Poem Sampler

Spiritual Poetry

22 poems about spirituality and enlightenment.

by Jane Hirshfield

The root of “spirit” is the Latin spirare, to breathe. Whatever lives on the breath, then, must have its spiritual dimension— including all poems, even the most unlikely. Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, William Carlos Williams: all poets of spiritual life. A useful exercise of soul would be to open any doorstop-sized anthology at random a dozen times and find in each of the resulting pages its spiritual dimension. If the poems are worth the cost of their ink, it can be done.

But, no, I’ve been asked to choose, to recommend. The poems I suggest here are this moment’s choices, not “the best spiritual poems” (a phrase weighing nothing in so intimate and personal a context). The “gates” are an equally personal selection of entrance points into spiritual life. Some of the poems are well known, others less so. Each stands representative of many others. Each also, for me, plunges into the heart of the matter at hand, bearing witness in some essential way.

Gate 1. Permeability


Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

Izumi Shikibu (Japan, 974?-1034?)

[translated by Jane Hirshfield with Mariko Aratani]

Izumi Shikibu, “Although the wind . . . ,” translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani, from The Ink Dark Moon. Copyright 1990 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of Vintage Classics and Jane Hirshfield.


The moon in Japanese poetry is always the moon; often it is also the image of Buddhist awakening. This poem reminds that if a house is walled so tightly that it lets in no wind or rain, if a life is walled so tightly that it lets in no pain, grief, anger, or longing, it will also be closed to the entrance of what is most wanted.

The poem, by the greatest woman poet of classical-era Japan, is one I first encountered in 1986 while working with Mariko Aratani, my co-translator for The Ink Dark Moon. At first, I had the poem’s words, I had the poem’s grammar, but its meaning eluded. Once it clarified, this became for me a life-altering poem, transforming my relationship to safety, permeability, awakening, and the mouth of the lion.

Gate 2. The Great Yes


Che Fece… Il Gran Refiuto

For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say no. Yet that no—the right no—
drags him down all his life.

C.P. Cavafy (Alexandria, 1863-1933)

[translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard]

Constantine Cavafy, “Che Fece… Il Gran Refiuto,” translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems. Copyright 1975 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Reprinted with the permission of Princeton University Press.


Cavafy is not generally thought of as a spiritual poet. This early poem's precipitating title comes from a story about a pope, as told by Dante, but that is not the reason it is here. Nor can I say I even fully understand the poem—the phrase "the right no" has been, for me, a decades-long riddle and harvest. But Cavafy’s basic proposal, that a person carries within himself or herself a great Yes or great No, requiring declaration—this surely is one gate to the spiritual dimension.

Gate 3. Issa’s Cricket


On a branch
floating downriver
a cricket, singing.

Issa (Japan, 1763-1827)

[translated by Jane Hirshfield]

Reprinted with the permission of Jane Hirshfield.


Issa's singing cricket is Cavafy's “great Yes” in action. The haiku offers a portrait of the circumstances of all our lives. Carried by capricious currents, certain to die, we nonetheless fully live. The poem can be read, I realize, with different comprehensions. It could, for instance, be understood in the spirit of Beckett and Camus. Mostly, that is not how I feel it—but, as with many great poems, the versatility of the image is part of its enlarging meaning.

Gate 4. Horace’s Zen


Ode I. 11

Leucon, no one’s allowed to know his fate,
Not you, not me: don’t ask, don’t hunt for answers
In tea leaves or palms. Be patient with whatever comes.
This could be our last winter, it could be many
More, pounding the Tuscan Sea on these rocks:
Do what you must, be wise, cut your vines
And forget about hope. Time goes running, even
As we talk. Take the present, the future’s no one’s affair.

Horace (Roman, 65-8 B.C.E.)

[translated by Burton Raffel]

Horace, “Ode 1. 11,” translated by Burton Raffel, from The Essential Horace. Copyright 1983 by Burton Raffel. Reprinted with the permission by Northpoint Press.


When, studying Latin in high school, I first read Horace’s odes and verse epistles, I felt as if a previously unrecognized thirst had been awakened, acknowledged, and assuaged at once.

Later, I could see in the poetry of Horace one of the paths that led to the practice of Zen. The cricket of Issa's haiku would be, I believe, entirely recognizable to the Roman poet as a fellow singer of carpe diem. Spiritual poems emerge in response to the central questions of human life—mortality and transience, isolation and alienation, the question of suffering in all its dimensions. In Horace, as in Issa, a solution is found in returning the heart and mind to the present moment.

Gate 5. Four Poets, One Theme: Spiritual Residence


The Props assist the House
Until the House is built
And then the Props withdraw
And adequate, erect,
The House support itself
And cease to recollect
The Auger and the Carpenter—
Just such a retrospect
Hath the perfected Life—
A past of Plank and Nail
And slowness—then the Scaffolds drop
Affirming it a Soul.

Emily Dickinson(ca. 1863)

Emily Dickinson, “The Props assist the House” (1142) from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson. Copyright 1945, 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Reprinted with the permission of The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.


You who want
knowledge,
see the Oneness
within.

There you
will find
the clear mirror
already waiting.

Hadewijch II (Antwerp, 13th century)

[translated by Jane Hirshfield]

Hadewijch, “You who want . . . ,” translated by Jane Hirshfield, from Women in Praise of the Sacred. Copyright 1994 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of Harper Collins.


I was passionate,
filled with longing,
I searched
far and wide.

But the day
that the Truthful One
found me,
I was at home.

Lal Ded (Kashmir, 14th c.)

[translated by Jane Hirshfield]

Lal Ded, “I was passionate . . . ,” translated by Jane Hirshfield, from Women in Praise of the Sacred. Copyright 1994 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of Harper Collins.


O my Lord,
the stars glitter
and the eyes of men are closed.
Kings have locked their doors
and each lover is alone with his love.

Here, I am alone with you.

Rabi’a (Basra, 717-801)

[translated by Jane Hirshfield]

Rabi’a, “O my Lord . . . ,” translated by Jane Hirshfield, from Women in Praise of the Sacred. Copyright 1994 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of Harper Collins.


Rabi’a, is one of the earliest of the Sufi women saints. Orphaned on the streets of Basra and taken into slavery, she was released because of the visible power of her spiritual practice. Hadewijch II was a member of a 13th-century Flemish Beguine community (laywomen who, prevented from joining convents, gathered together under their own authority, taking voluntary vows of chastity, poverty, and good works). Lal Ded (sometimes called Lalla), born in 14th-century Kashmir, left husband and family to become a mystic and wandering visionary, immersed in a sense of oneness between God and the phenomenal world. Emily Dickinson’s story needs no summary here.

Each woman’s poem holds the same underlying statement about spiritual maturity: the comprehension that spiritual fulfillment is not to be found outside the door of the self. Lal Ded’s and Hadewijch’s poems speak from widely divergent spiritual traditions in almost interchangeable language; Dickinson’s is a tiny narrative of the soul’s maturation; Rabi’a’s is couched—as so many poems about spiritual life are—in the language of lover and beloved. One defining marker of the numinous is that it is felt profoundly as “home.” The ninth-century Chinese Taoist, Yu Xuanji ends one poem, “Every place the wind carries me is home.” Emily Dickinson’s gravestone bears the brief epitaph: “Called home.”

After I published Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, people often asked me how the spiritual poetry of women differs from that of men. My answer: more imagery of houses. (The earlier poem here by Izumi Shikibu also uses the image of a house to speak of the experience of self and its boundaries.) To become the authority of one’s own household is no small thing in many women’s lives, even now, and the lives of earlier women poets are almost always marked by some fracturing with the expectations and course of ordinary life. The same is often true for men, of course, especially mystics.

Gate 6. Four Poets, One Theme: Abundance


That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter
in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous | ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rutpeel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed | dough, crúst, dust; stánches, stárches
Squadroned masks and manmarks | treadmire toil there
Foótfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, | nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Mán, how fást his fíredint, | his mark on mind, is gone!
Bóth are in an únfáthomable, áll is in an enórmous dárk
Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, diss�veral, a stár, | death blots black out; nor mark
Is ány of him at áll so stárk
But vastness blurs and time | beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A h�art’s-clarion! Awáy grief’s gásping, | joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fáll to the resíduary worm; | world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is |, since he was what I am, and
Thís Jack, jóke, poor pótsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (England, 1844-89)


The Treasure

Mountains, a moment’s earth-waves rising and hollowing; the earth too’s an
ephemerid; the stars—
Short-lived as grass the stars quicken in the nebula and dry in their summer,
they spiral
Blind up space, scattered black seeds of a future; nothing lives long, the whole
sky’s
Recurrences tick the seconds of the hours of the ages of the gulf before birth,
and the gulf
After death is like dated: to labor eighty years in a notch of eternity is nothing
too tiresome,
Enormous repose after, enormous repose before, the flash of activity.
Surely you never have dreamed the incredible depths were prologue and
epilogue merely
To the surface play in the sun, the instant of life, what is called life? I fancy
That silence is the thing, this noise a found word for it; interjection, a jump of
the breath at that silence;
Stars burn, grass grows, men breathe: as a man finding treasure says “Ah!”
but the treasure’s the essence:
Before the man spoke it was there, and after he has spoken he gathers it,
inexhaustible treasure.

Robinson Jeffers(1887-1962)

Robinson Jeffers, “The Treasure,” from The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers. Copyright 1938, 1966 by Donnan and Garth Jeffers. Reprinted with the permission of Stanford University Press.


Let me not thirst with this Hock at my Lip,
Nor beg, with domains in my pocket—

Emily Dickinson (c. 1881)

Emily Dickinson, “Let me not thirst . . . ,” (1772) from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson. Copyright 1945, 1951, 1955, 1979, 1983 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Reprinted with the permission of The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.


Of all that God has shown me
I can speak just the smallest word,
Not more than a honey bee
Takes on his foot
From an overspilling jar.

Mechtild of Magdeburg (13th c)

[translated by Jane Hirshfield]

Mechtild of Magdeburg, “Of all that God has shown me,” translated by Jane Hirshfield, from Women in Praise of the Sacred. Copyright 1994 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of Harper Collins.


A foundational spiritual experience is the sense of abundance. Hopkins’s and Jeffers’s poems describe an identical arc, first delineating the richness of all that passes—a passing we know ourselves part of—and then entering (one by Christian faith, the other by a less classifiable path) into a larger identification that transcends temporality and individual death. Dickinson’s briefer acknowledgment of the limitless is for me equally powerful. Her reticence refracts what is acknowledged overtly in the poem by Mechtild of Magdeburg (yet another extraordinary woman mystical poet emerging from the Beguines): the fullness of spiritual knowledge lies outside words. These four poems demonstrate the two techniques we have for signaling, in words, the presence of what is unsayable. One strategy entails a heaping up of speech-attempt that ends by bending language beyond its customary horizons, forms, and syntax; the other, a stripping down to absolute simplicity and the barest possible statement or allusion. Yet even the briefer poems are embodied, based in a language of profound and intimate physicality. As Paul Valery once said: “There is another world, and it is in this one.”

Gate 7. Longing


Among the fiercest of spiritual poems are those of despair, separation, and longing for what is known to be absent. Such poems stand as proof that the dark night of the soul is universal. Especially stripped of consolation are Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “dark sonnets,” of which this is one:

No Worst, There is None

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief-
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old ánvil wínce and síng —
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked “No ling-
Ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.”

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (England, 1844–89)


The longing for deepened connection may also be expressed as deftly and lightly as in this haiku by Basho:

In Kyoto,
hearing the cuckoo,
I long for Kyoto.

Basho (Japan, 1644-1694)

[translated by Jane Hirshfield]

Reprinted with the permission of Jane Hirshfield.

 

Gate 8. Spiritual Dialogue


Thought is deepened by conversation. The poetry of spiritual dialogue sometimes takes the form of the one-sided conversation we call prayer—when not reduced to convention, a communication of the most pressing kind. In other poems, a dramatized dialogue appears. The writer, of course, knows that he or she inhabits both sides, yet by entering into the language of interchange reaches for a knowledge undiscoverable in any other way.

The possible choices of poems that are also prayers are familiar and abundant. (Czeslaw Milosz’s “Veni Creator” is one in which a contemporary sensibility is notably present.) Poems holding a dialogue between the self and a personified spirituality are similarly found in almost every tradition. They are especially visible in the work of contemporary American poets. Perhaps this is because a poem of two voices offers, by its inherent structure, not only the record of a transformation, but some haven for skepticism and doubt, even as it apparently resolves them.

In the English-language tradition, a seed-poem for the strategy of spiritual conversation is George Herbert’s “Love.”

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
So I did sit and eat.

George Herbert (England, 1593-1633)

Another early example—though one whose foundation in dialogue is less often noted—is John Milton’s sonnet on his blindness, “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent,” a poem I first encountered in the eighth grade when a teacher wrote it, emphasizing its final line, on the blackboard.

When I Consider How my Light is Spent

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one Talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide;
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton (England, 1608-1674)


From among recent American poems using the rhetoric of spiritual dialogue, here are two.

Going Wrong

The fish are dreadful. They are brought up
the mountain in the dawn most days, beautiful
and alien and cold from night under the sea,
the grand rooms fading from their flat eyes.
Soft machinery of the dark, the man thinks,
washing them. “What can you know of my machinery!”
demands the Lord. Sure, the man says quietly
and cuts into them, laying back the dozen struts,
getting to the muck of something terrible.
The Lord insists: “You are the one who chooses
to live this way. I build cities where things
are human. I make Tuscany and you go to live
with rock and silence.” The man washes away
the blood and arranges the fish on a big plate.
Starts the onions in the hot olive oil and puts
in peppers. “You have lived all year without women.”
He takes out everything and puts in the fish.
“No one knows where you are. People forget you.
You are vain and stubborn.” The man slices
tomatoes and lemons. Takes out the fish
and scrambles eggs. I am not stubborn, he thinks,
laying all of it on the table in the courtyard
full of early sun, shadows of swallows
flying on the food. Not stubborn, just greedy.

Jack Gilbert

Jack Gilbert, “Going Wrong,” from The Great Fires. Copyright 1994 by Jack Gilbert. Reprinted with the permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.


Little Furnace

—Once more the poem woke me up,
the dark poem. I was ready for it;
he was sleeping,

and across the cabin, the small furnace
lit and re-lit itself—the flame a yellow
“tongue” again, the metal benignly
hard again;

and a thousand insects outside called
and made me nothing;
moonlight streamed inside as if it had been . . .

I looked around, I thought of the lower wisdom,
spirit held by matter:
Mary, white as a sand dollar,

and Christ, his sticky halo tilted—
oh, to get behind it!
The world had been created to comprehend itself

as matter: table, the torn
veils of spiders . . . Even consciousness—
missing my love—

was matter, the metal box of a furnace.
As the obligated flame, so burned my life . . .

What is the meaning of this suffering I asked
and the voice—not Christ but between us—
said you are the meaning.

No no, I replied, That
is the shape, what is the meaning.
You are the meaning, it said—

Brenda Hillman

Brenda Hillman, “Little Furnace,” from Bright Existence. Copyright 1993 by Brenda Hillman. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.


(The book-length polyphonic investigation of Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris also comes to mind here, as a spiritual dialogue undertaken on a larger plane. In it each poem is given a different voice: plant, human, or an unnamed, witnessing presence who speaks from the point of view of divinity and creator.)

Gate 9. Realization


Only a Borgesian library, commensurate with all existence, could complete this listing. It does though seem fitting to close with a few poems that point toward what at times might be called grace, awakening, or realization, and at other times escapes any description beyond Rilke’s: “Perhaps we are only here to say ‘house, bridge, fountain, gate.’”

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth (England, 1770-1850)


Untitled Shaman Song

The great sea
frees me, moves me,
as a strong river carries a weed.
Earth and her strong winds
move me, take me away,
and my soul is swept up in joy.

Uvavnuk (Iglulik Eskimo, 19th c)

[translated by Jane Hirshfield]

Uvavnuk, “Untitled Shaman Song,” translated by Jane Hirshfield, from Women in Praise of the Sacred. Copyright 1994 by Jane Hirshfield. Reprinted with the permission of Harper Collins.


To Live in the Mercy of God

To lie back under the tallest
oldest trees. How far the stems
rise, rise
before ribs of shelter
open!

To live in the mercy of God. The complete
sentence too adequate, has no give.
Awe, not comfort. Stone, elbows of
stony wood beneath lenient
moss bed.

And awe suddenly
passing beyond itself. Becomes
a form of comfort.
Becomes the steady
air you glide on, arms
stretched like the wings of flying foxes.
To hear the multiple silence
of trees, the rainy
forest depths of their listening.

To float, upheld,
as salt water
would hold you,
once you dared.

.

To live in the mercy of God.

To feel vibrate the enraptured

waterfall flinging itself
unabating down and down
to clenched fists of rock.
Swiftness of plunge,
hour after year after century,
O or Ah
uninterrupted, voice
many-stranded.
To breathe
spray. The smoke of it.
Arcs
of steelwhite foam, glissades
of fugitive jade barely perceptible. Such passion—
rage or joy?
Thus, not mild, not temperate,
God’s love for the world. Vast
flood of mercy
flung on resistance.

Denise Levertov

Denise Levertov, “To Live in the Mercy of God,” from Sands of the Well. Copyright 1996 by Denise Levertov. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions.


Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain

The birds have vanished down the sky.
Now the last cloud drains away.

We sit together, the mountain and me,
until only the mountain remains.

Li Po (China, 701-762)

[translated by Sam Hamill]

Li Po, “Zazen on Ching-t’ing Mountain,” translated by Sam Hamill, from Yellow River: Three Hundred Poems from the Chinese. Copyright 2000 by Sam Hamill. Reprinted with the permission of BOA Editions, Ltd.
Originally Published: June 28, 2006

COMMENTS (21)

On January 1, 2007 at 4:24pm James Walker wrote:
Today I listened to Mrs. Jane Hirshfeld on New Dimensions with Mr. Michael Toms and she mentioned something about Egyptian Love Poems and I was wondering if you or Mrs. Hirshfeld might be able to help me find some of those books, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE.

On March 15, 2007 at 1:28pm george lepkanich wrote:
I really enjoyed your selection of
spiritual poems.This is an area of
literature that has not been given its
due.
Your readers might enjoying the
poems of Thomas Merton,a cloistered
Trappist monk.His poetry is powerful!

On April 19, 2007 at 9:07am Pierre Boivin wrote:
To whom in the foundation would I submit a proposal for an itinerant poetry conference including possibly Jane Hirshfield, Tony Hoagland and Robert Bly. The theme would be the development, integration and congruence of the poet's business, personal and spiritual selves. Is there as usual format for such a proposal?

On December 19, 2007 at 7:16am Grieryfoerm wrote:
I’d prefer reading in my native language, because my knowledge of your languange is no so well. But it was interesting! Look for some my links:

On January 23, 2008 at 8:35am t wrote:
Thank you, Jane

On March 30, 2009 at 12:42am John Carmichael wrote:
I had the pleasure of seeing Ms.

Hirshfield, Coleman Barks and Robert

Bly on a panel in Santa Barbara in

2003-ish. It was extraordinary -- I

remember clearly Jane pointing out as

an aside that "you're not innocent if

you eat." It was not an indictment, not

a differentiation between eating cows

and soybeans, but a stark and

startling reminder to the audience,

who perceived themselves in the main

to be evolved sorts, that they are also

caught up in the great devouring. It

was a spontaneous moment that I will

not forget. It would seem now, in

2009, perhaps exists a wider and

more receptive audience for spiritual

poetry. Thank you, Jane. Here's my

favorite Basho poem:

The temple bell stops

but the sound keeps coming

out of the flowers

On May 23, 2009 at 3:17am Geraldine Green wrote:
I'm sitting here, staring out the window, looking at the mist on the fell tops and Bassenthwaite Lake looking back at me through the fresh Spring leaves, feeling profoundly moved by Jane Hirshfield's selection of spiritual in poetry and her comments - and the comments of readers.

Thank you. You've renewed my faith in poetry.

Geraldine Green, Poet
Keswick, Cumbria, UK

On September 10, 2009 at 4:39pm Nate Natesan wrote:
Self Introspection / Root cause analysis

1) Release me from the never-ending chain of desires
So I may live in peace with Absolute contentment
2) Free my mind from the darkness of lust
And fill my soul with the light of divine Love
3) Let me not live to eat & indulge in the unreal outer shelf
Eat but to live & realize my Real Inner Self
4) Let me not use words as missiles that injure
Use them but gentle sparingly for comfort & cure
5) Let me not forget my brittle dwelling of glass
So throw not I stones wherever I glance
6) Enlighten my mind with the knowledge of thee
And releasing the weight that scholarship brings
7) Detach my SELF from the bondage of my ego
So differentiated am I no more
8) Let good tidings of others forever bring joy unqualified
And merge my soul with that of one & all
9) Inspire in me the sense of surrender at thy Lotus Feet
So sorrow not I see, but your dance to stay on my feet
10) Let me not do any work for rewards & fame
But let every act be dedicated to thy Name
11) Help me eliminate the chatter in my mind
So I stay connected with thy Name on my mind
12) Help me to enrich & protect my subjective mind
To filter & deflect the objective mind
13) Help me to rid the fear so I am ever fearless
So I am true to Your Will & nature as a free Will
14) When you finally Grace me to thy shore
Let me please come with my friends Galore

By Nate Natesan

On March 14, 2012 at 4:09pm Teaundra L. Taylor wrote:
Spiritual Poetry: Nine Gates
I truly enjoyed the diverse spiritual collection of poems presented here. The poems were very spiritual and uplifting. The poems ranged from works written by Emily Dickinson, Izumi Shikibu, John Milton, Jack Gilbert, and many others. The Gate One poem entitled “Permeability” by Izumi Shikibu was very short but of a very significant meaning. The interpreted meaning of the poem was translated to “remind that if a house is walled so tightly that it lets in no wind or rain, if a life is walled so tightly that it lets in no pain, grief, anger, or longing, it will also be closed to the entrance of what is most wanted.” Of all the presented poems I enjoyed this poem and its meaning most, because although it’s a poem of spirituality it also speaks to its audience to shine light into that individual, it establishes a sense of hop and encouragement. Overall I enjoyed these collections of poems and poets, I was introduced to a new kind of poetry and I’m looking forward to learning of more styles as such.

On March 18, 2013 at 9:54am Bianca wrote:
I absolutely loved the article, and agree wholeheartedly with the second line in the first paragraph. For me, poetry is a way of breathing. From that breath it takes on a life of its own. Many of the poems featured in this article are beautiful and deep. They seem to take on a life of their own, and breathe fresh breath into the reader. They are inspiring to read, and speak to your soul. Some of these poems have inspired me to take a closer look at the world around me. Inspiration can be found in the smallest of things! Spirituality is a great form of inspiration, and you have captured that beautifully in your article. Well done!

On March 20, 2013 at 10:53pm Alisha wrote:
Spiritual Poetry by Jane Hirshfield
22 Poems
Those who are blessed to write poetry are introduced to a spiritual dimension that many won’t confess. It is the Voice of God that we sometimes can’t identify. However, we know it is not us, not our wisdom and not our knowledge. Poetry takes you beyond your knowledge and into a spirit realm that will and can give you insight. Many of the poems made me really think about how poetry is a part of burden release, emotional outlet and victorious accomplishments.
I really like the poem entitled, “The Great Yes”, by C.P. Cavafy. People make a choice of yes or no to a higher being. For me, Jesus Christ is my Lord and Saviour. It is that “right yes or no” that helps you endure and live with inner peace or a life of condemnation in our no. This is a rejection of Christ and it can eventually lead you to a life of despair. What truths can one share with such wisdom in this poem? My yes has allowed me to live out the promises of God. Thank you for the poetry and words of wisdom shared.
Alisha

On March 20, 2013 at 11:14pm Bobby Zamora wrote:
“Although the Wind”
Original Poet: Izumi Shikibu
Analysis by Jane Hirshfield

Jane Hirshfield’s analysis of the poem by Izumi
Shikibu is spiritually perceptive. She sees the house
that the poet writes about as one with ruins and senses
that the original poet feels trapped (“tight”) inside
the house, seeing the outside moonlight seeping in
through cracks in the roofs and walls, and feeling the
outside world through the same cracks. To be honest, as
a student of poetry, after analyzing this poem carefully
I considered the word “although” the most meaningful
word in the poem. The original poet uses the “although”,
as if he or she would put with anything; specifically
the harsh winds and the bothersome beams of moonlight
seeping in through the house’s cracks and holes—perhaps
the original poet meant that her life (ruined house) as
difficult and at times harsh, but she rolled with it,
regardless of any sudden hardships that came her way
(winds), or distant bright opportunities (seeping
moonlight) that seemed unreachable and sometimes teased
her. This is what I thought; Hirshfield has some very
interesting comments and interpretations about poem and
how it is a “permeable poem”.

--Bobby Zamora

On March 23, 2013 at 8:20pm Krystal wrote:
Spiritual poetry speaks to your inner soul, it gives a
voice to our human nature.We as humans battle within
ourselves everyday to make a right decision and to be
the best. I feel that while we are in this battle it is
always expected of us to fall sometimes, but its up to
you rather you want to get up and learn ways to stay up.
We gain wisdom from our mistakes of the past but if you
keep making the same mistake you have gained no wisdom
from the situation.This is the daily battle of your
spiritual self with your physical/natural self.

On October 29, 2013 at 2:21pm Janna wrote:
I think it would be wonderful if somebody put together a compilation of poems in the form of a meditation book. I feel that poems such as these deserve and require to be meditated on.

On October 30, 2013 at 9:24pm Keneatha Perteet wrote:
Thank you for this enlightening article. This article has been greatly appreciated.I thoroughly and enthusiastically enjoyed the poems included in this article. Being new to the world of poetry, this introduction to spiritual poetry has been both engaging as well as inspirational. In my opinion, Jane Hirshfield did a tremendous job of showing the various poetic connections between poetry, spirituality, inspiration and faith within a variety of religions. My favorite poem of her collection being:
“Of all that God has shown me
I can speak just the smallest word,
Not more than a honey bee
Takes on his foot
From an overspilling jar.

Mechtild of Magdeburg (13th c)”
My interpretation, “God has done so much in my life that words cannot describe; his presence in my life has been abundant; priceless”
Thanks for the reminder!

On October 30, 2013 at 10:16pm Vickie Badford wrote:
Honestly, when I saw the words "spiritual poetry",I didn't know what to expect. When I think of myself, I consider myself to be a spiritual person. When I bean to read the different poems, it made me feel as though I was reading some of my own thoughts and emotions. Honestly, I find some of the poems very intriguing. Some of the words and verses used were very deep.
"This poem reminds that if a house is walled so tightly that it lets in no wind or rain, if a life is walled so tightly that it lets in no pain, grief, anger, or longing, it will also be closed to the entrance of what is most wanted." When I read that, that sparked something within me. I know that my deep interpretation of poem are not so uncommon after all.

"For some people the day comes
when they have to declare the great Yes
or the great No. It’s clear at once who has the Yes
ready within him; and saying it,

he goes from honor to honor, strong in his conviction.
He who refuses does not repent. Asked again,
he’d still say no. Yet that no—the right no—
drags him down all his life." This poem make me thing about the young men of today's society. The ones going down the wrong path of life, but refuse to change because in their mind, that is all they know. Even they hit the bottom, like going to jail or prison, or even losing loved ones or everything they have, they will continue down the wrong path. Too scared and too ashamed to take say yes to the right path.

"O my Lord,
the stars glitter
and the eyes of men are closed.
Kings have locked their doors
and each lover is alone with his love.

Here, I am alone with you." This poem reminds me of myself. At the end of the night, when all of my children are asleep and the outside world is quiet, I feel like I'm the only one awake in the world. It's just me and God and I take this time to talk to Him; because in my reality, He's all that I've got.

On October 30, 2013 at 10:18pm Je'Taun wrote:
Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.

I had to read this one more than once to really grasp the full meaning of
it. It made me think of how we are put through so much in life but after
the storm, we still remain. Tattered and shaken but the soul shines
through the wreckage. Resilient and beautifully imperfect.

On October 30, 2013 at 11:44pm Tony Thornton wrote:
Spiritual Poetry by Jane Hirshfield
The author begins her dissertation by tracing “spirit,” to its Latin root spirare, breath. It is no coincidence that the Greek “pneuma,” and Hebrew "ruach", both share the same meanings. Breathe, inspire, fill with spirit. To live is to be inspired.
And when she mentions nine gates, one is reminded that the human and animal bodies also have nine gates, or openings. The eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and the organs of procreation and elimination. Now, it may not have been her intent to indicate this line of reasoning, but such is poetry. Subject to a diverse array of meanings, peculiar to the individual reader.
Our learned guide has cited 22 exquisite poems to illustrate her points (9). Twenty-two is the number of the mystic, Hebrew Alef-Bayt (otiyot, if you prefer), that it is said God employed in the creation of the world.
In my mind, the nine gates are the entrances to/exits from, the house of which Izumi Shikibu speaks. The house where the alchemist turns the proverbial lead into gold.
And if, as Issa says, a cricket sings, might he not also compose? Is he not then a poet? And if so, what other realities might not we share with the multitude of Nature's children?
And does not Dickinson “Affirm” the true nature of the house?
In Hopkins “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire,” it is as if he were conducting a class in the perfect utilization of prosody and alliteration, so rhapsodically sonorous are his rhymes. And lo and behold, while we are yet basking and bathing in the lush cornucopia of sounds, the poet has provided for our amusement, we are rewarded for our attention, with the noblest of sentiments hidden behind his words so fitly spoken.
The dissertation ends on a high note, climaxing with Li-po's, “Zazen on Ching -t'ing Mountain.” “We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains. Ms. Hirshfield's exposition reeks of the very spirit that she would have us “know.” How sublimely appropriate.

On March 18, 2014 at 1:24pm Nika Krzyzyk wrote:
This article about Spiritual and Enlightenment poetry really caught my attention because I like the concept of something such as poetry being able to cleanse your soul or help you find inner peace. The article mentions multiple gates that categorizes certain genres of Spiritual Poems by poets and some are of different languages and had to be translated.
Having read most of them and understanding that when translated to English at the end of each poem they all were coming to the same conclusion and had the same sense of peace once you read each one. It shows how diversity can become one in poetry and we can share and understand each other completely. These "gates" are selections of different points of spiritual life and they represent something different.
I loved the first poem in Gate 1: Permeability, It says:
Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.
This Japanese poem not only has such imagery to it, but carries a larger meaning of the Buddhist Awakening. Stating that you wind something too tight nothing will be able to get in, no light, no wind, nothing. In Buddhism it is about feeling and living, so being wound too tight one does not allow themselves to feel emotions and let anything in which is what we need in our human lives.

All the other gates and poems within them stated such good points and meanings that we can all learn to appreciate the nature of spiritual poetry. I find it as a therapy to help one open their eyes to more possibilities that they may have been blinded by.

On March 18, 2014 at 7:08pm Desireé Gaitan wrote:
I enjoyed the idea of breaking down spiritual
poetry into the 9 gates. It shows the connection
between the gates to heaven, or the stages to
nirvana or anything similar to the higher power that
God resides. I like how the poems go in depth with
the inner spirituality of the reader and perhaps even
the writer. What called to my attention was the
question about how the spiritual poetry of women
differs from men; Hirschfield’s answer was that
women had more imagery of houses. I was
wondering if maybe that was because of the
oppression of women being bound to only
housework and that being the reasoning behind it.
Because the house they lived in was all they really
knew so they found spiritual strength in that and
used it more in their poetry. My favorite gate is
Gate 8: Spiritual Dialogue, because as Hirschfield
explains it, it is mostly found in every tradition. I
think everyone, writer or not, imagines that when
they pray or meditate or just spend time alone they
are taking the time out to renew themselves
spiritually and hoping that a spiritual higher power
is listening to them and that they are having a
conversation with them. I think if you are a writer,
those moments carry a more visual and in depth
conversation and they are able to write it down and
explain it for those who want to connect more or for
those who have connected with their spirituality.
They sort of become the voice for those who want
to know more or who want to describe it but don’t
know how.

On March 19, 2014 at 6:34pm Jasmine McKinnon-Price wrote:
LIT111
Jasmine McKinnon-Price
DQwk10
3/19/14

Spiritual poetry is a staple in the poetic community because it helps readers look within themselves and address their own spiritual battles. The article does provide a decent amount of variations of spiritual poems that can reach many readers. The article states that the Latin root of spirit is “spirare”, to breathe. The beauty in the author’s desire to mention this is the catalyst in making the article more appealing to those who may not be deeply rooted or aware of their spirituality. It can make one truly understand the meaning of spirituality and how poetry can possibly be a beautifully simplistic key to unlocking the minds of many others. Mostly this article helps readers realize that the larger purpose of spiritual poetry is to enlarge the image or views. By making the deeper meanings the forefront we can come to respect the beauty in the words.

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 Jane  Hirshfield

Biography

Award-winning poet, essayist, and translator Jane Hirshfield is the author of several collections of verse, including Come, Thief (2011), After (2006), shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize, and Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001), a finalist for the National Book Critics Award, among others. Hirshfield has also translated the work of early women poets in collections such as The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi . . .

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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