Poem for a Sunday Morning

Throw Yourself Like Seed
{Miguel de Unamuno}

Shake off this sadness, and recover your spirit;
Sluggish you will never see the wheel of fate
That brushes your heel as it turns going by,
The man who wants to live is the man in whom life is abundant.

Now you are only giving food to that final pain
Which is slowly winding you in the nets of death,
But to live is to work, and the only thing which lasts
Is the work; start there, turn to the work.

Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field,
Don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death,
And do not let the past weigh down your motion.

Leave what’s alive in the furrow, what’s dead in yourself,
For life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;
From your work you will be able one day to gather yourself.

dandelion nature sunlight

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

The Panther
{Rainer Maria Rilke}

His vision, from the constantly passing bars,
has grown so weary that it cannot hold anything else.
It seems to him there are a thousand bars;
and behind the bars, no world.
As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,
the movement of his powerful soft strides
is like a ritual dance around a center
in which a mighty will stands paralyzed.
Only at times, the curtain of the pupils lifts, quietly — .
An image enters in,
rushes down through the tensed, arrested muscles,
plunges into the heart and is gone.

{translation by Stephen Mitchell}


abus brand close up closed

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Shipwreck
{Kay Ryan}

I was shipwrecked beneath a stormless sky 
in a sea shallow enough to stand up in.

Fernando Pessoa

They’re laughable 
when we get there—
the ultimate articulations 
of despair: trapped 
in a tub filling with 
our own tears; strapped
to a breadstick mast
a mouse could chew 
down; hopping around 
the house in paper shackles
wrist and ankle. It’s
always stagey. Being
lost is just one’s fancy—
some cloth, some paste—
the essence of flimsy. 
Therefore we 
double don’t know 
why we don’t take off
the Crusoe rags, step
off the island, bow 
from the waist, accept 
your kudos.


ship wreckage

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Poem for a Sunday Morning

Scaffolding
{Seamus Heaney, 1939-2013}

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.


red brick wall

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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

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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

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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

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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.
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