by Wendell Berry
I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.
Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.
Wendell Berry has written many poems that communicate his deep love for the natural world, and the solace he finds there. In this poem he describes what happens when he ‘goes among trees’, which is not so different from what happens when we are mindful or take time to meditate.
We sit down, we make peace with not attending to any of the things on our to-do list and our mind settles. And then, sooner or later, often stuff surfaces that we hadn’t attended to yet – ‘what I am afraid of comes’. Some unexpected feeling, an uncomfortable thought, sensations that we'd rather not experience… followed by that momentary impulse to get up and do something ‘useful’, the temptation to get lost in thought or drift off. But for me, when I manage to stay, to ‘live for a while in its sight’, something shifts or changes.
What does this poem touch upon for you? Do you have a fear you are avoiding?
This is the second time we have featured Rūmī, in full Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, the thirteenth century Sufi mystic and poet. He is possibly most known for his lyrics and for his didactic epic Mas̄navī-yi Maʿnavī (“Spiritual Couplets”), which widely influenced mystical thought and literature throughout the Muslim world. However the mystical theologian, author, and teacher became a global phenomenon during the twentieth century, as Europeans and Americans discovered his work. The simplicity of his verse giving we the reader, pause for contemplation in our search for peace and harmony.
This simple stanza feels very apt for right now. It invites us to come together; at a time when the world appears to be paying more attention to our differences than to what we share in common; perhaps this month we can come together spiritually, if not physically.
I'll Meet You there, by Rumi ...
You may like to revisit The Guesthouse by Rumi, on this page.
A mindful poem today...
Awareness By John Austin
her gaze is so constant,
our every move
with such affection,
a ceaseless vigil
unrelenting in her
There is endless room in
the heart of this lover,
infinite space for whatever
foolishness we may
toss her way.
But she is also
crafty, this one-
a thief who will steal away
everything we ever cherished,
all our beliefs,
all our ideas,
all our philosophies,
until nothing is left
but her shimmering
this simple love
for what is.
Well, Autumn is upon us and the nights are drawing in, it's enough to make us all feel like hibernating. So today we are sharing a poem that makes us want to go out and have fun, live every moment. At the same time, this poet's reflection points out how we are prone to play it safe; so let's not be hard on ourselves for all the times we've missed the moment. Just remember there are always moments ahead, that we can choose to fully experience.
I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.
I'd relax, I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.
I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would perhaps have more actual troubles,
but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.
sensibly and sanely hour after hour,
day after day.
And if I had it to do over again,
I'd have more of them.
In fact, I'd try to have nothing else.
Just moments, one after another,
instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I've been one of those people who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat
and a parachute.
If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies.
This week's poem feels familiar, the adults give their attention to a world they can control, in the form of a puzzle, where there is a place for every piece, "backs turned for a few hours to a world that is crumbling..."while youth is "impatient with her blossoming".
Have you ever simply wanted to focus all your attention here, on a game, a film, a book, a poem; where it's simple and you know what it is and what to do, rather than continue looking at all the difficulty around you? Is it wrong to take a break? or do we see the world with new perspective when we stop looking directly at the problem and move our focus to the periphery?
Break Dorianne Laux
We put the puzzle together piece
by piece, loving how one curved
notch fits so sweetly with another.
A yellow smudge becomes
the brush of a broom, and two blue arms
fill in the last of the sky.
We patch together porch swings and autumn
trees, matching gold to gold. We hold
the eyes of deer in our palms, a pair
of brown shoes. We do this as the child
circles her room, impatient
with her blossoming, tired
of the neat house, the made bed,
the good food. We let her brood
as we shuffle through the pieces,
setting each one into place with a satisfied
tap, our backs turned for a few hours
to a world that is crumbling, a sky
that is falling, the pieces
we are required to return to.
Allow By Danna Faulds
There is no controlling life.
Try corralling a lightning bolt,
containing a tornado. Dam a
stream and it will create a new
channel. Resist, and the tide
will sweep you off your feet.
Allow, and grace will carry
you to higher ground. The only
safety lies in letting it all in –
the wild and the weak; fear,
fantasies, failures and success.
When loss rips off the doors of
the heart, or sadness veils your
vision with despair, practice
becomes simply bearing the truth.
In the choice to let go of your
known way of being, the whole
world is revealed to your new eyes
By Roger Keyes
Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing.
He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just get more who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says everyone of us is a child,
everyone of us is ancient,
everyone of us has a body.
He says everyone of us is frightened.
He says everyone of us has to find
a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive–
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home
and stare at the ants on your veranda
or the shadows of the trees
and grasses in your garden.
It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.
Joy is life living through you.
Satisfaction and strength
is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.
Let life live through you.
In this week's poem Mary Oliver challenges how we rewrite the world to be more palatable. Do we avoid looking at the difficulty of life? or feel obliged to make things prettier? How would it be to accept and embrace it all?
Singapore By Mary Oliver
In Singapore, in the airport,
a darkness was ripped from my eyes.
In the women’s restroom, one compartment stood open.
A woman knelt there, washing something in the white bowl.
Disgust argued in my stomach
and I felt, in my pocket, for my ticket.
A poem should always have birds in it.
Kingfishers, say, with their bold eyes and gaudy wings.
Rivers are pleasant, and of course trees.
A waterfall, or if that’s not possible, a fountain rising and falling.
A person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
When the woman turned I could not answer her face.
Her beauty and her embarrassment struggled together, and neither could win.
She smiled and I smiled. What kind of nonsense is this?
Everybody needs a job.
Yes, a person wants to stand in a happy place, in a poem.
But first we must watch her as she stares down at her labor, which is dull enough.
She is washing the tops of the airport ashtrays, as big as hubcaps, with a blue rag.
Her small hands turn the metal, scrubbing and rinsing.
She does not work slowly, nor quickly, like a river.
Her dark hair is like the wing of a bird.
I don’t doubt for a moment that she loves her life.
And I want her to rise up from the crust and the slop and fly down to the river.
This probably won’t happen.
But maybe it will.
If the world were only pain and logic, who would want it?
Of course, it isn’t.
Neither do I mean anything miraculous, but only
the light that can shine out of a life. I mean
the way she unfolded and refolded the blue cloth,
the way her smile was only for my sake; I mean
the way this poem is filled with trees, and birds.
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