Walking towards the light

I didn’t grow up reading or writing poetry. My only memory of it as a child was memorizing and reciting Joyce Kilmer’s well-known poem Trees. But then, about 15 years ago, I was introduced to a poet by the name of David Whyte. He does speeches and trainings based on both his poetry and that of others. I watched video tapes of these, bought his books, and even spent a weekend at a retreat where he was the speaker. He opened the world of poetry to me. And since April is National Poetry Month, I thought I’d share a couple with you today.

Here is how Whyte describes the power of poetry.

The Lightest Touch

Good poetry begins with

the lightest touch,

a breeze arriving from nowhere,

a whispered healing arrival,

a word in your ear,

a settling into things,

then like a hand in the dark

it arrests the whole body,

steeling you for revelation.

In the silence that follows

a great line

you can feel Lazarus

deep inside

even the laziest, most deathly afraid

part of you,

lift up his hands and walk toward the light.

 

There are so many amazing poems that call out the “laziest, most deathly afraid part of me.” But perhaps none  better on this April morning than the words Maya Angelou recited that January morning back in 1993: On the Pulse of Morning.

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed,

Marked the mastodon.

The dinosaur, who left dry tokens

Of their sojourn here

On our planet floor,

Any broad alarm of their hastening doom

Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,

Come, you may stand upon my

Back and face your distant destiny,

But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than

The angels, have crouched too long in

The bruising darkness,

Have lain too long

Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words

Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,

But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,

A River sings a beautiful song,

Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,

Delicate and strangely made proud,

Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit

Have left collars of waste upon

My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,

If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs

The Creator gave to me when I and the

Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your

Brow and when you yet knew you still

Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing River and the wise Rock.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,

Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree

I am yours–your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need

For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,

Cannot be unlived, and if faced

With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon

The day breaking for you.

Give birth again

To the dream.

Women, children, men,

Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most

Private need. Sculpt it into

The image of your most public self.

Lift up your hearts

Each new hour holds new chances

For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and out upon me, the

Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope

Good morning.

14 comments

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  1. this April morning in 2009? I’m thinking the rock, river and tree are still putting out the same invitation.

    • Edger on April 5, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    The universe may be smarter than we are…



    A Conversation with Myself

    • Robyn on April 5, 2009 at 6:35 pm

    …ever, there near the end.

    Thinking For Berky

    In the late night listening from bed

    I have joined the ambulance or the patrol

    screaming toward some drama, the kind of end

    that Berky must have some day, if she isn’t dead.

    The wildest of all, her father and mother cruel,

    farming out there beyond the old stone quarry

    where high school lovers parked their lurching cars,

    Berky learned to love in that dark school.

    Early her face was turned away from home

    toward any hardworking place; but still her soul,

    with terrible things to do, was alive, looking out

    for the rescue that–surely, some day–would have to come.

    Windiest nights, Berky, I have thought for you,

    and no matter how lucky I’ve been I’ve touched wood.

    There are things not solved in our town though tomorrow came:

    there are things time passing can never make come true.

    We live in an occupied country, misunderstood;

    justice will take us millions of intricate moves.

    Sirens will hunt down Berky, you survivors in your beds

    listening through the night, so far and good.

    –William Stafford

  2. but I’m struck by how much these words echo what Angelou said 16 years ago.

    We are here today because enough people ignored the voices who told them that the world could not change.

    We’re here today because of the courage of those who stood up and took risks to say that freedom is a right for all people, no matter what side of a wall they live on, and no matter what they look like.

    We are here today because of the Prague Spring — because the simple and principled pursuit of liberty and opportunity shamed those who relied on the power of tanks and arms to put down the will of a people.

    We are here today because 20 years ago, the people of this city took to the streets to claim the promise of a new day, and the fundamental human rights that had been denied them for far too long. Sametová Revoluce — the Velvet Revolution taught us many things. It showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology. It showed us that small countries can play a pivotal role in world events, and that young people can lead the way in overcoming old conflicts. And it proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon.

    President Obama in Prague today

  3. Billy Collins was a poet laureate.  How to read poetry?  He tells what it’s is all about in the following:

    Introduction to Poetry

    I ask them to take a poem

    and hold it up to the light

    like a color slide

    or press an ear against its hive.

    I say drop a mouse into a poem

    and watch him probe his way out,

    or walk inside the poem’s room

    and feel the walls for a light switch.

    I want them to waterski

    across the surface of a poem

    waving at the author’s name on the shore.

    But all they want to do

    is tie the poem to a chair with rope

    and torture a confession out of it.

    They begin beating it with a hose

    to find out what it really means.



    altoid

  4. I needed some poetry today/tonight.

    Here’s one I like a lot, particularly on my mind since we have had daffodils blooming here for the past month.

    I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD

    I wandered lonely as a cloud

    That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

    When all at once I saw a crowd,

    A host of golden daffodils;

    Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

    Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

    Continuous as the stars that shine

    and twinkle on the Milky Way,

    They stretched in never-ending line

    along the margin of a bay:

    Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

    tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

    The waves beside them danced; but they

    Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

    A poet could not but be gay,

    in such a jocund company:

    I gazed – and gazed – but little thought

    what wealth the show to me had brought:

    For oft, when on my couch I lie

    In vacant or in pensive mood,

    They flash upon that inward eye

    Which is the bliss of solitude;

    And then my heart with pleasure fills,

    And dances with the daffodils.

    – William Wordsworth



    “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” (erroneously known as “The Daffodils”) is an 1804 poem by William Wordsworth. It was inspired by an April 15, 1802 event in which Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, came across a “long belt” of daffodils. It was first published in 1807, and a revised version was released in 1815.

    The poem is written in iambic tetrameter”

    A lighter tone than most posted here, and an oldy – but nonetheless a goody…

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