Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

day 4 National Poetry Month ~

A friend asked me what my month of poetry has to do with Buddhism, with beginner’s heart. I wanted to yell EVERYTHING! But I didn’t. :) Instead, I gave a rational response about the need for words when we have none, and the impact of beauty. The way poetry speaks to more than our mind. The way it connects us.


In other words, I tried hard to quantify something that remains, for me, difficult to explain. I’ve told students in the past: I may not always get a poem, but I always get poetry. It’s the water I swim in, I guess.

When National Poetry Month arrives (finally!), I’m ecstatic. ALL MONTH I can talk about poetry. And even though I probably bore folks just as much as usual, THIS MONTH I can pretend it’s for their own good… :)

So today, in honour of my exuberant love of most things poetic, you get two poems. AND the picture that inspired them. Ekphrastic poetry — poetry about works of art — has a long & illustrious history. And these are two of my very favourite poets: Auden & William Carlos Williams. Both writing about Peter Breughel’s Fall of Icarus, above. Enjoy!


Here’s Auden, first:

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking  dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.


In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

And here’s William Carlos Williams:

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

According to Brueghel
when Icarus fell
it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
the wings’ wax

off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning





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