Book Review: The Gift, poems by Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky
A Book I Wish Were Found at the Library
A book review by Kenzie Pattillo
I offer this book for review not because I found it at the library, but because I wish it were found there. I read poems from this book after my yoga students finish their savasana and make their way back to a comfortable seat and close their eyes. I pick a poem intuitively during the last few minutes of final relaxation, and almost without fail a student after class will tell me how much this specific poem spoke to them and ask where to find this book. Hence, I wish I could send them to the library to find it!
I have always deeply loved poetry but wasn’t introduced to sacred verse that truly spoke to me until I was given a translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Duino Elegies’ on the eve of my first solo traveling adventure (which of course led me to SSCY). I actually stopped writing poetry at that time because he so perfectly expressed what I yearned to but found so truly inexpressible. Soon after, I discovered Rumi – lucky enough to be living at the Kripalu yoga centre when Coleman Barks, eminent Rumi translator and scholar, came to perform Rumi’s poetry. Between Rumi and Rilke I thought I was well served…until I found Hafiz.
About ten years ago, while living at SSCY, I came across ‘The Gift’ and felt such endless nourishment in its pages. I could open at random and be rewarded, or start at the very beginning or the very end for that matter and fill up on true soul food. I committed the simplest to memory and repeated them like mantras. As a poet and a seeker I delighted in these best words in the best order. Daniel Ladinsky’s contemporary use of language made Hafiz’ work accessible and yet timeless. These three poems I can still draw on when ‘The Gift’ is not with me at the end of a yoga class.
IT FELT LOVE
Did the rose
Ever open its heart
And give to this world
It felt the encouragement of light
Against its being,
We all remain
Where we live
Is no place to lose your wings
So love, love,
THE SUN NEVER SAYS
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,
With a love like that,
It lights the
As my boys grew older and I resumed teaching yoga regularly, I recalled something that struck me in an article I’d read about the qualities of a good yoga class. The idea was to include something of your understanding of truth and of beauty in your class. To me truth and beauty are indelibly linked and perfectly transmuted in sacred poetry – so I began to bring ‘The Gift’ with me to class.
I intuitively chose to offer one poem after savasana and before closing the practice. While researching poetry in yoga class for this piece it was often suggested to offer a poem at the start of class as a theme to weave throughout or at the start of savasana to help guide the relaxation. In both instances I thought the mind would not be ripe to intuit the deeper meaning of the verse, nor were words an appropriate anchor for practice or final relaxation. I didn’t want to sense wheels turning throughout class or savasana. As I explored my own intuitive reasoning for this placement I came to see what beautiful potential sacred poetry has for unifying the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Please forgive the simplicity of my understanding, but a good savasana takes us deeply into the right brain (imagery/sensuality/expansive presence) but we naturally transition to some left brain function (language/linear and analytic thought) to leave class and go about our worldly duties. In this transitional place the transcendent nature of both the poem and the practice can hopefully be recognized and received . Poetry elevates – and the closing of our practice primes us for deep poetic reception. Hafiz so beautifully expresses the ineffable knowing that yoga practice leads us towards.
WITH THAT MOON LANGUAGE
Everyone you see, you say to them,
Of course you do not do this out loud;
Someone would call the cops.
Still though, think about this,
This great pull in us
Why not become the one
Who lives with a full moon in each eye
That is always saying,
With that sweet moon
What every other eye in this world
Is dying to
WE HAVE NOT COME TO TAKE PRISONERS
We have not come here to take prisoners,
But to surrender ever more deeply
To freedom and joy.
We have not come into this exquisite world
To hold ourselves hostage from love.
Run my dear,
That may not strengthen
Your precious budding wings.
Run like hell my dear,
From anyone likely
To put a sharp knife
Into the sacred, tender vision
Of your beautiful heart.
For we have not come here to take prisoners
Or to confine our wonderous spirits,
But to experience ever and ever more deeply
Our divine courage, freedom, and
AND FOR NO REASON
For no reason
I start skipping like a child.
For no reason
I turn into a leaf
That is carried so high
I kiss the Sun’s mouth
For no reason
A thousand birds
Choose my head for a conference table,
Start passing their
Cups of wine
And their wild songbooks all around.
For every reason in existence
I begin to eternally,
To eternally laugh and love!
When I turn into a leaf
And start dancing,
I run to kiss our beautiful Friend
And I dissolve into the Truth
That I Am.
Another of my considerations when offering a poem at the end of a class was whether it was appropriate to use the word ‘God’. This can feel very loaded for some folks and I want my sensitive, receptive, post-savasana students not to feel triggered unexpectedly by my offering. Thankfully Hafiz uses so many different words to express the divine that with 250 poems to choose from, avoiding the word God helps narrow down my choices. But at times I will preface a poem by saying that I will be using the ‘big G’ word (“so please take that to mean whatever it means to you”) and at other times I simply omit the word God and replace it with love or light (my apologies to Daniel Ladinsky- but I truly don’t think Hafiz would mind).
These are a few I’ve had to preface over the years:
A HARD DECREE
On the Tavern wall
A hard decree for all of love’s inmates
If your heart cannot find a joyful work
The jaws of this world
Grab hold of your
I GOT KIN
So that your own heart
So God will think,
I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
For coffee and
Because this is a food
Our starving world
Because that is the purest
THE GOD WHO ONLY KNOWS
Child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’t,
Not the God who ever does
But the God who only knows four words
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come dance with Me.”
Even if I’m misguided in my understanding of the right brain/left brain poetry connection, I still feel that after savasana is a fertile time to plant the seeds of the true intention behind yoga practice. We all know that there is more than just stretching, strengthening and relaxing going on in a yoga class. Much like poetry, it is more than the sum of its parts. What one receives from a good poem and from a good yoga practice is often times indescribable, partly because they nourish a part of us that is beyond words and partly because they meet us exactly where we are at which is so deeply personal.
There is much to be said about Hafiz- his place in history as a Sufi Master and realized being, his rediscovery in the West these last 200 years, and his influence over contemporary poets and poetry. But for me, the true measure of this book is that even after ten years I can still turn to its pages and find inspiration, companionship, and a rowdy God-intoxication that is contagious. As Coleman Barks so succinctly puts it, “There are universes inside Hafiz, a lineage of masters. Daniel Ladinsky follows the playfulness; the rascal moves well.”
In closing, I offer my favourite bhakti mantra from “The Gift”. It was the first I committed to memory, and the only one included in this review that I find too personal to share in a class setting.
Of mismatched newlyweds,
One of whom still feels very insecure,
I keep turning to God
Kenzie Pattillo completed her 200 hour YTT at Salt Spring Centre of Yoga in 2002. She is a householder yogi/mama living in North Vancouver, B.C. and presently teaches yin, hatha and flow yoga in her community. En route to completing her 500 hour YTT designation she has recently begun practicing one on one restorative therapeutics.