Only Poetry

I’ve just been thinking it would be nice to have a thread dedicated to poetry that is moving, delighting, troubling, perplexing, or informing us at any particular moment in time. To start things off, here is one I recently came across via a post on Mastodon, and I just felt it was exquisite.

Wallace Stevens Comes Back to Read His Poems at the 92nd Street Y

By Mark Strand

It was a willfulness, an exertion, which verged
At once on fluency, that I should appear, as I did
Today, out of light-blue air, in a dark-blue suit.

In the time that I have been gone, I never outgrew
The sensation of being, nor for a moment forgot
Which world was mine. I clung to the merest whispers,

The faintest echoes that rose from below. For years,
I lay on a down-filled sofa, alone with my passions.
Bright refrains of endless azure circled

The hours, and filled me with pleasure, but the poems
I wrote were dulled by the sort of calm one feels
In the downward drift of sleep. They never became

The relics of light I wished them to be. In the days
When it could be said I was one of you, I loved
The beyond as somebody only can who is bound

By the earth. All that I wrote was a hymn to desire,
To the semblances and stages of bliss. My poems
Bore only a passing likeness to the life

Of which they were the miraculous part. But when
I was borne among the erasures of heaven I began
To believe that whatever was distant or puzzling could never

Be made too obvious. Of course I was wrong.
I’d allowed myself to be swayed by a vision of plainness
That would have all things turn into one idea.

So much for the past. May the worst of it fall by the wayside
Tonight. May other more intricate powers convene.
May the words that I speak be the ones you hear.

via The New Yorker

My comments

Poetry is so often a conversation with the dead. I love how this poem acts as a conjuration—as it were, a channeling—as if it was always more natural for Stevens to speak to us from the “other side” than from this one.

I especially love the phrase “relics of light” to describe the poems Wallace would wish to write from his empyrean abode. The last line is perfection: “May the words that I speak be the ones you hear.”

Because of course, there are always issues of translation, interpretation, and signal-fidelity when transmitting between worlds, dimensions, or minds. Are the words (we think) we speak ever the ones that others hear?

Wonderful irony that Strand’s poem itself had to come back to us from the dead.


I read the Poem Out Loud, Sound of Voice brings the words Vibrations
into different Receptivity ( Not Better,for the silent reading there is a
Voice of different Heart Station Moving Within!)…

Here is a song that is a Poem & I also went Out Loud with my Own Voice; the Felt Difference was a Metanoia-shift in Depth.


Roadsinger came to town, long cape and hat
People stood and stared then closed their doors as he passed
He strolled the empty street, kids banged on tin cans
Then the panting dogs began to bark as the Roadsinger sang

Where do you go, where do you go, when hearts are closed?
When a friend becomes a stranger, nobody wants to know

Where do you go, where do you go, when the world turns dark?
And the light of truth is blown out and the roads are blocked?

He stopped by a stall, between the barrels and sacks
A child’s face peeped out and gave a smile and ran back
Behind a misty glass, on a windowpane
A little finger drew a perfect heart and a name

Where do you go, where do you go, in a world filled with fright?
Only a song to warm you through the night

Where do you go, where do you go, after lies are told?
And the light of truth is blown out and the night is cold?

Roadsinger rode on to another land
Though the people spoke a different tongue it understand
They showed him how to share and took him by the hand
Showed him the path to Heaven through the desert sand

Where do you go, where do you go, to find happiness
In a world filled with hatred, cheers?
Where do you go, where do you go, if no one cares?
And everybody’s lost looking for theirs?



I love that idea and would love it even more if we could start a reading group where we read poems to each other, reading each one twice and then sit with them and reflect…


@Michael_Stumpf, beautiful lyrics. They sound just like the Blues… and I can relate.

And @andreavdl, you read my mind… I have been thinking that after Savitri, and after we’ve gotten some of the cooperative structures that I’m needing in place, when I have a little more room in my schedule, I would love to do just that.

Here’s another (choose your own adventure) by one of my favorite contemporary poets:

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I love Laili Long Soldier. Are you familiar with Whereas…

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I am! And I have been reading it, off an on. It would be nice to read some of her poems together.

Here’s a stunning piece, exquisitely rendered and performed, which I came across recently and keep wanting to re-listen to.

This was composed nearly 4000 years ago! Surely, the translation makes it accessible to us moderns, but the shape of the dialogue between the man and his soul might as well be timeless…

Talking with the Soul: A Dialogue about Life and Death

In this Ancient Egyptian poem, a man talks with his own soul about whether it is better to live or die. Read by Barbara Ewing. Translated by Richard Bruce Parkinson.

The poem is known from a single copy, c. 1800 BC, whose beginning is lost. It is a dialogue between a man and his own soul, about the nature of death: the man despairs at life and longs for death, while his soul urges him to remember death’s horror. As they quarrel, life and death are interwoven, and the dialogue moves to a lyrical compromise. The poem ends as they agree to face life and death together.

An annotated translation is in The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems 1940–1640 BC (Oxford World’s Classics 1998).

via the Oxford University podcast series on Ancient Egyptian Poetry

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Here’s my favourite poem by Muhyiddin Ibn al Arabi, translated by Osman Yahya
From ‘Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn al Arabi’ by Henri Corbin © 1969 by Princeton University Press:

Listen, 0 dearly beloved!
I am the reality of the world, the center of the circumference,
I am the parts and the whole.
I am the will established between Heaven and Earth,
I have created perception in you only in order to be the object of my perception.

If then you perceive me, you perceive yourself.
But you cannot perceive me through yourself.
It is through my eyes that you see me and see yourself, Through your eyes you cannot see me.

Dearly beloved!
I have called you so often and you have not heard me;
I have shown my self to you so often and you have not seen me.
I have made myself fragrance so often, and you have not smelled me, Savorous food, and you have not tasted me.
Why can you not reach me through the object you touch
Or breathe me through sweet perfumes?
Why do you not see me? Why do you not hear me?
Why? Why? Why?

For you my delights surpass all other delights,
And the pleasure I procure you surpasses all other pleasures. For you I am preferable to all other good things,
I am Beauty, I am Grace.
Love me, love me alone.
Love yourself in me, in me alone.
Attach yourself to me,
No one is more inward than I.
Others love you for their own sakes,
I love you for yourself.
And you, you flee from me.

Dearly beloved!
You cannot treat me fairly,
For if you approach me,
It is because I have approached you.

I am nearer to you than yourself, Than your soul, than your breath.

Who among creatures
Would treat you as I do?
I am jealous of you over you,
I want you to belong to no other, Not even to yourself.
Be mine, be for me as you are in me, Though you are not even aware of it.

Dearly beloved!
Let us go toward Union.
And if we find the road
That leads to separation,
We will destroy separation.
Let us go hand in hand.
Let us enter the presence of Truth
Let it be our judge
And imprint its seal upon our union For ever.


Here’s a poem of mine, inspired by Ibn al Arabi’s teachings:

Song of the sea snail.

Now and then

A passer by

May hear my song

Above the pounding of the waves.

Or he may read my words

Painstakingly penned

As I drag my carapace across a rock,

Gnawing lichen in a pool

Revealed at ebb tide.

The hymn of a gastropod mollusc

Celebrating the glorious truth of her being

Singing fortissimo

Her ballad of love and praise.

I write my song

Clearly on the stone

For those with eyes to see

For those with minds to understand

For those with hearts to feel the Truth

Manifest in my being and

Scrawled in the calligraphy

Of a crustacean.

My song is in my mother tongue

And can only be known

By one versed

In the discourse of the voiceless.

My song is simple

Because I am simple.

I need no complex language

To sing my truth

No adjectives or adverbs

No alliteration,

No similes or rhyme

I speak directly to your being

I use the voice God gave me

To sing His praise.

Only the simple

Can hear my speech,

Read my script,

Recognise their true self,

And know the truth of my song.

This song is for you

It matters not

Whether you can read it,

Whether you can see it,

Whether you can hear it.

This is my work

This is my praise

This is my thanks.

If you find my drowned words

In a pool somewhere

Please pass them on.

I ask no thanks

Please don’t disturb.

This work takes all my force

And focus.

Now but a few short days remain

To complete my song

And teach it to my heirs

Before my time here ends

And my soft naked body

Leaves behind its empty shell.


I really like these poems, @Muhyiddin! Thank you for sharing them. The full-blown mysticism and Ultimate Identity expressed in Muhyiddin Ibn al Arabi’s poem is outstanding, but I also really appreciate the subtle image you create, and the language you give, to the voiceless sea snail in your own poem.

I notice that the form of the poem even has a kind of spiraling structure, in its circlings and repetitions. So beautiful the way you bring the spiritual longing of the sea snail to life in your words. The way you end the poem is especially exquisite, tinged with sadness in the most beautiful way. I only want to give the snail the space it needs to complete its magnificent labor!

As poets, it seems that our words are ultimately a kind of empty shell, from which the life must inevitably pass. Yet the rippling echo of our song can continue to reverberate, if we’ve done the painstaking work of remaining true to our calling.

@Ariadne and @andreavdl, I believe you may especially appreciate these poems.


Thank you for your kind words @madrush . Not for nothing is Ibn al Arabi known as “The Greatest Master.” His teachings and insights are so very vast that it’s difficult to know quite where to start. This particular poem encompasses a large part of the core of his teachings in a very simple direct manner.

As for my poem, like so much poetry it almost wrote itself, I can’t really claim any credit other than being there to capture it when it appeared.


Yes, and I love your poetry outloud group idea, Andrea! Let’s see, can we can conjure it into being??