Posts Tagged ‘poem’

We are but one heart 
If you should meet the Buddha
Bow to your true self

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I want to maintain a habit of posting more often, so I’ve sat down a few times today to write about a dream I had last night.  Other things came up (more of what kinda ticked me off a little yesterday), so that didn’t happen.

So instead I’d like to share here my thoughts I’d had while visiting The Dad Poet, specifically his post A Thursday Love Poem, “The Four Moon Planet,” by Billy Collins.  The topic came up about poets such as Robert Frost, who are often characterized as “simple” and “accessible” as though those were bad things for a poet to be.  Personally, I think those are incredibly difficult things for a poet who wishes to convey truths and meanings, especially since so many people will choose not to look for such treasures in homespun verse.

I can’t think of better phrasing for what else I want to say, so I’ll just copy/paste my comment here:

I think the issue so many people have with Frost is that so many of us “do poetry”. We like to get deep into it, deconstruct obscure pieces of a line, and marvel at the twists and turns in complex imagery and turns of phrase. All one may do with Robert Frost is follow his simple thread, and if one isn’t careful, come to the end of it and find just one simple little knot that isn’t doing anything all that special.

And that right there is the whole point, to me, for many of the reasons you’ve put in your post and also your comment above. Robert Frost puts on this “just a country poet puttin’ stuff down plain” personae in his poetry as well, but I’ve known quite a few country poets so I know the gig. It’s the same gig as the wandering taoist monk: you put stuff out there plainly and matter-of-fact because that’s what the world is, that’s where you find those “hidden” and deep meanings that tug in your gut.

I guess what I’m saying is… Too many people use poetry as an exercise in scanning the stars for hidden constellations, while the real diamonds are down in the grubby ole earth. I like best the poem that sits down in the dirt with me and draws pictures with one dusty finger.


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The apple is red and crisp
Promising to lift my malaise
I do not feel I am hungry
Yet I know I should eat

I think of the apple’s myth
Granting us the first bite of knowledge
I do not feel wisdom’s lacking
And I know that means it is

For I know we are in the dark
When we most believe we can see
For though the bite can be bitter
The fruit of knowledge must be consumed

Beware the cries of the blinded
Who call Evil to those who would Know
For a mind and heart that is open
They alone can know and choose Good

So perhaps we should eat
When we do not feel hungry
Let wisdom heal and lift our malaise
The apple is red and crisp

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The courage to face your mistakes

As more people start to cast an eye to my work, I find myself wondering again just how much it will need to improve based on their feedback. I’m trying to remember that it’s better to do your best and make mistakes, than to hold yourself back in fear.

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Happy New Year!

May the new year bring joy
to you and your crew
and remain bright and happy
when no longer new

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According to Wikipedia, Matsuo Basho was the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan. That’s pretty impressive, since the Edo period is listed as going from 1603 to 1868, whereas Basho was only around from 1644 to 1694. He was a famous haiku poet and teacher at the time, but preferred to wander the countryside for inspiration rather than languish in high society.

I think it’s because of his preference for going out and experiencing life that makes him so vibrant and accessible… and funny. He’s another one of my favorite examples of a “stodgy and staid” topic like “respectable poetry” having room for rascals. So in honor of Basho and a very wild week, I want to share a translation of one of his poems (I don’t know who translated it):

Eaten alive by
lice and fleas — now the horse
beside my pillow pees

– Basho

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I was talking the other day about the difference between Hermit Zen versus Living Zen, I think I’ll call them. While the latter is about trying to better live our lives in this world, the former is more about escaping the world entirely. After all, one might say, if the world is such a grand scam of an illusion, the best thing one could do is to ignore it and not get caught up.

That’s all on my mind again, and I truly do understand the draw of Hermit Zen. The idea of chucking it all and going to live in the mountains can be very appealing. So much of the philosophical and mystical texts focus on the ‘unreality’ of our reality that it can get to seeming like there’s no point to any of it. So yeah, I do get where Hermit Zenners come from. Except for the fact that the world remains so very fun and beautiful that it’d be a real shame to waste it.

So I’m more of the approach of Ikkyu, our old wild-spirited zen poet friend. He saw the dangers of getting so wrapped up in the idea of enlightenment that you lose sight of the great, fun-filled life of enjoying enlightenment. See through the fleetingness of it all, yeah, but lifting those gloom-tinted glasses shows me not a graveyard of crumbling dust, but a garden of blooming beauty.

So here’s a poem by Ikkyu about a kind of study meditation I can enjoy…

A Fisherman

Studying texts and stiff meditation can make you lose your Original Mind.
A solitary tune by a fisherman, though, can be an invaluable treasure.
Dusk rain on the river, the moon peeking in and out of the clouds;
Elegant beyond words, he chants his songs night after night.

Ikkyu (1394-1481)

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I very nearly forgot to have a thought again today! It’s been headache level of busy, and times like that I often don’t think to take a moment and think. Then just now I came across a line from a poem, which says it all:


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

– William Henry Davies

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Shall Good

Shall, should, shouldn’t and shan’t.
We’d choose well where we wouldn’t,
yet it seems that we can’t,
for we shall where we shouldn’t,
and shan’t where we should
– still –
fail to try,
and the good will be even more scant.

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I’ve been thinking a bit about opportunity and how it’ll sneak up on us, sometimes in disguise. And how much easier life might be if we could more clearly recognize truly marvellous opportunities for what they are, and see right through the ones that are more trouble than they’re worth.

I was hoping to have some trick or insight on how to do that, but I’m still working on it. I can, however, share this poem that I think illustrates how I’ve felt:

It is too clear and so it is hard to see.
A dunce once searched for a fire with a
lighted lantern.
Had he known what fire was,
He could have cooked his rice much sooner.

– Joshu Washes the Bowl, The Gateless Gate #7
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, p. 176
Translated by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki

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