For those moments in life when we have exhausted our friends willingness to listen, have read all the advice columns and sat in meditation hoping for a clue to ones direction, we can turn to the great poets who have left us their words like crumbs along life’s path. The right poem read at the right moment can spin your mind into a clear and gentle focus. Those timeless lines of language touch our soul reminding us all of our universal connection. When I read of recent discoveries of possible earth-like planets orbiting suns in other galaxies I wondered what their poets write to soothe the lost and comfort the frightened. Are their words kept close at hand to read again and again when nothing else can bring comfort or clarity?
Recently a dear friend entered a Hospice facility and we have been communicating by sending poems to each other. It is our way to express difficult emotions faced with the loss of one leaving this life too soon. We each draw from our favorite poets and are surprised and thrilled when an undiscovered poem arrives in the mail hand printed on a postcard. Rumi is a favorite, Mary Oliver another, translations of Buddhist monks and quotes from Gandhi now decorate my refrigerator along with a picture of my friend smiling and healthy. In the end these bits of language will grace my memories of her, our road trips together across America, our phone conversations, our visits over many years. And always in those moments of meeting we spoke of new and old poems, of the words left to us as a lesson to being human. I share a few of them with you. Feel free to share your favorites as well.
Next: February 2, 1968, by Wendell Berry
In the dark of the moon, in flying snow, in the dead of winter,
War spreading, families dying, the world in danger,
I walk the rocky hillside, sowing clover
(From The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry)
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
(From The Essential Rumi, versions by Coleman Barks)
“Make of yourself a light,”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal—a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself,
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire—
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.
(From New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver)