Every morning, a friend calls me, or I call him, with a poem to start the day. This seven-month-old tradition arose out of an ‘improvised life’ post called “What’s NOT wrong?”  about NOT jumping out of bed to check email or read the news first thing in the morning. Instead, start with a few minutes of reading something really GREAT…anything that reminds you of possibilities, other ways of thinking, grounds you.

My friend and I discovered that reading – or listening to – a poem or two has the effect of placing us right IN the moment, while casting a great deal of light on things, often bringing Nature right into our apartments. We read from – of Mary Oliver and Pablo Neruda and Su Tung-P’o to name a few.

We’ve found many treasures in The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry. I’m not sure “sacred” describes the selection of poems; were I to see the book in a store, I might pass it by, thinking “sacred” to mean religious. The books editor, Stephen Mitchell, calls them “poems of fulfillment.”

Here’s a great, teeny one by Issa:

In the cherry blossom’s shade
there’s no such thing
as a stranger.

And a very ‘improvisd life’ one by Emily Dickinson:

I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of eye –
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest –
For Occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –

We’ve found that reading a single poem – a haiku like Issa’s even, has a big effect on our thinking and our day: an instant meditation without having to meditate.


Related posts:

‘the imperfect is our paradise’ (wallace stevens)
pablo neruda’s poetic houses (+ his ‘ode to the present’)
louis c.k on being broke (with su tung-p’o)
‘what’s not wrong?’ and other ways to start your day
poems as gifts: don wentworth’s ‘past all traps’
‘lines written in the days of growing darkness’ (mary oliver)

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8 replies on “what happens if you start your day with a poem?

  1. that’s what is so great about “writer’s almanac” or “poetry daily.” just a click away.

  2. I just checked Amazon. This is how Publisher’s Weekly defined it. Check last line. “This refreshing collection is a sampler of mystical poetry from the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim traditions. A chronological order–e.g., Bunan follows George Herbert–reinforces the theme of unity. Whitman writes, “In the faces of men and women I see God”; Kabir finds “Inside this jar the music of eternity”; Blake sees “a World in a Grain of Sand.” Some delights: Mechtild of Magdeburg translated by poet Jane Hirschfield; Chuang-Tzu’s “Cutting Up an Ox” translated by Thomas Merton; Rumi’s “One half of the planet is grass./ The other half grazing.” A disappointment: weak translations of the Psalms. Some poets professing no religion are included, leading one to reflect on the universal nature of “sacred” poetry as distinguished from more parochial “religious” verse.?
    – Kathleen Norris, Lemmon P.L., S.D.

  3. I love this idea. Several months ago I stopped taking the New York Times during the week because I realized that reading the news first thing in the morning was orienting my day in the wrong direction. I decided to work my way through Petrarch’s sonnets instead, trying to parse out the language using a bi-lingual edition. I know next to no Italian, so the deliberate slowing down this impediment causes helps me to move more slowly and deeply into the day.

  4. Listening to Garrison Keillor read a poem in his Writer’s Almanac segment is a great way to start the day.

  5. That’s a great reminder. We often read Neruda in English and Spanish, the Spanish being a whole other experience. It does make for slower and deeper. Thanks.

  6. Cara, thanks so much for this. I was writing late last night and was hard-pressed to describe this wonderful book, But that does it: a refreshing collection.

  7. Lovely ideas! Right now Mary Oliver’s “Morning Poem” is working for me.

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