David Whyte and Jane Hirshfield on the window of waking

For years I’d been intermittently trying to find a very specific David Whyte poem. The detail I was sure I remembered after a morning yoga teacher read it aloud was a window: a window to something bigger that only exists at the moment we move from sleeping to waking, a window that closes in the morning the minute we start making plans.

Turns out there is no window — at least, no literal one — in the poem at all, so my many attempts to sift through the internet’s tons of gravel and sand for a David Whyte poem that necessarily contained the words “window” and “morning” and “plans” came up empty.

I can’t remember what new, less restrictive search I tried this last time, but Google finally yielded two gold nuggets: the poem I had incorrectly remembered, “What to remember on waking,” and a recent video of the poet himself introducing and then reading it, in his own inimitable fashion.

Below I have included the video, the text of his introduction, and the original poem.

First, however, I also wanted to share another recently-discovered bit of gold from Jane Hirshfield. She so perfectly and so differently illustrates what we can only see through the window of morning, the gold we can only discover while still wading in that different stream of consciousness:

Language wakes up in the morning. It has not yet washed its face, brushed its teeth, combed its hair. It does not remember whether or not, in the night, any dreams came. The light is the plain light of day, indirect — the window faces north — but strong enough to see by nonetheless.

Language goes to the tall mirror that hangs on one wall and stands before it, wearing no makeup, no slippers, no robe. In the same circumstances, we might see first our two eyes, looking back at their own inquiring. We might glance down to the two legs on which vision stands. What language sees in the mirror is also twofold — the two foundation powers of image and statement. The first foundation, image, holds the primary, wordless world of the actual, its heaped assemblage of quartzite, feathers, steel trusses, re-seamed baseballs, distant airplanes, and a few loudly complaining cows, traveling from every direction into the self’s interior awareness. The second foundation, statement, is our human answer, traveling outward back into the world– our stories, our theories, our judgments, our epics and lyrics and work songs, birth notices and epitaphs, newspaper articles and wedding invitations, the infinite coherence-makings of form. All that is sayable begins with these two modes of attention and their prolific offspring. Begins, that is, with the givens of experienced, embodied existence and the responses we offer the world in return.

Let us return to the morning bedroom, to the moment when language awakens to rise, looks outward, looks inward, asks its one question: “What might I say?” What does it mean when the answer arrives through the gaze of a Muse, that is, in the form we think of as art?

10windows

Excerpts from “Language Wakes Up in the Morning: On Poetry’s Speaking,” a chapter in Jane Hirshfield’s book Ten Windows: How Great Poems Change the World (Penguin Random House 2017).

***

In these days of the virus, when many of us are confined to our homes and confined to a different more inbound horizon, a different way of inhabiting the 24 hours, it’s interesting to think of the ancient disciplines and micro-disciplines around inhabiting the day and the night hours. One of the micro-disciplines that’s always been very, very important has been the act of waking into the world. Prayers for waking, a meditation at dawn, yoga for dawn, just standing up, taking a deep breath and greeting the horizon.

This is a piece I wrote called, “What to Remember When Waking,” that looks, independent of any religious inheritance, around the phenomenology of waking, of carrying this revelation from the reimagination that has occurred in your body, and the resetting of your physiology. And I’ve always felt that that moment of waking is an incredible opportunity and it’s quite a tragedy if you go straight to your to-do list. The tragedy of the to-do list is that it was put together with the priorities of the person you were yesterday. So the ability to wake in the world and see it anew…

What to remember when waking
a poem by David Whyte

In that first
hardly noticed
moment
in which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
moveable
and frighteningly
honest
world
where everything
began,
there is a small
opening
into the day
which closes
the moment
you begin
your plans.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
wholeheartedly
will make plans
enough
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

To be human
is to become visible,
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance…

Excerpt from ‘What to Remember When Waking’
From RIVER FLOW: New and Selected Poems
Many Rivers Press. ©David Whyte Source

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.” Continue reading “The Well of Grief, a poem by David Whyte”