Writing a poem of blessings

Outside, we have a spring blizzard. It’s lovely. In Newfoundland, I think this is called “Sheila’s Brush.” It has got me thinking about teaching a workshop in St. John’s when I was doing a residency there. I suggested that the participants write a poem that was either a blessing poem or a poem that cursed something (but not someone). “Be careful,” I told them, “with what you curse!” They came up with wonderful poems. Someone wrote a poem that cursed the study of sociology, which made us all laugh. Someone cursed the weather – and it was a rollicking and delightful poem. Others wrote poems of blessing. How lovely they were. Here (below) is exactly such a poem by the American poet Jane Hirshfield. In these strange times, it seems to me we need poems of blessing going out into the world.

Try writing a poem of blessing, using Hirshfield’s approach: “Today…” Keep repeating this in each line, considering an image that you could take from nature, from objects in the house, from photographs you love. Notice how the poem changes near the end, to gather people in: “With these friends…” In the next line, she draws on fragrance: “With lavender and snow-scent…” Even though your poem may not be one about a wedding, you can still offer a vow, just as she does in the next line: “Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly / Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears / Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes.”

Finally, she ends with an invocation: “Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you…” and she repeats “Let its…” in the last line. Find a way to let your poem go out into the world in the way Hirshfield does.

Happy writing…

A Blessing for Wedding ~ Jane Hirshfield


Today when persimmons ripen

Today when fox-kits come out of their den into snow

Today when the spotted egg releases its wren song

Today when the maple sets down its red leaves

Today when windows keep their promise to open

Today when fire keeps its promise to warm

Today when someone you love has died

     or someone you never met has died

Today when someone you love has been born

     or someone you will not meet has been born

Today when rain leaps to the waiting of roots in their dryness

Today when starlight bends to the roofs of the hungry and tired

Today when someone sits long inside his last sorrow

Today when someone steps into the heat of her first embrace

Today, let this light bless you

With these friends let it bless you

With snow-scent and lavender bless you

Let the vow of this day keep itself wildly and wholly

Spoken and silent, surprise you inside your ears

Sleeping and waking, unfold itself inside your eyes

Let its fierceness and tenderness hold you

Let its vastness be undisguised in all your days

The Idea Box

In a time when the world has tilted, when we are all worried about loved ones, small things can help…planting seeds in cups on a window sill in readiness for a garden, listening to music, reading a poem, meditating, or doing yoga.

Lately, I re-discovered drawing. Some of these little drawings are of ordinary objects I’ve collected: feathers, shells, spruce cones, and a few others are sketches made from photographs. I asked friends to send some photographs and they did. Often these drawings didn’t work. I’d get stuck trying to do something over and over again. I crumpled them up and kept going. The idea was simply to focus, to meditate on what I was doing.

One afternoon, I pulled out a book I loved when I was younger – The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation – by Frederick Franck (Vintage, 1973). Franck describes the method he used in an outdoor workshop, after distributing cheap sketchbooks and pencils to his participants. They were asked to find a place by themselves, leaving six feet of distance between one another, and then he asked them to open their eyes, letting them fall on whatever plant, tree, or patch of grass was in front of them. Next, they were asked to close their eyes for five minutes. After that time, he asked them to open their eyes, giving an instruction: “Focus on whatever you observed before – that plant or leaf or dandelion. Look it in the eye, until you feel it looking back at you. Feel that you are alone with it… You are no longer looking, you are SEEING.”

Drawing as meditation… It doesn’t matter if the drawing works or doesn’t work: what matters is just attempting it. A line can lead to another line, and occasionally, there is a sense of resting with the mind alert. What I noticed was that I forgot about the news, and began to feel a sense of equanimity, of calm.

Try it with a leaf or a shell or a feather. All that’s needed is paper and pencil. As Frederick Franck says, let yourself truly see the object in front of you “until you feel it looking back at you.”