"That which does no earthly good cannot be heavenly minded." R. Rivera

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Eleven Poems To Change Your Life

By Ruben Rivera

This year I have come to love poetry. I read poetry, occasionally, before and have even cherished some. But this time it's different. In the past poems inspired me, comforted me, awakened my heart and mind to the extra- in ordinary, provided an unmatched vocality for the deepest suffering, the highest joy -- every experience, emotion and expression imaginable.

The difference is that then I treated poetry more or less the way that many a pastor has said that too many Christians treat the Bible: as a source to find "your fortune." Such a reading of the Bible, as with anything else (history, contemporary social issues, political debates, even established scientific facts and, yes, poetry), lends itself to seeing that which we expect, want, or must have rubber stamped, instead of what we need. And is it not true that sometimes what "we need", may well surprise, disappoint or contradict? Is that not, as we have all heard at one time or another, how we correct our course, grow more humane?

The difference was illustrated to me just yesterday. A book arrived in the mail that my wife had wanted: "Ten Poems to Change Your Life" by Roger Housden, which I found for pennies online. My wife and I are reading some of the poems in the book, along with author commentary. There is one poem by Rumi, the 13th century Persian Muslim poet, mystic, theologian. It is titled "Zero Circle". It starts:

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
   to gather us up...

It is on page 43 and I'm a little frustrated. Everything is high-lighted yellow and underlined, rendering the book cheap-looking and the purpose of high-lighting and underlining useless. The whole book is this way, along with countless stars penned in the margins, scripture citations, quotations from other poets, and personal comments. Now I know why it cost only pennies.

I often make brief notations in books. But I remark to my wife how silly it is to high-light, underline and star everything. As this only cancels out their value of pointing out the point. For now (unless one has a photographic memory) one must re-read everything to find it again.

Then it hit me. When I judged the previous book-owner's actions, I missed the point. And that is the difference from the past: the fact that I saw it at all, let alone so quickly. This person had chomped on this book. I was getting their chewing gum and I didn't like it. But I failed (momentarily, thank God) to see what a beautiful thing was before me. 

There, on page after page, I saw evidence of a lover of poetry, a person hungry for all that "the examined life" has to offer, a person striving after the fullness of a beautifully conceived image of God.

I read the book now, and I no longer see high-lighter and scribbles. I see the colors of someone's life. I see:  

My safety lies in my defenselessness

"It's not about me." Max Lucado

"Your character shouts so loudly in my ears I can't hear what you say." Emerson

Plato said the unexamined life isn't worth living!

There are no ordinary moments.

Passion for living.

And Carpe Diem! on about ten different pages.

Put all those lines together and I actually got a book that should be titled:

Eleven Poems to Change Your Life. 

Be helpless, dumbfounded,
Unable to say yes or no.
Then a stretcher will come from grace
   to gather us up...


Angelsdoor * Penny said...

Absolutely beautiful Ruben! Thank you for the insight of the previous reader... I agree.. Words touch each of us in such a powerful way. I am so glad you are enjoying this book.. It sounds like a great find..
Thank you for leaving such a kind note this morning... All getting back to normal around here... Hope to visit more often..
p.s. Bebe says hi!

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Well, you know me. I destroy my books. Remember one of my sweet little students got sick and tired of seeing me with my French dictionary in shreds, so he bought me a new one? Every one has a different philosophy, but most of my books, I devour. This person certainly was hungry and consumed the content,pondered and made notes. Scientific research shows that when we WRITE, WE LEARN. Bless the previous owner, and I am excited to jump into discussion with you about these wonderful poems. Moi

Palomasea said...

Hello Ruben!!

I am SO glad you and Anita got this book! You have made a great discovery here...the "highlights" in this book have, in a way, illuminated you.
And Rumi holds a very special place in my heart.
A marvelous book...enjoy, the two of you!!

Thanks for your visit, aren't all of those just fabulous?!

I hope this school year is one of great delights and discoveries for you!

All the best,
- Irina

Edie Marie's Attic said...

What a great post Ruben. It's so important to pause and think about where was this person coming from... was it the first book of poetry they had ever read and it overwhelmed them with thoughts that were so vital to life that they had never explored before? Was it someone who was broken hearted over the loss of someone they loved and they were finding solace in every word? Was it someone that had a new highlighter for the very first time and suddenly discovered how important every word they read is?
I've been challenged of late with a couple situations recently that made me really think about where a person was actually "coming from" and was very slow to judge them, thank God.

Again, great post, I loved it!

hugs, sherry

Debbie said...

Ruben, I was reading your post ... when i saw Rumi and immediately told Danny, who is sitting right next to me, OMG, Ruben and I have to be psychically connected! I just printed a ton of Rumi's poems, including biography, etc. His poety is SO, SO BEAUTIFUL AND AMAZING AND SIMPLE AND PROFOUND. As for the previous owner's notes and highlights ... I DO THAT all the time. I highlight because I i must remember the words that touch me and I need to go back to them again and again. Like Anita said in her comment, when we read we learn.

I enjoyed your post as always. LOVE TO ANITA.


Sonja said...

Hi Ruben:

I think I would love to sit around the kitchen table with you and Anita... what a fascinating conversation it would be! Between your philosophical and religious thinking and her gift of beauty in life... it would be a joy!!

Your thoughts are challenging, and always make me read at least twice to be sure I 'get it all!'.

You guys are an amazing couple!


Anonymous said...

Hey Prof,right on Dude.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I marked the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost


Anonymous said...

Avicenna i read at University.An important Dude....take a look.The metaphysics are different but of course translated from Greek to Arabic 'Then,Then' Latin.
He found Aristotle difficult...hey welcome to the club.

A student of Wittgenstein once asked,'It seems strange that people once thought the sun went round the earth.'
'Why',he said.
'Well,it seems that way.'
'And how does it seem now,'he replied.


Anonymous said...

Hey Rube {after a glass or two of the local vin rouge}
You are an inspiration Dude.
J'espère vous rencontrer un jour peut-être.

Bises à tous les deux.

M.A.the2nd said...

Dearest Ruben .... what an amazing find! How gorgeous to have this book but also how fragile. What an incredible insight into another reader's thoughts....... I hope you are well and I want to examine this post again! Seize the Day indeed!
best wishes always

Anonymous said...

Hey Rubedude,
Thank you for your comments.I am very familiar with our war poets also referred to as Georgian poets.
I visited Wilfred Owens grave near St Quinten in Northern France last year.
My blog has Wilfred's and Seigfried Sassoon's pics and poems.Seigfried lived two miles from our home in England,he is buried near Bath.Edward Thomas,Wilfred and Seigfied have all been inspirational toward my thinking all my adult life.Read the book Regeneration:they also made a film.
All three have poet societies in England including T.S Eliot.These people meet at locations where the great men lived.They walk and recite their loved word.Thomas was a great friend of Robert Frost and The Road not Taken is for Edward most believe.He could not decide whether to go to New Hampshire with Frost or duty bound for France.
I have 'In Pursuit of Spring' by Edward which he describes a cycle journey from Norfolk to the Quantock Hills in Somerset in 1914.
Before trucks,cars and an unconscious sense of impending change;the unchanging state of rural England:mass slaughter was about to be unleashed.My great uncle Joseph was killed at the Battle of the Somme.An artillery shell vaporized him;he was never found of course along with 72000 others whose names are on the Lutgens memorial at Theipval.
I found his name but like the others he has no grave just a name on a brick wall.He was 18.
War is ignorance on a grand scale.

The General

‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said
When we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

. . . .
But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Siegfried Sassoon

Anonymous said...

Now All Roads Lead to France: The Last Years of Edward Thomas.
By Matthew Hollis.

Amazon have it.

Anonymous said...

The Georgian poets were, by the strictest definition, those whose works appeared in a series of five anthologies named Georgian Poetry, published by Harold Monro and edited by Edward Marsh. The first volume contained poems written in 1911 and 1912. The poets included Edmund Blunden, Rupert Brooke, Robert Graves, D. H. Lawrence, Walter de la Mare and Siegfried Sassoon. The period of publication was sandwiched between the Victorian era, with its strict classicism, and Modernism, with its strident rejection of pure aestheticism. The common features of the poems in these publications were romanticism, sentimentality and hedonism. Later critics have attempted to revise the definition of the term as a description of poetic style, thereby including some new names or excluding some old ones.