It feels like every time Krista Tippett interviews a poet for On Being, I find myself requesting another book or three from the library. This week was no exception, and I have been happily transported to the world of Naomi Shihab Nye.
The whole episode is lovely, but I highly recommend listening to her tell the story of her poem “Kindness” and then read it, beginning at about 23:10 in the recording here.
Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
The current quote on our living room chalkboard, to which I just keep thinking, “YES” (from the poem I Follow Barefoot by Hafiz)
Next in my very occasional poetry series… I came across the final stanzas of Ithaka by C.P. Cavafy in another book recently and was intrigued enough to seek out the rest of the poem. It’s been lodged in my mind ever since.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
Full text here.
Number three in my slow but ongoing quest to commit poetry to memory. This one is from Mary Oliver, which is little surprise, but it’s not a poem that I was familiar with. I was flipping through a couple books, looking for something to jump out, and those final lines caught me. I’m still really enjoying the process, and have found myself reciting poetry aloud when I’m alone in the car or going over lines in my head while running. I love how accessible it can be.
If you’re a Mary Oliver fan, her recent interview here was a great listen.
I’m heading out tomorrow for a ten-day retreat so enjoy the remainder of March. I look forward to catching up when I return.
The most recent poem from my little project to commit more to memory. In this case, words written by a twelfth century Chinese poet. I was introduced to this particular poem by a meditation teacher, but sought out the collection it is from (glory to the wonders of interlibrary loan). I enjoyed reading it cover to cover for its timeless and utterly accessible nature; here are a couple more gems:
At An-Le Temple
Who says that poets love the mountains?
Mountains, mountains – I’m tired of writing about them!
Thousands of peaks and thousands of ranges seem to throw themselves at me.
I have to rest three hours for each hour of climbing.
When your desk is piled high, where can you put another book?
When your stomach is full, how can you go on eating?
I have no use for more green slopes and mountain mists –
I’ll wrap them in a package and send them to my city friends.
On a Portrait of Myself
The pure wind makes me chant poems.
The bright moon urges me to drink.
Intoxicated, I fall among the flowers,
Heaven my blanket, earth my pillow.
I came home from my retreat last month inspired to commit more words, and specifically poetry, to memory. This brief favorite from Wendell Berry was the first one I tackled. I find I do need to speak the words to find their rhythm, but the act of writing them out makes the strongest imprint on my mind.