Poem’s that describe the experience of the Soul

spirit horse
Lisa Saint Photography

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.

A Blessing

James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,

Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

A Herd of Does

Hugh MacDiarmid


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.



Galway Kinell

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.


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