POWER OF POETRY

The Hocking Hills Festival of Poetry



 

                Mid-October. The Earth spins through dust left along ago by Halley’s Comet. As the tiny remnants are pulled into the atmosphere they die in a streaking flame of intensity – the Orionid meteor shower.

          Drowsy-eyed, I stand in the chill air, waiting. The shower is not even a drizzle, but only occasional drops as a quick line of light flashes through its arc. But the air is so clear that the panorama of stars glows as I have seldom seen it.

The Silence of the Stars

 

When Laurens van der Post one night

In the Kalihari Desert told the Bushmen

He couldn't hear the stars

Singing, they didn't believe him. They looked at him,

Half-smiling. They examined his face

To see whether he was joking

Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men

Who plant nothing, who have almost

Nothing to hunt, who live

On almost nothing, and with no one

But themselves, led him away

From the crackling thorn-scrub fire

And stood with him under the night sky

And listened. One of them whispered,

Do you not hear them now?

And van der Post listened, not wanting

To disbelieve, but had to answer,

No. They walked him slowly

Like a sick man to the small dim

Circle of firelight and told him

They were terribly sorry,

And he felt even sorrier

For himself and blamed his ancestors

For their strange loss of hearing,

Which was his loss now. On some clear nights

When nearby houses have turned off their visions,

When the traffic dwindles, when through streets

Are between sirens and the jets overhead

Are between crossings, when the wind

Is hanging fire in the fir trees,

And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove

Between calls is regarding his own darkness,

I look at the stars again as I first did

To school myself in the names of constellations

And remember my first sense of their terrible distance,

I can still hear what I thought

At the edge of silence where the inside jokes

Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic,

The C above high C of my inner ear, myself

Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are:

My fair share of the music of the spheres

And clusters of ripening stars,

Of the songs from the throats of the old gods

Still tending even tone-deaf creatures

Through their exiles in the desert.

 

 David Wagoner

(Traveling Light)

 

          I had just a few days before read this poem and the idea of the stars singing had steadily haunted me. Now, seeing them as brightly as I rarely had, sadness suffused me at their silence.

          When writing was invented by middle eastern traders as a means of doing their business more efficiently, the minds of those who began to read were somehow altered. Instead of the natural world being their primary source of information, the written word began to be the basis of knowledge. Such a practice allowed for a rapid spread of knowledge and many advances that made life something it had never been. The literate mind separated from the non-literate one. Humans became separated from the earth that nurtured them, and the word of men took on a vastly greater authority. Almost three thousand years later we stand on the shoulders of those who have walked this path. All of the things considered to be modern miracles have enhanced the lives of many, but we stand on the brink of disaster. Breaking our old bond with the Earth has led to living in a way that ignores the most basic wisdom of survival; forgets the connection with the natural world and its cycles; turns off the music of the spheres which is our birthright.

          Is it possible to stand in both worlds – that of people living in ancient harmony with the earth, and that of living in modern times? Perhaps a poet can give us the answer:

 

The Reed Flute's Song


Jalalu'ddin Rumi, excerpted from Coleman Barks' translation in The Essential Rumi


Listen to the story told by the reed,
of being separated.
"Since I was cut from the reedbed,
I have made this crying sound.
Anyone apart from someone he loves
understands what I say.
Anyone pulled from a source
longs to go back.
At any gathering I am there,
mingling in the laughing and grieving,
a friend to each, but few
will hear the secrets hidden
within the notes. No ears for that.
Body flowing out of spirit,
spirit up from body: no concealing
that mixing. But it's not given us
to see the soul. The reed flute
is fire, not wind. Be that empty."
Hear the love fire tangled
in the reed notes, as bewilderment
melts into wine. The reed is a friend
to all who want the fabric torn
and drawn away. The reed is hurt
and salve combining. Intimacy
and longing for intimacy, one
song. A disastrous surrender
and a fine love, together. The one
who secretly hears this is senseless.
A tongue has one customer, the ear.
A sugarcane flute has such effect
because it was able to make sugar
in the reedbed. The sound it makes
is for everyone. Days full of wanting,
let them go by without worrying
that they do. Stay where you are
inside such a pure, hollow note.
Every thirst gets satisfied except
that of these fish, the mystics,
who swim a vast ocean of grace
still somehow longing for it!

No one lives in that without
being nourished every day.
But if someone doesn't want to hear
the song of the reed flute,
it's best to cut conversation
short, say good-bye, and leave.

                    Rumi was an ecstatic Persian poet of the 13th century. The literal meaning of ecstasy is ek-out and sta-stand, that which takes us out of the place in which we stand, out of the usual mindset.   The Song of the Reed Flute gives us clues of how to bridge the worlds.

          Lying between the natural world and the world we construct with human ideas is the place called ‘the other world’ by various traditional cultures. It is like this world only more so – what is called magic realism in literature and stories. The imagination reigns here, giving rise to dream, music, inspiration and other such manifestations of that which is both in us and beyond us. We are only separated from the other world by a thin veil, but we cannot go there at will. We sometimes are carried there by circumstance and visit often in our dreams. But we can consciously prepare for the piercing of the veil to amplify the possibility of entrance.

          In The Reed Flute’s Song, Rumi says,

“The reed is a friend
to all who want the fabric torn
and drawn away. The reed is hurt
and salve combining. Intimacy
and longing for intimacy, one
song. A disastrous surrender
and a fine love, together.

          He thus gives us the key that helps us prepare to go across the threshold, and it is this: we must transcend our language of absolute distinctions, and learn to hold the tension of opposites within ourselves: hurt and salve, intimacy and longing. Such tension over time allows for un-thought of possibilities to arise.  It is possible to take a reed, a simple plant growing along the river, and with our breath, life at its most basic, blow through it. What results is music.

We cannot wallow in a limited mindset and expect fresh ideas to be born. For our ideas to change, we must change first. We can go from our modern world to the natural world, and interact with it in a way that something happens that is beyond both of them. Then the veil may be lifted and we can enter a way of being in which we can hear the voice of the trees, see the radiance of others (and ourself), and finally, be bathed in the beauty of the singing of the stars.

I, you, he, she, we.

In the garden of mystic lovers,

These are not true distinctions.

                                      Shams of Tabriz

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

 

                                                                                                                     

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