Here are a few poems connected to this post on impermanence which I offer in the hope that one of these will speak to you, perhaps even to the point where you decide to learn it by heart and use it as a kind of prayer when feeling lost or upset.

DEATH WHISPERS

Death whispers
In my ear:
Live now,
For I am coming.

-Virgil

 

ANTI-AMBITION ODE

Is the idea to make a labyrinth
of the mind bigger? What’s the matter?
You still come out of the womb-dark
into the sneering court of the sun
and don’t know which turn to take.
So what? You’re made of twigs anyway.
You were on an errand but never came back,
spent too long poking something with a stick.
Was it dead or never alive?
Invisibility will slow down soon enough
for you to catch up and pull it over yourself.
No one knows what color the first hyena’s tongue
to reach you will be.
Or the vultures who are slow, careful unspellers.
So go ahead, become an expert in sleep or not,
either way you can live in a rose or smoke
only so long.
You will still be left off the list.
You will still be rain, blurry as a mouse.

-Dean Young

 

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
They may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door with kindness,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi

 

PRIMARY WONDER

Hours pass where I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; caps and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that
moment by moment it continues to be
sustained.

-Denise Levertov

 

A HINDU TO HIS BODY

Dear pursuing presence,
dear body: you brought me
curled in womb and memory.

Gave me fingers to clutch
at grace, at malice; and ruffle
someone else’s hair; to fold a man’s
shadow back on his world;
to hold in the dark of the eye
through a winter and a fear
the poise, the shape of a breast;
a pear’s silence, in the calyx
and the noise of a childish fist.

You brought me: do not leave me
behind. When you leave all else,
my garrulous face, my unkissed
alien mind, when you muffle
and put away my pulse

to rise in the sap of trees
let me go with you and feel the weight
of honey-hives in my branching
and the burlap weave of weaver-birds
in my hair.

-A. K. Ramanujan

 

AFTERNOON

When I was about to die
my body lit up
like when I leave my house
without my wallet.

What am I missing? I ask
patting my chest
pocket.

And I am missing everything living
that won’t come with me
into this sunny afternoon

—my body lights up for life
like all the wishes being granted in a fountain
at the same instant—
all the coins burning the fountain dry—

and I give my breath
to a small bird-shaped pipe.

In the distance, behind several voices
haggling, I hear a sound like heads
clicking together. Like a game of pool,
played with people by machines.

-Max Ritvo

 

HARD TO FACE

Death is hard to face
birth too
in between
decomposition.

Lousy to say the least.

Ill health anxiety & frustration all suck
as does despair disappointment humiliation.

Each and every hard to face moment is by
definition difficult including this one where
something pleasant is coming to an end and that
one where the unpleasant is starting up again.

Not getting what we want or need or had or hope
to have or hold onto & keep is hard to face.

In fact whichever way we get to inhabit
this being human takes us closer to the truth

our bodies sensations feelings
thoughts moods beliefs

are doors through which we cannot help but pass
leading into rooms where once again we find ourselves
bearing all of this with a sometimes heavy heart
whatever it is we feel right now that feels so very hard.

-Siddhārtha Gautama

 

ALL IS ARDOUR

All is ardour burning & blaze
Eye is ardour ear is ardour
nose lips tongue ardour
mind ardour body ardour
burning burning burning away.

Sound burning scent burning
taste burning touch burning
incandescent bone fires burning
burning pleasure burning pain
either neither burning away.

Feel the fire that burns through
this hour passion fire aversion
fire delusion fire all ablaze
birth and death & aging fires
burning burning burning away.

Contact feeling craving takes us
calls to the awakened soul
know then free your self from ardour
find some peace
while burning away.

-Siddhārtha Gautama

 

ONE ART

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster,

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three beloved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

– Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Say it!) like a disaster

-Elizabeth Bishop

 

A MAN SAID TO THE UNIVERSE

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

-Stephen Crane

CHANGE

Change is the new,
improved
word for god,
lovely enough
to raise a song
or implicate
a sea of wrongs,
mighty enough,
like other gods,
to shelter,
bring together,
and estrange us.
Please, god,
we seem to say,
change us.

-Wendy Videlock

 

TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON

To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the sun:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck;
A time to hurt, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to scatter stones,
and a time to gather them together;
A time to embrace, and a time to hold back;
A time to gain, and a time to lose;
a time to save, and a time to use;
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent, and a time to speak;
A time of love, and a time of hate;
a time of war, and a time of peace.

-Kohelet/Solomon

 

ENCOUNTER

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

-Csezlaw Milosz (Wilno, 1936)

 

WHEN DEATH COMES

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

-Mary Oliver

 

THE MANGER OF INCIDENTALS

We are surrounded by the absurd excess of the universe.
By meaningless bulk, vastness without size,
power without consequence. The stubborn iteration
that is present without being felt.
Nothing the spirit can marry. Merely phenomenon
and its physics. An endless, endless of going on.
No habitat where the brain can recognize itself.
No pertinence for the heart. Helpless duplication.
The horror of none of it being alive.
No red squirrels, no flowers, not even weed.
Nothing that knows what season it is.
The stars uninflected by awareness.
Miming without implication. We alone see the iris
in front of the cabin reach its perfection
and quickly perish. The lamb is born into happiness
and is eaten for Easter. We are blessed
with powerful love and it goes away. We can mourn.
We live the strangeness of being momentary,
and still we are exalted by being temporary.
The grand Italy of meanwhile. It is the fact of being brief,
being small and slight that is the source of our beauty.
We are a singularity that makes music out of noise
because we must hurry. We make a harvest of loneliness
and desiring in the blank wasteland of the cosmos.

-Jack Gilbert

 

THE BRIGHT FIELD

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

-R.S. Thomas

 

STATIONS

It is an old story:
the ship that was here last night
gone this morning; love
here one moment not here
any more. Time with a reputation
for transience permanent
as the ring in the rock
on beaches that would persuade
us we are the first comers.
We have been here before
and failed, bringing creation
about our ears. Why
can we not be taught
there is no hill beyond this one
we roll our minds to the top
of, not to take off into
empty space, nor to be cast back down
where we began, but to hold the position
assigned to us, long as time
lasts, somewhere half-way
up between earth and heaven.”

-R.S. Thomas

 

MEASURE

Recurrences.
Coppery light hesitates
again in the small-leaved

Japanese plum. Summer
and sunset, the peace
of the writing desk

and the habitual peace
of writing, these things
form an order I only

belong to in the idleness
of attention. Last light
rims the blue mountain

and I almost glimpse
what I was born to,
not so much in the sunlight

or the plum tree
as in the pulse
that forms these lines.

-Robert Hass

 

PLACE

On the last day of the world
I would want to plant a tree

what for
not the fruit

the tree that bears the fruit
is not the one that was planted

I want the tree that stands
in the earth for the first time

with the sun already
going down

and the water
touching its roots

in the earth full of the dead
and the clouds passing

one by one
over its leaves

WS Merwin

 

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