Poetry: Word Atoms Emitting Light

Since it is now April, that means it is National Poetry Month, sponsored by Academy of American Poets who began this yearly celebration of poetry in 1996. It is the largest literary celebration in the world, with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, poets and poetry lovers joining together to laud and bring attention to this sublime form of literature.

NPM15_ForSite_FINAL_FINALEach year, the Academy of American Poets, along with award-winning designer Chip Kidd, commission a poster in celebration of National Poetry Month. This year’s poster (on the left) was designed by Roz Chast , a New Yorker cartoonist and 2014 National Book Award finalist. It’s based on a line of poetry from Mark Strand’s “Eating Poetry.”

T. S. Eliot said, “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” That is not only a good description of poetry, but to my mind, it also describes Buddha-dharma. Poetry has been an integral part of Buddhist literature, many of the sutras have large sections of text composed in verse, and Buddhist poetry is nearly a genre of its own. So it seems fitting for a Buddhist blog to join the National Poetry Month celebration.  And, as in previous years, I will feature poetry in many of this month’s posts.

Today, something from Jack Kerouac, whom many people consider a Buddhist writer, although his interest in Buddhism lasted only a few years, from 1953-57. During that time, he was, in his own uniquely Beat fashion, a rather dedicated Buddhist, and a number of his novels, particularly The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels, are infused with Buddhist philosophy.

I don’t recall who it was, but one of his fellow Beats once suggested to Kerouac that he should write his own sutra. And so, he did. The Scripture of the Golden Eternity contains 66 prose poems and was first published in 1960. Here is perhaps the most famous of those poems:

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Stare deep into the world before you as if it were the void: innumerable holy ghosts, buddhies, and savior gods there hide, smiling. All the atoms emitting light inside wavehood, there is no personal separation of any of it. A hummingbird can come into a house and a hawk will not: so rest and be assured. While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light.

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