Poem for a Sunday Morning

I Happened To Be Standing
{Mary Oliver}

I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance.  A condition I can’t really
call being alive.
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep.  Maybe not.

While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why.  And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t.  That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.


selective focus photo of house wren perched on white birdhouse

Photo by Tom Mann on Pexels.com

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Among the Intellectuals

They were a restless tribe.
They did not sit in sunlight, eating grapes together in the afternoon.

Cloud-watching among them was considered a disgusting waste of time.

They passed the days in an activity they called “thought-provoking,”
as if thought were an animal, and they used long sticks

to poke through the bars of its cage,
tormenting and arousing thinking into strange behaviors.

This was their religion.
That and the light shining through the stained-glass ancestors.

They preferred the name of the tree
to the taste of the apple.

I was young and I wanted to prove myself,

but the words I learned from them transmuted me.
By the time I noticed, the change had already occurred.

It is impossible to say if this was bad.

Inevitably, you find out you are lost, really lost;
blind, really blind;
stupid, really stupid;
dry, really dry;
hungry, really hungry;
and you go on from there.

But then you also find
you can’t stop thinking, thinking, thinking;

tormenting, and talking to yourself.

—Tony Hoagland (1953-2018)


close up photography of white flowers

Photo by Hu00e4li Js on Pexels.com

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Some poems lodge themselves within us and at the right moment, given the smallest opening, emerge to break down the last few bricks that enclose revelation.

This is one of those poems for me. I have heard David Whyte recite it many times, always commenting on how totally un-Irish it is for an Irish poet to not only put aside talk of death but to simultaneously affirm the beautiful mystery and possibility of life. 

When the poem “showed up” for me earlier this week it came first as a passing thought, just hinting at its intention to arrive at my door. The next morning, it burst through that door as both punctuation and affirmation in the midst of a conversation about the gift of an open heart.

It felt as if the poem itself came along beside me, wrapped an arm around my shoulder and said, “Yes, David, everything is going to be all right.”

This is why I read and write poetry, because it is “language against which we have no defenses.” (David Whyte)


Everything is Going to Be All Right
{Derek Mahon}

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart;
the sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.


photo of clouds in a blue sky

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Beannacht
{John O’Donohue}
On the day when
The weight deadens
On your shoulders
And you stumble,
May the clay dance
To balance you.
And when your eyes
Freeze behind
The grey window
And the ghost of loss
Gets into you,
May a flock of colours,
Indigo, red, green
And azure blue,
Come to awaken in you
A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
In the currach of thought
And a stain of ocean
Blackens beneath you,
May there come across the waters
A path of yellow moonlight
To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
May the clarity of light be yours,
May the fluency of the ocean be yours,
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
Wind work these words
Of love around you,
An invisible cloak
To mind your life.

Poem for a Sunday Morning

The Peace of Wild Things
{Wendell Berry}

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

A Few Words on the Soul

{Wisława Szymborska}

We have a soul at times.
No one’s got it non-stop,
for keeps.

Day after day,
year after year
may pass without it.

Sometimes
it will settle for awhile
only in childhood’s fears and raptures.
Sometimes only in astonishment
that we are old.

It rarely lends a hand
in uphill tasks,
like moving furniture,
or lifting luggage,
or going miles in shoes that pinch.

It usually steps out
whenever meat needs chopping
or forms have to be filled.

For every thousand conversations
it participates in one,
if even that,
since it prefers silence.

Just when our body goes from ache to pain,
it slips off-duty.

It’s picky:
it doesn’t like seeing us in crowds,
our hustling for a dubious advantage
and creaky machinations make it sick.

Joy and sorrow
aren’t two different feelings for it.
It attends us
only when the two are joined.

We can count on it
when we’re sure of nothing
and curious about everything.

Among the material objects
it favors clocks with pendulums
and mirrors, which keep on working
even when no one is looking.

It won’t say where it comes from
or when it’s taking off again,
though it’s clearly expecting such questions.

We need it
but apparently
it needs us
for some reason too.


Translated from the Polish by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanagh

Poem for a Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning Moments
{Patricia Gale}

Gently my eyes open and I whispered
Thank you for I can see

My feet moving slowly one in front of the other
Though my body stiff from the labor of work
I replied… thank you for your mercy

My mind recoiling the tasks that require my attention
My heart seems to fill with the beauty of the day
And I praise you for what you have given me

The house is silent
No words are heard
Little feet that once sounded like an army
Now long gone and marching to independence and their own battles
I wipe a crystal tear and thank you for the love you placed within my life

In the coolness of an autumn’s morn
I sit a listen to the Sunday morning symphony
A gift from You created by your loving hands
I hear a soft gentle voice…” to everything there is a season and by My grace there is a reason”
Admiration and thankfulness fill my soul
My lips quiver with soft words, I am unworthy, but yet You love me
Thank you Father for this day


 

Poem for a Sunday Morning

The fine people at the Apple Corporation decided to include in a recent software update a feature for tracking my screen time.

Each week I receive a notification that tells me the average amount of time I am on my phone each day and the percentage increase or decrease from the previous week.

I did not request this feature but I also haven’t gotten around to disabling it. The times it reports a decrease in my screen time give me a shot of satisfaction and I’m motivated to turn that into a trend.

This week’s poem, by Wendell Berry, underscores just how important that is, not just for an artistic or creative life, but for a fully realized human life.


HOW TO BE A POET
(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill — more of each
than you have — inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

{Wendell Berry}

[HT to Brainpickings]


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.