Where the Beauty Is: Poetry

The trouble with the mind
is that it sees like a bird
but walks like a man.

And things at the surface
move fast, needing to be
gathered. While things
at center move slow,
needing to be

What I mean is
if you want to see the
many birds, you can
gather them in a cage
and wonder why
they won’t fly.

Or you can go to
the wetlands, birding
in silence before
the sun comes up.

It’s the same
with the things
we love or think.

We can frame them
in pretty cages or follow
them into the wild meadow
till they stun us with the
spread of their magnificent
– Mark Nepo, “Discernment”

Who is your favorite poet?  What is your favorite poem?

Recently, I have been steeping in the beautiful poetry of the Reverend Jan Richardson, Mark Nepo, Mary Oliver and Ann Weems.  Their poetry stuns with the spread of its magnificent wings, sweeping past the hardened edges of my soul to a more tender, gentle, imaginative part of my being.  It helps me to see the beauty in the world and for that reason I will share some of my favorites below.

Mark Nepo

I discovered Nepo’s lyrical writing on the podcast “Magic Lessons” by Elizabeth Gilbert, where he encourages an aspiring poet Cecilia to claim her identity as a legitimate artist.  Cecilia is struggling because recently been rejected by a dozen Master of Fine Arts programs.  Heart-broken, Cecilia writes into Elizabeth lamenting that now, she can never be a poet. [Episode found here]

On Elizabeth’s show, Mark Nepo offers advice to Cecilia and concludes by sharing this poem:

Let no one keep you from your journey,
no rabbi or priest, no mother
who wants you to dig for treasures
she misplaced, no father
who won’t let one life be enough,
no lover who measures their worth
by what you might give up,
no voice that tells you in the night
it can’t be done.

Let nothing dissuade you
from seeing what you see
or feeling the winds that make you
want to dance alone
or go where no one
has yet to go.

You are the only explorer.
Your heart, the unreadable compass.
Your soul, the shore of a promise
too great to be ignored.”
– Mark Nepo, “Breaking Surface”

Let no one keep you from your journey. Nepo tells Cecilia to hold onto those words and treasure them in her heart.


In his book Reduced to Joy, Nepo writes another poem that speaks to me as a hiker:

And what if we’re meant to discover that caring for another is the summit?
– Mark Nepo, “Till We Know Each Other”

What if?  What if being compassionate toward others is all we need to reach summit-town and see the most beautiful vista of all?

The Reverend Jan Richardson

Last year, Richardson published Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons, a book that has blessings for all liturgical seasons  I love all of them, but I picked my favorite to share with you here.  This poem celebrates each and every one of you who bear the light.  I am grateful for you.

Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.

Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom the brightness blazes—
your heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.
– Jan Richardson, “Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light” [Poem on her website]

Ann Weems

I love Weems’ books Kneeling in Bethlehem, Kneeling in Jerusalem and From Advent’s Alleluia to Easter’s Morning Light.  As an outdoor lover, my favorite poem is “Eyes Still Filled”:

On Tennessee summer evenings
we would lie on our backs,
the stars hanging in our eyes,
and we would wonder
wonder what was going on up there
among the stars…
If we stared long enough,
the stars would lift us to them,
and we would float,
face to face with the stars
in the entrance way of the home of God.
When our mothers called us to come in
because of the late hour,
the spell was broken,
and we would fall back to earth,
where our backs itched from the grass
and our thirst was powerful,
but our eyes…
our eyes were still filled
with the glory of God.
– Ann Weems

Mary Oliver

I love Mary Oliver’s poetic nature imagery.  How do I pick a favorite?  Here are some I love:

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,”
they say, “and you, too, have come
into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine.”
– Mary Oliver, “When I Am among the Trees”

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
– Mary Oliver, “Praying”

The doorway into thanks.  I am thankful for these poets, I am thankful for you dear reader and I am thankful for all the compassionate people in our world.  Where is the beauty today my friends?  Look around and tell me where you see it.


Categories: Where the Beauty Is

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