Love of life, heart and being, the downward drag of gravity, hope during an endless coma of cold, cells charged with dream – the beauty of John O’Donohue’s poetry

Another book that I find truly inspiring and refreshing is John O’Donohue’s The Four Elements. Here are some extracts from three of his poems quoted by his brother Pat in the foreword.

From ‘In Praise of Fire’

As air intensifies the hunger of fire,
May the thought of death
Breathe new urgency
Into our love of life.

As short as the time
From spark to flame,
So brief may the distance be
Between heart and being.

May we discover
Beneath our fear
Embers of anger
To kindle justice.

From ‘In Praise of Water’

The courage of a river to continue belief
In the slow fall of ground,
Always falling further
Towards the unseen ocean.

Its only life surrendered
To the event of pilgrimage

It continues to swirl
Through all unlikeness,
With elegance

Let us bless the humility of water,
Always willing to take the shape
Of whatever otherness holds it.

The buoyancy of water,
Stronger than the deadening,
Downward drag of gravity

From ‘In Praise of Earth’

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream,
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

Let us ask forgiveness of the earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Drunk with flowers of rebellion

The fields will laugh, the woods will be drunk with flowers of rebellion, the night will make every fool sing in his sleep, and the morning will make him stand up in the sun and cover himself with water and with light.

Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable

Sleeping on the bank of a freshwater stream

Here’s my final offering of poetry excerpts from Rumi, The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing. Once again, I’m impressed and touched by the wisdom contained in these lines – as well as the beauty of the imagery.

… this is how
most people live: sleeping on the bank
of a freshwater stream, lips dry with thirst.

To your eyes it’s a drought. To me,
it’s a form of God’s joy. Everywhere
in this desert I see green corn growing

waist-high, a sea-wilderness of young ears
greener than leeks. I reach to touch them.
How could I not! …

Stay bewildered inside God

Here’s a slightly longer excerpt from another Rumi poem, ‘The Basket of Fresh Bread’ (published in The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing). Some of Rumi’s poetry, which I discovered only recently, resonates very deeply with me and reinforces my journey into silence and contemplation.

Don’t look for it outside yourself.
You are the source of milk. Don’t milk others!

There is a fountain inside you.
Don’t walk around with an empty bucket.

You have a channel into the ocean,
yet you ask for water from a little pool.

There is a basket of fresh bread on your head,
yet you go door to door asking for crusts.

Knock on the inner door, no other.
Sloshing knee-deep in fresh riverwater,
yet you keep asking for other people’s waterbags.

Water is everywhere around you, but you see
only barriers that keep you from water.

Mad with thirst, you can’t drink from the stream
running close by your face. You are like a pearl
on the deep bottom wondering inside the shell,
Where’s the ocean?

Stay bewildered inside God,
and only that.

I love the imagery of nourishment and refreshment: water, milk and bread. Nothing spectacular, just staples, the stuff of everyday life, but essential. ‘Staying bewildered inside God’, that’s such an appropriate description of where I have been finding myself for some time now.

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