World Poetry Read by Assembly

Shalom, Salaam Peace on Earth

Creating Community of Spirit Through the Arts

First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh, September 30, 2007 



Now no-one will be listening to songs.

The days long prophesied have come to pass.

The world has no more miracles.  Don’t break

my heart, song, but be still: you are the last. . . .


                        -- Anna Akhmatova (Russia, 1889-1966) 1921, trans D M Thomas


The sky is like a heart,

Immense, opening up, bitter.

It is not rain; it is a bleeding,

Long and slow.


…will you sleep, while outside

Falls suffering, this slow water,

This lethal water, sister of death?


           -- Gabriela Mistral (Chile 1889-1957), from “Slow Rain,”  trans G Kaiser and J Tipton


The time is out of joint—O cursed spite,

That ever I was born to set it right!


            --Shakespeare, Hamlet I, i


There are blows in life so violent—I can’t answer! . . .

Perhaps they are the horses of that heathen Attila,

Or the black riders sent to us by Death. . . .


            -- César Vallejo, (Peru 1892-1938) from “The Black Riders,” 1918, trans Robert Bly


…the heart passing through a tunnel,

dark, dark, dark,

as in a shipwreck we die from within

as we drown in the heart,

as we fall out of the skin into the soul.


            -- Pablo Neruda, (Chile 1904-1973) “Death Alone”, 1935, trans Angel Flores


 …Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own. . . .


The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.


-- David Whyte  (English/US  contemporary), from “Sweet Darkness,”  2003

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

You must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.


You must wake up with sorrow.  You must speak to it

Till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows

And you see the size of the cloth.


            -- Naomi Shihab Nye (Palestinian-American, contemporary) from “Kindness,” 1980


Where is the dwelling place of light?

And where is the house of darkness?

Go about; walk the limits of the land.

Do you know a path between them?

- Job 38:19-20


My country, take care of your light!  Hold up

Your stiff straw of hope

Into the blind and frightening air.


            --Pablo Neruda, from “Hymn and Return,” 1939 trans Robert Bly


What a piece of work is man,

How noble in reason,

How infinite in faculties


In form and moving, how express and admirable,

In action, how like an angel,

In apprehension, how like a god!


The beauty of the world,

The paragon of animals--

And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?


Shakespeare, Hamlet  II, ii, 295 ff


…Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth…

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.. . .

 …The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again….


…Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In a euphoric dream?

…Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.


…Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,

…The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:

…There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;

We must love one another or die.


…Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

-- W. H. Auden,   (English/US 1907-1973) from “September 1, 1939”


Despair is the worst betrayal

            The coldest seduction:

To believe at last

            That the enemy will prevail.


Hush, my heart’s drum, my life, my breath,

There is finally a bone in the heart

            That does not break.


            --Marge Piercy, (US contemporary), from “The Eight of Swords,” 1969


My heart leaps up when I behold

A rainbow in the sky;


So was it when my life began;

So is it now I am a man;

So be it when I shall grow old,

            Or let me die!


            --William Wordsworth  (England 1770-1850), 1802


It’s not size but surge that tells us

When we’re in touch with something real…


            -- Mary Oliver (US contemporary) “Little Owl Who Lives in the Orchard” 1990


Rushing at times

Like flames through our bodies—


As if they were still woven with the beginning

Of the stars--

How slowly we flash up in clarity…


            --Nelly Sachs (German 1891-1970)   trans Ruth and Matthew Mead


A high tower on a wide plain.

If you climb up one floor

you’ll see a thousand miles more.


            --  Gary Snyder (US Contemporary) from “The Uses of Light,”  1974


…it is not our job to remain whole.

We come to lose our leaves

Like the trees, and be born again,

Drawing up from the great roots.


            -- Robert Bly (US contemporary), “A Home in the Dark Grass,” 1953

--these questions are not mine only..

All humankind

Men and women



hungry beyond the hunger
for food, for justice,
pick themselves up and stumble on
for this: to transcend barriers,


for absolution of each by each,
luxurious unlearning
of lies and fears,


for joy, that throws down the reins

on the neck of

            the divine animal

who carries us through the world.


            --Denise Levertov (USA 1923-1997) from “Modulations,” 1977


love is a place

& through this place of

love move

(with brightness of peace)

all places


yes is a world

& in this world of

yes live

(skillfully curled)

all worlds


            --e.e. cummings (USA  1894-1962), “love is a place” 1935


After all,

we are partners in this land,

co-signers of a covenant.


At my touch the wild

braid of creation


                        -- Stanley Kunitz, from “The Snakes of September,” 2003




A hand moves, and the fire’s whirling

Takes different shapes;

all things change when we do.


The first word, “Ah,” blossoms into all others.

Each of them is true.

                                    --Kukei (8th century Japanese Zen Master)  trans Jane Hirshfield


You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.

All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge


And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,

Above landscapes the color of ripe gold

Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.


That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal

Where everything is just the opposite and the word is

Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.


Notice:  I say we;  there, everyone, separately,

Feels compassion for others tangled in the flesh

And knows that if there is no other shore

We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.


            --Czeslaw Milosz (Polish 1911-2004) trans Robert Hass


…As in the womb the unborn

With the primordial light on its brow

Has the rimless view

From star to star—


So ending flows to beginning

Like the cry of a swan.

We are in a sickroom,

But the night belongs to the angels.


                        --Nelly Sachs, from “In the evening your vision widens” trans Michael Roloff


…Follow, poet, follow right

To the bottom of the night.

With your unconstraining voice

Still persuade us to rejoice;


With the farming of a verse

Make a vineyard of a curse,

Sing of human unsuccess

In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start,

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.


                        --W.H. Auden, from “In Memory of William Butler Yeats,” 1940