Unutterable Name: David Whyte

Tree
UNUTTERABLE NAME

Cross-currents and tumbling desire
of aspens in a summer wind,
shimmering in a rustle and whisper

of leaf undersides turned pale
yellow, each upper side
a trembling of bright green.

The whole frame a lit firework
of feeling where all
surfaces and shoulders of wood

and leaf touch and quiver
to the wind’s
quaking unspoken desire.

Not to be lightly spoken of.
Your species name
so common on our tongue

the mind’s eye forgets the continued
revelation of your kind.
A single branch, a copse, a nest of bright

copper for the dying year. All the
forests of the world
were wild wood once and proclaim

the leafy hope and snares of human paradise.
The wild wood, bramble, columbine,
the oak tree’s deciduous stability of half-light.

In your branches the robin and the wren,
the crows, the rooks, the owls, the sparrow-
hawk gliding the fine speckled corridors of light.

Of all your many worlds I’ll start by naming home,
this sharp evergreen night’s
rough-barked verticality of totem and grey wood

lifted two hundred feet to a cold sky,
its grey clouds unseen above the world’s
green turn of pine and hemlock, fir and cedar

shadowing the paddled needle beds
in their brown sleep.
Even here, Pan’s mad flute wakes them all,

a scurry of chipmunks and tremulous mice,
a moment’s panic before the
creaking whine of a branch lifts the hair

straight on the neck, the owl’s prey screams
in discovered claws and the patient empty
darkness of the deep wood returns to quiet.

Even then, the still temple of the northern night
opening its doors to the first delicate light
and the nightjar burring at a branch edge

is nothing to the jungle’s southern tumult and tropic
dark panoply of explosive sound.
In that equatorial fusion of heat and noise,

where a scream would be lost in the whistling,
cawing, shuddering, sighing
rippling, spider-monkeyed laugh and great shaking

of the canopy’s jungle dark essence,
there lies that eternally moving
half-hidden, essentially frightening

forest of our own inner night. Down below,
the dream of those dark limbs turning
now feminine, now snake-like, erotically

refusing to be found, leads us down
into that glistering world-wide
treasure of wetness and wild abandon, the marsh.

The dank water’s cool refusal of dryness
a sworn enemy to the clarity
our yearning demands, every footstep

filled with mud, every feeling a mere mushroom
subsumed by damp, a fever
of scents, sounds and recollection, how the bark

smells, how the frogs breathe, how the greens
seem darker still. How the faint
brushing sting of nettle feels on passing skin.

The stagnant still fullness of it all with no place
to rest, sit, camp, cook, build,
get in, get out, lie down with self or other.

The infuriating self-satisfied independent
non-human presence
of this methane-flitted, black and fiery

incandescence of wetness eschewing our praise,
resting into its own eternal wet grave
of damp hidden mischief. The damned and lovely swamp.

Not forgetting for one moment the dry desert
branches of the world’s
desiccated, rough-barked, wax-leafed elders.

The pinon, chaparral, boll-weed and wind-dried
dust-loving Joshua, even the names
have a dry mouth salted by heat and smothered

by thirst. Tenacity a prize of their kind,
living patiently through the hard
baked inhospitable prison of eternal summer,

and they need, we still do not believe it,
just the one, gifted, single drop
of fecund rain swimming through red earth

to break out in a blood red, snow white
festival of still flowers.
Or a lit inextinguishable fire of perfect yellow.

All your many kinds are filled with our stories.
We know you, name you
Aspen, Rowan, Linden, Oak, and remember

Pan’s stable of haunting desire,
Kevin’s seat of still prayer,
Buddha’s explosive clarity beneath

the Bodhi’s protecting shadow of knowledge.
Christ’s arms like branches
on the still sapling of longing and loss.

Your stories are our welcome night sign
of stop and rest and sky and stars
and forgotten sleep where we wake again

to find we are surrounded, embellished,
frighted, nourished,
sheltered, restored, rejected and inhabited

by – how shall I ever say your name?
Wood, trunk, branch, leaf,
boreal harmony of green in-breath,

my hands clapping, eyes opened,
mouth attempting the song
of your unspeakable gifts and grace

again and again- the full hidden
not to be said, mysterious
and unutterable name of your full breath. Tree.

[David Whyte. River Flow: New & Selected Poems Revised Edition
(Kindle Locations 887-890). Many Rivers Press. Kindle Edition.]

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Fire in the Earth: David Whyte

Rattner-8-Moses-and-the-burning-bush
And we know, when Moses was told,
in the way he was told,
“Take off your shoes!” He grew pale from that simple

reminder of fire in the dusty earth.
He never recovered
his complicated way of loving again

and was free to love in the same way
he felt the fire licking at his heels loved him.
As if the lion earth could roar

and take him in one movement.
Every step he took
from there was carefully placed.

Everything he said mattered as if he knew
the constant witness of the ground
and remembered his own face in the dust

the moment before revelation.
Since then thousands have felt
the same immobile tongue with which he tried to speak.

Like the moment you too saw, for the first time,
your own house turned to ashes.
Everything consumed so the road could open again.

Your entire presence in your eyes
and the world turning slowly
into a single branch of flame.

[David Whyte. River Flow: New & Selected Poems Revised Edition
(Kindle Locations 746-763). Many Rivers Press. Kindle Edition.]

Rattner-11-the-bush-was-burning-with-jire

The Truelove: David Whyte

Walking Water

 

There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.

I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of baying seals

who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water

and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
the distant
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them

and how we are all
preparing for that
abrupt waking,
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly
so Biblically
but more subtly
and intimately in the face
of the one you know
you have to love

so that when
we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
everything holds
us, and everything confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown you could,
but you don’t
because finally
after all this struggle
and all these years
you don’t want to any more
you’ve simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness
however fluid and however
dangerous to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.

 

[From The House of Belonging (Many Rivers Press, 1996)]

Pilgrim: David Whyte

WavePILGRIM

I bow to the lark
and its tiny
lifted silhouette
fluttering
before infinity.
I promise myself
to the mountain
and to the foundation
from which
my future comes.
I make my vow
to the stream
flowing beneath,
and to the water
falling
towards all thirst,
and
I pledge myself
to the sea
to which it goes
and to the mercy
of my disappearance,
and though I may be
left alone
or abandoned by
the unyielding present
or orphaned in some far
unspoken place,
I will speak
with a voice
of loyalty
and faith
to the far shore
where everything
turns to arrival,
if only in the sound
of falling waves
and I will listen
with sincere
and attentive eyes and ears
for a final invitation,
so that I can
be that note half-heard
in the flying lark song,
or that tint
on a far mountain
brushed with the subtle
grey of dawn,
even a river gone by
still looking
as if it hasn’t,
or an ocean heard only
as the sound of waves
falling and falling,
and falling,
my eyes closing
with them
into some
undeserved nothing
even as they
give up their
strength
on the sand.

David Whyte

Mameen: David Whyte

MAMEEN

Be infinitessimal under that sky, a creature
even the sailing hawk misses, a wraith
among the rocks where the mist parts slowly.
Recall the way mere mortals are overwhelmed
by circumstance, how great reputations
dissolve with infirmity and how you,
in particular, live a hairsbreadth from losing
everyone you hold dear.

Then, look back down the path as if seeing
your past and then south over the hazy blue
coast as if present to a wide future.
Remember the way you are all possibilities
you can see and how you live best
as an appreciator of horizons,
whether you reach them or not.
Admit that once you have got up
from your chair and opened the door,
once you have walked out into the clean air
toward that edge and taken the path up high
beyond the ordinary, you have become
the privileged and the pilgrim,
the one who will tell the story
and the one, coming back
from the mountain,
who helped to make it.

David Whyte

The Lightest Touch: David Whyte

Lazarus, by Jacob Epstein, in New College chapel, Oxford.

The Lightest Touch

Good poetry begins with
the lightest touch,
a breeze arriving from nowhere,
a whispered healing arrival,
a word in your ear,
a settling into things,
then like a hand in the dark
it arrests the whole body,
steeling you for revelation.

In the silence that follows
a great line
you can feel Lazarus
deep inside
even the laziest, most deathly afraid
part of you,
lift up his hands and walk toward the light

David Whyte