Poet Jane Hirshfield writes …The root of “spirit” is the Latin spirare, to breathe. Whatever lives on the breath, then, must have its spiritual dimension— including all poems.
This spiritual dimension is implicit in all poetry. In some it is also an explicit theme, a landscape in which the poem itself moves and breathes.
The three poems I share below for me, describe, in their own way, the human soul.
Paradoxically, the means with which these poems communicate this intangible subject is through the material (matter – Mater ) of mother earth.
In Galway Kinell’s poem Daybreak, the starfish seem to be symbolic of the soul weighted by the gravity of material laws and samsaric cycles. As the sun sets, their bodies sink into the invisibility of the sand as the stars ( also symbolic of the soul) sink into the invisibility of everyday reality come daybreak.
In Hugh MacDiarmid’s A Herd of Does, the soul is glimpsed almost as an apparition. It is interesting to note that the deer or gazelle was often a symbol of the soul in Persian poetry.
In James Wright’s, A Blessing, an encounter with two ponies at twilight ( traditionally, a liminal time when the veil between worlds is thin) breaks open the boundary of the human ego. The contained ego is enlarged and liberated through communion. In poetry and art, horses are often used as a symbol of spiritual freedom.
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
A Herd of Does
There is no doe in all the herd
Whose heart is not her heart,
O Earth, with all their glimmering eyes
She sees thee as thou art.
Like them in shapes of fleeting fire
She mingles with the light
Till whoso saw her sees her not
And doubts his former sight.
They come and go and none can say
Who sees them subtly run
If they indeed are forms of life
Or figments of the sun.
So is she one with heaven here
Confounding mortal eyes
As do the holy dead who move
Innumerous in the skies.
But now and then the wandering man
May glimpse as on he goes
A golden movement of her dreams
as t’were a herd of does.
On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.