The Well of Grief, a poem by David Whyte

Every time a crack appears in the dam that keeps my sea of grief at bay, I am reminded of this David Whyte poem:

The Well of Grief
David Whyte

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief,

turning down through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe,

will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,

nor find in the darkness glimmering,

the small round coins,
thrown by those who wished for something else.

Source: David Whyte’s Facebook page, accessed 6 November 2020.

The audio of the video below* features David Whyte himself reciting the poem, and talking about how it came to be. The imagery is irrelevant, and I’d suggest ignoring:

I love hearing him tell the deeper story about the bottom of the well, and how he repeats certain lines, certain words, and then the entire poem in entirely different ways!

*That said, I have mixed feelings about sharing this video as it sets of an alarm related to “not taking that which is not given.” This is how Buddhists describe this ethical precept; it’s the same as Ahimsa, or non-stealing, for those of you more familiar with the yamas and niyamas of yoga philosophy. It’s hard to know if David Whyte gave permission to use his recording in this video, and I’d have to assume he did not.

Perhaps the audio is from this CD, which the video creator references? Maybe someone will see this link and make a purchase? Intellectual property on the internet is such a fascinating conundrum, and I would love to hear from you if ethical dilemmas like this are up your alley!

4 Replies to “The Well of Grief, a poem by David Whyte”

  1. I am on the way to my dad’s death day and I will not get to be with him in the nursing because of the coronavirus. In my haste I forgot to bring poems which comfort me…this being one of them. I happened upon your site and I find meaning in your intro to the poem..the “dam that keeps my sea of grief away”. I also appreciate the audio. So thank you.

  2. I love this because I’ve lived this. Sometimes you have to go to bottom of the well, so you can push off from there. Once you’ve seen the darkest level and emerge it’s cool and clear water.

    1. Yes.
      And when you find the coins from the bargaining stage, the wishes: your own attempts to resist the inevitable pain and subsequent transformation. You feel almost a protective sympathy towards them, as you would for a child who still believes in Santa, or who thinks he can stay dry by outrunning the storm.
      at least I do.
      Thank God for David Whyte.

  3. Thank you for having this audio from his Recording of “The Poetry of Self Compassion”— I first heard on cassette tape, then purchased on CD available on Davidwhyte.com from Many Rivers .
    I needed the poem this morning for a friend faced with the extreme tragedy of death of a grandchild.
    Having the surprise of the recording was a blessing indeed.
    Deep gratitude and appreciation for your care with proper origin.

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