National Poetry Month

April, comes she will,
When streams are ripe and swelled with rain . . .

– Paul Simon

One of the nice things about a blog is that regardless of whether you have a theme or not, you can blog about pretty much anything you want. While I try to stay focused on Buddhism here, occasionally I do veer off in other directions, and one of them is often poetry. But, you see, I really don’t believe poetry is that far off the subject, but I am getting ahead of myself.

It’s the first day of April and sorry, no April Fools joke from me. I’d rather tell you that it’s National Poetry Month. Had I remembered that, and thought ahead, I might have saved a few of last month’s posts for this month. But I didn’t, so here in April you can expect a bit more on poetry.

Each April since 1996 the Academy of American Poets sponsors National Poetry Month when “publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of businesses and non-profit organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.”

You can head over to poets.org and see what events and programs they have lined up. As I said above, I plan to celebrate with a few more poetry posts than usual, highlighting “spiritual” poetry.

Since the title of this blog, The Endless Further, comes from a phrase coined by a great poet, I think it is fitting to kick off National Poetry Month with that poet, Rabindranath Tagore.

Now I can tell you that just as I consider most poetry to be romantic, I feel that nearly all poetry is spiritual. Now, when I make these sorts of remarks, I am using the key words in a very broad sense and have in mind the salient and universal qualities of “romantic” and “spiritual.” I have a feeling that Tagore would understand what I mean.

In his introduction to Tagore’s Gitanjali or ‘Song Offerings’, W. B. Yeats, not a bad poet himself, noted that Tagore sprang from a “tradition, where poetry and religion are the same thing, [passed] through the centuries, gathering from learned and unlearned metaphor and emotion, and carried back again to the multitude the thought of the scholar and of the noble.”

Really, everything is spiritual, especially as Buddhism views it, since everything we think, see, say and do involves our mind and that is where Buddhists find spirituality. Chih-i taught that a single thought moment can permeate the universe and that all phenomena in the universe in contained within that thought moment.

Tagore put it this way:

The same stream of life that runs through
my veins night and day runs through
the world and dances in rhythmic
measures.

It is the same life that shoots in joy
through the dust of the earth in
numberless blades of grass and breaks
into tumultuous waves of leaves and
flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the
ocean-cradle of birth and of death,
in ebb and flow.

I feel my limbs are made glorious by the
touch of this world of life. And my pride
is from the life-throb of ages dancing
in my blood this moment.

In this same vein, Joseph Campbell, in a lecture from 1968, “The Inspiration of Oriental Art” (Myths To Live By), said,

Listen to the sound of the city. Listen to the sound of your neighbor’s voice, or of the wild geese honking skyward. Listen to any sound or silence at all without interpreting it, and the Anahata will be heard of the Void that is the ground of being, and the world that is the body of being, the Silence and the Syllable. Moreover, when once this sound has been “heard,” as it were, as the sound and being of one’s own heart and of all life, one is stilled and brought to peace; there is no need to quest any more, for it is here, it is there, it is everywhere. And the high function of Oriental art is to make known that this truly is so; or, as our Western poet Gerhart Hauptmann has said of the aim of all true poetry: “to let the Word be heard resounding behind words.” The mystic Meister Eckhart expressed the same thought in theological terms when he told his congregation, “Any flea as it is in God is nobler than the highest of the angels in himself. Things in God are all the same: they are God Himself.”

This should give you an idea of what I mean when I say all poetry is spiritual in one way or another. Poetry finds the sacred in the profane, and vice versa. It sees “a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower.” To me, Ginsberg’s Howl is as spiritual as anything Blake wrote. And cumming’s “in Just-spring, when the world is mud-luscious” is just as religious and transcendent as any poetry found in the sutras.

But, enough. Let’s get with the poetry. Most of Tagore’s poem were actually songs, meant to be sung. Here are two more from Gitanjali. Perhaps you will be familiar with them, and perhaps you will enjoying reading them once again, or for the first time.

Tagore

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers
But to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain
But for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not look for allies in life’s battlefield
But to my own strength.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved
But hope for patience to win my freedom.
Sarvamangalam! Blessings to all!

 

The time that my journey takes is long
and the way of it long.
I came out on the chariot of the first gleam of light,
and pursued my voyage through the wildernesses of worlds
leaving my track on many a star and planet.

It is the most distant course that comes nearest to thyself,
and that training is the most intricate which leads
to the utter simplicity of a tune.

The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own,
and one has to wander through all the outer worlds
to reach the innermost shrine at the end.

My eyes strayed far and wide
before I shut them and said `Here art thou!’

The question and the cry `Oh, where?’ melt
into tears of a thousand streams
and deluge the world with the flood of the assurance `I am!’

 

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