Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West
Translations by Daniel Ladinsky
book review by Kenzie Pattillo
THEY CAN BE LIKE A SUN
They can be like the sun, words.
They can do for the heart
what light can
for a field.
-St. John of the Cross
I began shaving for my yoga students. There I said it. I was 35 years old and had never shaved anything, ever, but I did this for them. Why? It’s the same reason I seek poems about God without the word ‘God’ in them to share at the end of my yoga classes. I want the yoga classes I teach to be completely accessible, without any triggers that might ramp up my students’ left brains and take them away from their own present experience of yoga. (This is also the reason that at rec centres I don’t ‘om’ before and after class, though at studios I ‘om’ to my heart’s content).
Now, one might think that looking for ‘God’-less poems about God in a book titled ‘Love Poems From God’ might be a fruitless (and somewhat ironic) endeavor, but I beg to differ. I had previously discovered that Daniel Ladinsky’s translations of the poetry of Hafiz in ‘The Gift’ offered a healthy handful of poems for my use. ‘Love Poems From God’ proved to be just as full of such divine seeds to plant in the fertile, post-savasana soil of my students open hearts and minds.
Admittedly, I turn to this book often for my own solace and nurturance, and I draw deeply from all of the poems- ‘God’-less and ‘God’-full. Ladinsky has once again done an inimitable job translating a diverse range of poetry into a contemporary feeling anthology that traverses the spiritual traditions of East and West, as well as great swaths of time! By book’s end, what is made plain are two things- it’s all the same God, and it’s all about LOVE.
Though some might critique the author’s translations as too contemporary, he preempts such judgement with this quiet rebuttal in the introduction:
“In studying the lives of these wonderful saints, I can’t imagine any of them saying “no” if they were asked if we could freely adapt their words to a few bluegrass tunes or whiskey soaked jazz. I think they might shout, “Go for it baby; set the world on fire if you can, kick ass for the beloved with some great art.”
Included in the book is a short biography of each saint before there poetry appears. As spiritual aspirants, we are often encouraged to read about the lives of saints, and Ladinsky offers just enough information to contextualize the poetry that comes after while whetting the reader’s appetite for learning more about each of these god-intoxicated individuals. Ladinsky writes:
“I chose these great twelve figures to work with because of their ability to help us know our own sacredness, and because of their skill to awaken us to the wonder- and thus gratitude- of the common.”
So I offer you now a few “God”-less poems about God.
So amazing this choir of
socks, shoes, shirt, skirt, undergarments,
earth, sky, suns, and
no wonder I too, now,
A RABBIT NOTICED MY CONDITION
I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.
A rabbit noticed my condition and
It often does not take more than that to help at times-
to just be close to creatures who
are so full of knowing,
so full of love
that they don’t
they just gaze with
-St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)
WHAT DOES LIGHT TALK ABOUT?
When you recognize her beauty,
the eye applauds, the heart stands in an ovation,
and the tongue when she is near
is on its best behaviour,
it speaks more like light.
What does light talk about?
I asked a plant that once.
It said, “I am not sure,
but it makes me
-St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
THE WAY THE FOREST SHELTERS
I know about love the way the field knows about light,
the way the forest shelters,
the way an animal’s divine raw desire seeks to unite with
whatever might please its soul -without a single
strange thought of remorse.
There is a powerful delegation in us that
lobbies every moment for contentment.
How will you ever find peace
unless you yield to love
the way the gracious earth
does to our hand’s
WRING OUT MY CLOTHES
Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,
I have to wring out the light
when I get
-St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226)
LOVE DOES THAT
All day long a little burro labors, sometimes
with heavy loads on her back and sometimes just with worries
about the things that bother only
And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting
than physical labor.
Once in awhile a kind monk comes
to her stable and brings
a pear, but more
he looks into the burros eyes and touches her ears
and for a few seconds the burro is free
and even seems to laugh,
because love does
-Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)
THE HYMNS OF THE EARTH
I wanted to be a hermit and only hear the hymns
of the earth, and the laughter of the sky,
and the sweet gossip of the creatures on my limbs,
I wanted to be a hermit and not see another face
look upon mine and tell me I was not
all the beauty in this
For so many faces do that-
The wings we have are so fragile
they can break from just
one word, or
a glance void
I wanted to live in the cloister of
because, is it not true, the heart
is so fragile and shy.
-St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380)
A GREAT YOGI
In my travels I spent time with a great yogi.
Once he said to me,
“Become so still you hear the blood flowing
through your veins.”
One night as I sat in quiet,
I seemed on the verge of entering a world inside so vast
I know it is the source of
Ladinsky does us a great service by uniting these many voices within the pages of ‘Love Poems from God’ through the medium of his formidable skill as a poet and translator.They each prove in their own way that a divine union with God is possible, which seems to be at the root of Ladinsky’s intention behind this book. He says it better than I ever could when he writes,
“That concept, that sublime, divine experience of union with God I believe has existed since humans could conceive of time…To dismiss the possibility that the divine can speak through women and men is to limit God…Through their poetry, their lives, and their prayers, God played for us his music, which can still be heard today, hundreds of years later, for what a party the soul aflame ignites.”
This is my kind of party.
Kenzie Pattillo completed her 200 hour YTT at SSCY in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver and currently teaches hatha, yin and restorative yoga in her community and at yoga getaways at the Centre.
As an E-RYT 200, and having recently completed her 500 hour YTT through Semperviva Yoga College, she looks forward to joining the YTT asana faculty this summer at SSCY.