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So early it’s still almost dark out.
I’m near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.

When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.

They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren’t saying anything, these boys.

I think if they could, they would take
each other’s arm.
It’s early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.

They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.

Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn’t enter into this.

Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

~ Raymond Carver

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Man, living in the dust,
Is like a bug trapped in a bowl,
All day he scrabbles round and round,
But never escapes from the bowl that holds him.
The immortals are beyond his reach,
His cravings have no end,
While months and years flow by like a river
Until, in an instant, he has grown old.

Alice Coltrane – The Sun (Words spoken by John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders)

I was six when I first saw kittens drown.
Don Taggart pitched them, ‘the scraggy wee shits’,
Into a bucket; a frail metal sound,

Soft paws scraping like mad. But their tiny din
Was soon soused. They were slung on the snout
Of the pump and the water pumped in.

‘Sure isn’t it better for them now?’ Dan said.
Like wet gloves they bobbed and shone till he sluiced
Them out on the dunghill, glossy and dead.

Suddenly frightened, for days I sadly hung
Round the yard, watching the three sogged remains
Turn mealy and crisp as old summer dung

Until I forgot them. But the fear came back
When Dan trapped big rats, snared rabbits, shot crows
Or, with a sickening tug, pulled old hens’ necks.

Still, living displaces false sentiments
And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown,
I just shrug, ‘Bloody pups’. It makes sense:

‘Prevention of cruelty’ talk cuts ice in town
Where they consider death unnatural
But on well-run farms pests have to be kept down.

Seamus Heaney

This is thy hour O soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death and the stars.

Walt Whitman

han shanHanshan (Cold Mountain) was a chinese buddhist monk and poet who lived in China some time around the 9th century. He is a legendary figure and details of his life are sketchy. He lived as a hermit in the Taishan Mountains and would write his poems on walls, rocks and trees where he travelled. He is said to have written 600 poems however only about 300 have been collected. Little else is known about him. He would occasionally visit the near-by Guoqing Temple to see his friends and fellow monks.

I first discovered Hanshan in one of my favourite books, The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. The main character, Japhy Ryder (who in real life is the poet Gary Snyder) is studying the monk and translating his poems from Chinese into English. Reading his poems, I am taken by his enigmatic and rather magical descriptions of life in the mountains, grounded in metaphors on Zen philosophy.

A thousand clouds among a myriad streams
And in their midst a person at his ease.
By day he wanders throught he dark green hills,
At night he goes home to sleep beneath the cliffs.
Swiftly the changing seasons pass him by,
Tranquil, undefiled, no earthly ties.
Such pleasures! – and on what do they rely?
On a quiet calm, like autumn river water.

When the men of the world look for this path amid the clouds
It vanishes, with not a trace where it lay.
The high peaks have many precipices;
On the widest gulleys hardly a gleam falls.
Green walls close behind and before;
White clouds gather east and west.
Do you want to know where the cloud-path lies?
The cloud-path leads from sky to sky.

Ensemble Nipponia – The Sound Of Wind Through The Bamboo Leaves

Robert FrostNature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
so dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

A beautiful and profound poem by American poet Robert Frost. Frost was 86 when he spoke and performed a reading of his poetry at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy on January 20 1961. Exactly 48 years later a new President is inaugurated who also speaks profoundly and brings a renewed optimism with his inspiring words.

Frost once said “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life – It goes on”. 

Here is a recording of Frost himself reading another of his poems…

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