The Realists

HOPE that you may understand!
What can books of men that wive
In a dragon-guarded land,
paintings of the dolphin-drawn
Sea-nymphs in their pearly wagons
Do, but awake a hope to live
That had gone
With the dragons?

— William Butler Yeats, born this day in 1865

A 19th Century Impression of the Buddha’s Message

In which calm home of happy life and love
Ligged our Lord Buddha, knowing not of woe,
Nor want, nor pain, nor plague, nor age, nor death,
Save as when sleepers roam dim seas in dreams,
And land awearied on the shores of day,
Bringing strange merchandise from that black voyage.
Thus ofttimes when he lay with gentle head
Lulled on the dark breasts of Yasôdhara,
Her fond hands fanning slow his sleeping lids,
He would start up and cry, My world! Oh, world!
I hear! I know! I come ! And she would ask,
‘What ails my Lord?’ with large eyes terror-struck
For at such times the pity in his look
Was awful, and his visage like a god’s.
Then would he smile again to stay her tears,
And bid the vinas sound; but once they set
A stringed gourd on the sill, there where the wind
Could linger o’er its notes and play at will –
Wild music makes the wind on silver strings –
And those who lay around heard only that;
But Prince Siddârtha heard the Devas play,
And to his ears they sang such words as these: –

We are the voices of the wandering wind,
Which moan for rest and rest can never find;
Lo! as the wind is so is mortal life,
A moan , a sigh, a sob, a storm, a strife.
Wherefore and whence we are ye cannot know,
Nor where life springs nor whither life doth go:
We are as ye are, ghosts from the inane.

… Read the full poem by Edwin Arnold, born this day in 1832


Fullness is on me
like the taste of watermelon in summer.
My remaining days stretch out
like a carpet of ripe pecans
on the floor of the orchard
behind my grandparents’ house,
each one waiting to be
picked up, cracked open, savored.
No more youthful hunger;
I eat the moonrise over the ocean,
my mouth round with silver.

— Jennifer Read Hawthorne

Don’t let your hormones dictate your metaphysics

I’m on a tramway, dropping from the sky
When I look down, my heart jumps in my throat
It’s only right—I’m not a mountain goat
My fear response knows well I cannot fly.

And just the thought of my mortality
Evokes instinctive terror, like a fall.
I think: surely it is the end of all—
A silent, black, black void—I’ll cease to be.

But Darwin tells us why these hormones rage:
They served our forbears in another age,
When bursts of strength and speed could save our genes.
(Natural selection’s good at counting beans.)

It’s epinephrine hijacks our best smarts
But visceral fear was never meant to be
Our astrolabe to map reality—
For that, we must consult our heads and hearts.

Despite their power, hormones are no guide
To what awaits us on the other side.
We cannot know what afterlife might be,
But here and now, can savour mystery.

— Josh Mitteldorf

A Blessing for Peace

As the fever of the day calms toward twilight
May all that is strained in us come to ease.

We pray for all who suffered violence today,
May an unexpected serenity surprise them.

For those who risk their lives
each day for peace,
May their hearts glimpse providence
at the heart of history.

That those who make riches
from violence and war
Might hear in their dreams
the cries of the lost.

That we might see through
our fear of each other
A new vision to heal
our fatal attraction to aggression.

That those who enjoy
the privilege of peace
Might not forget their
tormented brothers and sisters
That the wolf might lie down
With the lamb,
That our swords be beaten
Into plowshares

And no hurt or harm be done
Anywhere along the holy mountain.

~ John O’Donohue

Do I dare to eat a peach?

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
— From Blossoms, by Li-Young Lee

Earth Your Dancing Place

Beneath heaven’s vault
remember always walking
through halls of cloud
down aisles of sunlight
or through high hedges
of the green rain
walk in the world
highheeled with swirl of cape
hand at the swordhilt
of your pride
Keep a tall throat
Remain aghast at life

Enter each day
as upon a stage
lighted and waiting
for your step
Crave upward as flame
have keenness in the nostril
Give your eyes
to agony or rapture

Train your hands
as birds to be
brooding or nimble
Move your body
as the horses
sweeping on slender hooves
over crag and prairie
with fleeing manes
and aloofness of their limbs

Take earth for your own large room
and the floor of earth
carpeted with sunlight
and hung round with silver wind
for your dancing place

~ May Swenson

With thanks to Joe Riley at