Poetry Favorites

From Poetry in Motion Films: "Closer Than Close is a deftly crafted and poignant tale that weaves the stories of a handful of seekers bivouacked at various stages along the spiritual path with the straight-talk wisdom of three extraordinary individuals who have seemingly put an end to seeking. This juxtaposition creates a compelling resonance in which we can see (if the angle of light is just so) that the seekers and those that have stopped seeking are closer than we think. These are real stories of struggle and despair, friendship and hope, but above all, insight. Put this video on your list, better yet put it in your player and see what happens." ~ John Kain, author of A Rare and Precious Thing: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of Studying with a Spiritual Teacher

Poetry Favorites
index
milking room window
My all-time favorite is A Part of Thee, by Richard Rose. Other favorites, either for their inspirational or confrontational qualities, follow. See The Use & Misuse of Poetry for some background material. Read An Adventure into Poetry for an essay by Richard Rose on what's unique about poetry. There's an index at the bottom of the page, which includes some poems scattered across this website and a few other sites.
"Success"
Berton Braley

If you want a thing bad enough
To go out and fight for it,
Work day and night for it,
Give up your time and your peace and your sleep for it,
If only desire of it
Makes you quite mad enough
Never to tire of it,
Makes you hold all other things tawdry and cheap for it,
If life seems all empty and useless without it
And all that you scheme and you dream is about it,
If gladly you'll sweat for it,
Fret for it,
Plan for it,
Lose all your terror of GOD or of man for it,
If you'll simply go after the thing that you want,
With all your capacity,
Strength and sagacity,
Faith, hope and confidence, stern pertinacity,
If neither cold poverty, famished and gaunt,
Nor sickness nor pain
Of body or brain
Can turn you away from the thing that you want,
If dogged and grim you besiege and beset it,
YOU'LL GET IT.

"Tichborne's Elegy"
(Written with His Own Hand in
the Tower Before His Execution)

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen and my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the work and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and saw it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

"The Slaughter-House"
Alfred Hayes

Under the big 500-watted lamps, in the huge sawdusted
      government inspected slaughter-house,
head down from hooks and clamps, run on trolleys over troughs,
the animals die.
Whatever terror their dull intelligences feel
      or what agony distorts their most protruding eyes
the incommunicable narrow skulls conceal.
      Across the sawdusted floor,
ignorant as children, they see the butcher's slow
      methodical approach
in the bloodied apron, leather cap above, thick square shoes
      below,
struggling to comprehend this unique vision upside down,
and then approximate a human scream
      as from the throat slit like a letter
the blood empties, and the windpipe, like a blown valve,
      spurts steam.
But I, sickened equally with the ox and lamb,
      misread my fate.
mistake the butcher's love
      who kills me for the meat I am
to feed a hungry multitude beyond the sliding doors.
      I, too, misjudge the real
purpose of this huge shed I'm herded in: not for my love
      or lovely wool am I here,
but to make some world a meal.
      See, how on the unsubstantial air
I kick, bleating my private woe,
      as upside down my rolling sight
somersaults, and frantically I try to set my world upright;
      too late learning why I'm hung here,
whose nostrils bleed, whose life runs out from eye and ear.

"Thirty Bob a Week"
John Davidson

I couldn't touch a stop and turn a screw,
      And set the blooming world a-work for me,
Like such as cut their teeth – I hope, like you –
      On the handle of a skeleton gold key;
I cut mine on a leek, which I eat it every week:
      I'm a clerk at thirty bob as you can see.

But I don't allow it's luck and all a toss;
      There's no such thing as being starred and crossed;
It's just the power of some to be a boss,
      And the bally power of others to be bossed:
I face the music, sir; you bet I ain't a cur;
      Strike me lucky if I don't believe I'm lost!

For like a mole I journey in the dark,
      A-travelling along the underground
From my Pillar'd Halls and broad Suburban Park,
      To come the daily dull official round;
And home again at night with my pipe all alight,
      A-scheming how to count ten bob a pound.

And it's often very cold and very wet,
      And my missus stitches towels for a hunks;
And the Pillar'd Halls is half of it to let –
      Three rooms about the size of travelling trunks.
And we cough, my wife and I, to dislocate a sigh,
      When the noisy little kids are in their bunks.

But you never hear her do a growl or whine,
      For she's made of flint and roses, very odd;
And I've got to cut my meaning rather fine,
      Or I'd blubber, for I'm made of greens and sod:
So p'r'haps we are in Hell for all that I can tell,
      And lost and damn'd and served up hot to God.

I ain't blaspheming, Mr. Silver-tongue;
      I'm saying things a bit beyond your art:
Of all the rummy starts you ever sprung,
      Thirty bob a week's the rummiest start!
With your science and your books and your the'ries about spooks,
      Did you ever hear of looking in your heart?

I didn't mean your pocket, Mr., no:
      I mean that having children and a wife,
With thirty bob on which to come and go,
      Isn't dancing to the tabor and the fife:
When it doesn't make you drink, by Heaven! it makes you think,
      And notice curious items about life.

I step into my heart and there I meet
      A god-almighty devil singing small,
Who would like to shout and whistle in the street,
      And squelch the passers flat against the wall;
If the whole world was a cake he had the power to take,
      He would take it, ask for more, and eat them all.

And I meet a sort of simpleton beside,
      The kind that life is always giving beans;
With thirty bob a week to keep a bride
      He fell in love and married in his teens:
At thirty bob he stuck; but he knows it isn't luck:
      He knows the seas are deeper than tureens.

And the god-almighty devil and the fool
      That meet me in the High Street on the strike,
When I walk about my heart a-gathering wool,
      Are my good and evil angels if you like.
And both of them together in every kind of weather
      Ride me like a double-seated bike.

That's rough a bit and needs its meaning curled.
      But I have a high old hot un in my mind –
A most engrugious notion of the world,
      That leaves your lightning 'rithmetic behind:
I give it at a glance when I say "There ain't no chance,
      Nor nothing of the lucky-lottery kind."

And it's this way that I make it out to be:
      No fathers, mothers, countries, climates – none;
Not Adam was responsible for me,
      Nor society, nor systems, nary one:
A little sleeping seed, I woke – I did, indeed –
      A million years before the blooming sun.

I woke because I thought the time had come;
      Beyond my will there was no other cause;
And everywhere I found myself at home,
      Because I chose to be the thing I was;
And in whatever shape of mollusc or of ape
      I always went according to the laws.

I was the love that chose my mother out;
      I joined two lives and from the union burst;
My weakness and my strength without a doubt
      Are mine alone for ever from the first:
It's just the very same with a difference in the name
      As "Thy will be done." You say it if you durst!

They say it daily up and down the land
      As easy as you take a drink, it's true;
But the difficultest go to understand,
      And the difficultest job a man can do,
Is to come it brave and meek with thirty bob a week,
      And feel that that's the proper thing for you.

It's a naked child against a hungry wolf;
      It's playing bowls upon a splitting wreck;
It's walking on a string across a gulf
      With millstones fore-and-aft about your neck;
But the thing is daily done by many and many a one;
      And we fall, face forward, fighting, on the deck.

"Inside this Clay Jug"
Kabir

Inside this clay jug
there are canyons and
pine mountains,
and the maker of canyons
and pine mountains!

All seven oceans are inside,
and hundreds of millions of stars.

The acid that tests gold is here,
and the one who judges jewels.

And the music
that comes from the strings
that no one touches,
and the source of all water.

If you want the truth, I will tell you the truth:
Friend, listen: the God whom I love is inside.

*

~ Robert Bly version, from Kabir:Ecstatic
Poems
(Amazon link). See a video clip of
Bly reading this poem.

"Requiem"
Robert Louis Stevenson
From Underwoods

Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
    And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me;
Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
    And the hunter home from the hill.

*

Stevenson lived the last of his 44
years in Samoa. The "Requiem"
was engraved on his tombstone, as
he wished. He was revered by the
Samoans, and the poem was trans-
lated to a Samoan song of grief,
which is well known and still
sung in Samoa according to his
Wikipedia biography.

"Seek Me First"
Franklin Merrell-Wolff

    The joy is not the end-in-itself to be sought.
    Seek Me first, and then My Knowledge and My Joy will also be thine.
    Seek Me for My own sake and not for any ulterior motive.
    I and I alone am the worthy end of all endeavor.
    So lay down all for Me, and My Wealth will be thy wealth, My Power
thy power, My Joy thy joy, My Wisdom thy wisdom.
    This universe is but a part of My Treasure, and it, with vastly greater
Riches, shall be the portion of the Inheritance of all those who come to Me.
    Long have ye lingered in the desert of Ignorance.
    I desire not thy continued suffering.
    Come unto Me. The Way is not so hard.

*

… I have sought this Awakening for several years. I was finally convinced
that, at least in all probability, there was such a thing or event, while I was
in the midst of the discussions of a metaphysical seminary held at Harvard
[when he was a grad student in mathematics there]. I saw, at once, that if
such Knowledge were an actuality it was of far greater importance than even
the greatest intellectual achievement within the limits of the subject-object
field…. My final word on this particular subject is: I sought a Goal the
existence of which I had become convinced was highly probable. I
succeeded in finding this Goal, and now I KNOW, and can also say to all
others: "IT IS ABSOLUTELY WORTH ANYTHING THAT IT MAY
COST, AND IMMEASURABLY MORE." ~ Pathways Through to Space

"The Apple"
Carillon : Poems, Essays, and
Philosophy of Richard Rose

I am an apple
Round and red, bursting with Love.
Beautiful with the artistry of ages.
Once hard and insensible, yes –
Green and bitter with ignorance,
But now soft and mellow,
Sweet to the joys of life,
Soft to the mouth of love,
Mellow to the harsher hand of Fate.
Perfect is my noon-day bliss . . . .
And time holds the glad sun still
For a long, dreamy summer's day,
Until I drink a song into my heart,
And feel within me glorious beginnings,
Seeds of perfection . . . .
Straining and exulting.

*

Above is the first stanza. See the
complete poem in the TAT Forum
archive. The apple blossom struggles
to open, seeking the warmth of the
sun's love. The fruit searches for
its meaning, eventually releasing its
seeds. The seed in turn struggles to
burst open for its creator's love. We
as individuals are parts of the
heliotropic creation, seeking our
creator's warmth and love.

WITNESSING
Jan Haag

"Of course you are the Supreme Reality!
"But what of it?" Nisargadatta, p. 27

"Consider," Nisargadatta goes on to instruct,
"what you are not." But sleep
lies heavy on my eyes.
Too late in the day I have begun
my poem. Night comes; my energies have fled,
along with desire, into the lateness, into sorrow,
the ineptness of not enough desire,
not enough time. Where shall I find enlightenment –
and why? What will
it be? What conceivable use
will it be? – lost, as I am, in
bliss at noon and the ceaseless chaos of life?

*

An excerpt from Jan Haag's Introduction to Inspired by
by Nisargadatta
: "Twenty years ago A.M. gave me a
copy of I AM THAT, Sri Nisargadatta's satsangs. It
continues to be one of the most important spiritual
books to come into my life. It contains my favorite of all
sentences in spiritual literature: 'The silence after a
lifetime of silence and the silence after a lifetime of
talking is the same silence.' Recently, while recom-
mending the book to someone, I thought to re-read it.
I still had trouble absorbing it. However, to slow my
reading down – having not long ago edited some books
for another spiritual teacher – I decided to go through
it with the same thoroughness I would give to it if I
were to edit it. Thus, I have read it at the rate of one
chapter a day and, after each day's reading, I have
written a poem – the poem simply came after the
reading..."

"The Tavern"
Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207-1273)

All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I'm like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.

The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear, who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me will have to take me back....

*

From The Essential Rumi, Coleman Barks, translator.

From The Devil's Dictionary, by Ambrose Bierce

DECIDE, v.i.

To succumb to the preponderance of one set of influences over another set.
A leaf was riven from a tree,
"I mean to fall to earth," said he.

The west wind, rising, made him veer.
"Eastward," said he, "I now shall steer."

The east wind rose with greater force.
Said he: "'Twere wise to change my course."

With equal power they contend.
He said: "My judgment I suspend."

Down died the winds; the leaf, elate,
Cried: "I've decided to fall straight."

"First thoughts are best?" That's not the moral;
Just choose your own and we'll not quarrel.

Howe'er your choice may chance to fall,
You'll have no hand in it at all.
                                                                                          G.J.

"To Hell with Commonsense"
Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1967)

More kicks than pence
We get from commonsense
Above its door is writ
All hope abandon. It
Is a bank will refuse a post
Dated cheque of the Holy Ghost.
Therefore I say to hell
With all reasonable
Poems in particular
We want no secular
Wisdom plodded together
By concerned fools. Gather
No moss you rolling stones
Nothing thought out atones
For no flight
In the light.
Let them wear out nerve and bone
Those who would have it that way
But in the end nothing that they
Have achieved will be in the shake up
In the final Wake Up
And I have a feeling
That through the hole in reason's ceiling
We can fly to knowledge
Without ever going to college.

"What Longing Feels Like"
Corina Bardasuc

The fragile love that longing feels like
Is upon me.
Thin like a thread strung out across
A plain.
It feels like this: bottomless hole that nothing ever fills
At least, nothing I touched, or smelled, or
Played with.
It is none of these things: flowers, clouds, birds, men
Fine words and hollow thoughts that
Come and go
Now and again.
And yet, all of those things are very much reminders
That somewhere
It exists.
That object of my longing.
And all the myriad of things that it is not
A painful indication that I
Have not found it
Yet.
And its elusive nature is more fickle
Than
A woman.
This longing
Will outlast me.

"The Scent of Longing"
Ben Rainey

Love leaves roses
      in the overlooked corners
      of a wind-spun story.
A petal floats on the
      soft sounds of a
      dying man's eased breath.
A red bloom brightens the
      face of a weary friend,
      tired in grief.
And where is this Love
      who stirs the heart's
      desperate grasp,
Leaving bittersweet reminders
      of the holy presence
      just departed?
The Love was known
      in some vague past,
      but left rejected
      by the pride of me.
I scorned Love's trust
      and let Love go,
      choosing instead
      to embrace my self.
But Love's here, Love's here,
      ever so close,
The sweet fragrance
      of Home's warm embrace
      still haunts the room.

See the TAT Forum archive for more examples of Ben's and Corina's poetry.
"John James Audubon"
by Stephen Vincent Benét (1898-1943)

Some men live for warlike deeds,
Some for women's words.
John James Audubon
Lived to look at birds.

Pretty birds and funny birds,
All our native fowl
From the little cedar waxwing
To the Great Horned Owl.

Let the wind blow hot or cold,
Let it rain or snow,
Everywhere the birds went
Audubon would go.

Scrambling through a wilderness,
Floating down a stream,
All around America
In a feathered dream.

Thirty years of traveling,
Pockets often bare,
(Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Patched them up with care).

Followed grebe and meadowlark,
Saw them sing and splash.
(Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Somehow raised the cash).

Drew them all the way they lived
In their habitats.
(Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Sometimes wondered "Cats?")

Colored them and printed them
In a giant book,
"Birds of North America"–
All the world said, "Look!"

Gave him medals and degrees,
Called him noble names,
–Lucy Bakewell Audubon
Kissed her queer John James.

"Humming-Bird"
by D.H. Lawrence

I can imagine, in some otherworld
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.

Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.

I believe there were no flowers, then,
In the world where the humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.

Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards, they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.

"Ars Poetica"
by Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown –

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

*

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind –

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

*

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea –

A poem should not mean
But be.

"A Marriage in Yellow Stone"
by Paul Schmidt

5 degrees Farenheit in Bozeman, Montana
soaking in an outdoor mineral springs pool
with members of my family.
Floating on my back, chest bowed out to open sky,
head bowing to belonging.
The warm liquid massage releasing from cold bones
a spell of rhapsody from yesterday,
when my niece and her beau, childhood sweethearts,
were married in Yellowstone, the land of 10,000 features.
Bonded together as the snow to trees in a frozen still life
midst a white vastland respiring across aeons.

I was wanting it over with … so cold,
not much for weddings or sentimental ritual.
I mock pleaded with a friend not to cry during the ceremony.
The wedding party and family loosely coalesced
at an overlook to Mammoth Springs
at the bottom of a long and winding wooden walkway,
where the groom waited still as an ice statue.
Then the bagpipe player began playing mile long notes.
Previously, their effect merely of death being serenaded,
but now … a steam began rising from my eyes
and a second chill was added to the top of my head.

Just white … and then she appeared,
Rachel the bride sway-stepping down the walkway
in a long gown out of mythology with fur jacket,
carrying a quiver of pussy willows.
The wake of a locomotive emotion swept over me
just before she passed,
when I noticed her head dip abruptly in a breaking sob.

I turned towards Nick the groom who was shaking in rapport,
and when they stood side by side,
many were now fighting for control,
as the exchange of vows began to be recited …
the bride and groom struggling with each word.
One phrase from each moved earth,
leaving an imago of true love standing.
Rachel – Thank you for loving me when I didn't deserve to be loved, and didn't love back …
Nick – Even if I died today … just knowing I was loved by you …

Suddenly it was over.
The tension and silence wisped away with the steam clouds
And the party embarked on a tour of the park.
We trudged the looping trails and walkways around Norris Springs.
Tiered tree rows, white laced green dresses in frescoed symmetry.
Other lone ones, their branches wrapped in white plaster arm casts.
A platonic animal kingdom of frozen forms
Paying homage to the spirits of the sacred pools
with green pike rush rimming their blue surfaces …
facing reverently a world that knows heat,
full of holes where 6 feet below,
vvaporous breaths hot enough to boil water,
hiss and roar through their nostrils and mouths …
Me, too! You, too!
as they mingle with their lovers
of the frigid upper world.

Spiraling time and generations, vows of renewal.
The lodge pole pine which grows a second serotinous cone,
only dropping during fire to ensure its family's survival.
My older niece suddenly telling me how all day
she's been feeling the presence of her grandmother …
my mother … no longer of this world.
How it was her who was behind
bringing together the family and new loves,
after the family's own season of fire had recently passed.
As it dawned on both of us simultaneously
how she'd honeymooned in Yellowstone half a century before.

To be loved when I don't love back
Content to die now knowing I was loved by you

They meant it then
and may have for all time.
So dear precious time …
Leave them be this once.
Absent your wear from their sojourn ahead.
At the least bestow on them the grace
you've delighted upon this ancient testament in yellow stone …
now sanctified in dazzling white.


 

Index of poems by author

Bardasuc, Corina: What Longing Feels Like
Benét, Stephen Vincent: John James Audubon
Bierce, Ambrose: Decide
Braley, Berton: Success
Davidson, John: Thirty Bob a Week
Gibran, Kahlil: Excerpts from The Prophet
Haag, Jan: Witnessing
Hayes, Alfred: The Slaughter-House
Hui-neng: Teaching on the Sudden Way
Kabir: Inside this Clay Jug
Kavanagh, Patrick: To Hell with Commonsense
Lawrence, D.H.: Humming-Bird
MacLeish, Archibald: Ars Poetica
Merrell-Wolff, Franklin: Sangsara and Nirvana
Merrell-Wolff, Franklin: Seek Me First
Rainey, Ben: The Scent of Longing
Rose, Richard: A Part of Thee
Rose, Richard: The Apple
Rose, Richard: Three Books of the Absolute
Rumi: Love Dogs (video)
Rumi: The Tavern
Samuel, William: Account of an Awakening
   (Melody of the Woodcutter and the King)
Schmidt, Paul: A Marriage in Yellow Stone
Seng-Ts'an: The Mind of Absolute Trust
St. John of the Cross: Ascent of Mt. Carmel
Stevenson, Robert Louis: Requiem
Tichborne, Chidiock: Elegy
Thompson, Francis: The Hound of Heaven
Wren-Lewis, John: Guru Poem
Index of poems by title

A Marriage in Yellow Stone, Paul Schmidt
A Part of Thee, by Richard Rose
Account of an Awakening, William Samuel
   (Melody of the Woodcutter and the King)
Apple, The, Richard Rose
Ars Poetica, Archibald MacLeish
Ascent of Mt. Carmel, St. John of the Cross
Decide, Ambrose Bierce
Elegy, Chidiock Tichborne
Guru Poem, John Wren-Lewis
Hound of Heaven, Francis Thompson
Humming-Bird, D.H. Lawrence
Inside this Clay Jug, Kabir
John James Audubon, Stephen Vincent Benét
Love Dogs, Rumi (video)
Mind of Absolute Trust, Seng-Ts'an
Prophet, Excerpts from The, Kahlil Gibran
Requiem, Robert Louis Stevenson
Sangsara and Nirvana, Franklin Merrell-Wolff
Scent of Longing, James B. (Ben) Rainey
Seek Me First, Franklin Merrell-Wolff
Slaughter-House, Alfred Hayes
Success, Berton Braley
Tavern, The, Jalal al-Din Rumi
Teaching on the Sudden Way, Hui-neng
Thirty Bob a Week, John Davidson
Three Books of the Absolute, Richard Rose
To Hell with Commonsense, Patrick Kavanagh
What Longing Feels Like, Corina Bardasuc
Witnessing, Jan Haag

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