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One City

Dharma Poetry: Robert Creeley

I am sitting here thumbing through Robert Creeley’s Selected Poems, 1945-2005.  There is much song and delight in these lines.  And love.  Creeley’s an old crooner.  Because of my dharma poetry series, I am also, of course, searching–rather narrowly, I might add–for any specifically dharmic content in these poems.  Creeley does speak often and well of emptiness.  He speaks of the poet’s instinct as a kind of stance one might assume in the face of emptiness.  In the poem, “The Dishonest Mailmen”, Creeley writes:

“The poem supreme, addressed to
emptiness–this is the courage


I like that.  So, rather than ramble about any specific dharma in these lines, I just want to spend a moment talking about the poet’s instinct to write, to order his world from chaos into form, and I’d like to note how this instinct to observe and to listen closely to one’s own mind is really the same as the meditator’s instinct.  In the end, the practice of meditation is about listening to and becoming friendly with one’s own mind.  The idea being, once one achieves this essential friendliness, the rest–compassion, insight, kindness, etc.–follows.



As all meditators know, the first step toward mind-friendliness is facing the fact that our minds are a mess.  Thoughts flit about like monkeys swinging from tree to tree.  Monkey minds, that’s what’s in our heads.  No matter how serene one is, no matter how in command of their mental processes, the mind is still a wild and wily thing.  Here is Creeley’s poem “Chasing the Bird.”

“Chasing the Bird”

The sun sets unevenly and the people
go to bed.

The night has a thousand eyes.
The clouds are low, overhead.

Every night it is a little bit
more difficult, a little

harder.  My mind
to me a mangle is.


Creeley writes a lot about thinking.  Many of his poems have “think” or “thinking” in their titles.  But Creeley’s not talking about thinking in the rational sense.  He’s talking about something closer to actual meditation.  He’s talking about mind-watching, or thinking-as-listening.  In fact, he well knows the danger of too much so-called “thinking.” 

Here’s a tricky poem touching on the nature of thinking and meditation. 

“To think…”

To think oneself again
into a tiny hole of self
and pull the covers round
and close the mouth–

shut down the eyes and hands,
keep still the feet,
and think of nothing if one can
not think of it–


a space in whose embrace
such substance is,
a place of emptiness
the heart’s regret.

World’s mind is after all
an afterthought
of what was there before
and is there still.

I am still open to interpretations on these last two stanzas.  Please send along your thoughts.  Is this poem about getting to that space in meditation where one is thinking of nothing?  Or where one is actually no longer thinking?  How might one construe the lines “a place of emptiness / the heart’s regret”?  Is Creeley’s “World’s mind” the same as Suzuki’s “Big Mind”?  Do the last few lines make sense to you?  Can you think of why, or do you just that feeling that you sometimes gets when something rings true (or not)?


So where does all this working with the mind lead Creeley?  In a great poem from his collection “Away”, Creeley writes an emphatic stanza about how, in his view, the plan is the body.

“The plan is the body.
The plan is the body.
The plan is the body.
The plan is the body.”

I like these lines because they resonate so squarely with my sense of Tibetan bodywork practices.  And because they offer me a reminder of what the plan is when mind is mangle. 

For more, you can hear Creeley read a plethora of his poems here at a University of Pennsylvania website.  A few of my favorites include “The Plan is the Body” and “Ballad of A Despairing Husband.” 


Comments read comments(5)
post a comment
bob knab

posted September 19, 2009 at 3:56 am

greetings —
ok ok you ask – my poems
are some times composed
of incites that defy
words of explanation
even the writer may
not be able to fully do so,
that’s part the value of incite –
alas there is much talk
about about enlightenment,
so if you were enlighten
would you know it ,would you
be different,is different
a condition of enlightenment
if some one told you are enlighten
would believe them or think
them crazy how then did the Buddha
know he was enlighten, because
he had a incite he was, so the
question arises makes one think
they are not enlightened and with much run
around doing lots of dumb stuff doing !!!
the desire for enlightenment
is enlightenment in its self
incite cannot always be explained
like a poem singing *
so this ___________
* presto ****
Blessings ____________ bo*k

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Kimberley Cadden

posted September 19, 2009 at 5:51 pm

Hello there, just thought that I’d share my reflections on the ‘To Think..’ poem. I connect with the last two lines of the second stanza as pointing to non-thinking; that thinking of nothing is not thinking of anything – i.e. the absense of thought ‘if one can/not think of it’. For me the third stanza is saying that the nature of the space which emerges is emptiness – impermanence, and ‘the hearts regret’ is the least clear part for me however I connect with this as a way of describing how in this practice of non-thinking, there is a turning of the heart, that is to say that through this stillness and lack of conceptualisation the mind begins to relinquish its directions and return to its true nature and clarify – and part of this for me is the recognition of the harm one is causing and the wish to cease to cause it. Another way for me of talking about this is to say that we see how we don’t take refuge in Buddha/our true nature and at the same time there arises the wish to take refuge. But also for me this is a practice which can take place in activity – in that thinking is not that which drives us, but rather it is our true nature which we engage with through being oriented in emptiness as best we can. So for me the physical sitting is when there is a deep turning of the heart, but it is in activity where this more fully and lucidly manifests as both the recognition of when/how we cause harm/don’t take refuge, and the simultaneous arising of the wish to cease harm and fully take refuge….anyway going on a bit here – but this relates to how I engage with the last stanza, in that for me the world’s mind is the world of the kind of thought that results in the perception of world as self and other (which I’d describe as arising in thought that is not rooted in the recognition of emptiness). For me these lines are highlighting that thought is not the refuge – thought can only at best be an ‘afterthought’, and that what is, was (and will be), is beyond thinking….so that’s how I personally connect with these stanzas – thanks for sharing the poem!

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Anan E. Maus

posted September 19, 2009 at 10:11 pm

Some of the Beat poets were very interested in Buddhism. Kerouac did a nice collection of haiku. And, of course, there was Gary Snyder.
I think the artist can access, through vision, the light of Buddhism, but seeing it through the creative eye is not the same as living it. Though, it is certainly better than neither seeing it nor living it. And, of course, seeing it is always good inspiration to bringing it into the being.
some Buddhist poetry links:
Buddhist Poems
Poetry by Han Shan
All Haiku
Haiku by Basho
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
by Basho

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iPhone 4 Cases

posted February 24, 2011 at 2:56 am

Manually Deleting Apps Device Will Improve the iPhone 4 Cases. The answer’s a huge YES. I proceeded to shut each app (and at any time you have a tonne of apps youll notice how many are really frozen state) after which you resumed iMovie. The visible difference was literally all the time. I surely could peruse through my media within iMovie with out lag at all.

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posted November 19, 2012 at 1:24 am

rim la , did i get you right? i’ll be on a happy path to buddha narute without falling back into suffering ever again.!? : ) Yes?! then i definitely want to be in the class, pleeeeeeeeeeeease?i want to know the meaning of happiness and to be happy la ..Who will be my teacher? How do i registar for the class? What shall i prepare for attending the teaching? When will the class be started? Where will the class be held?Tthank you for informing. This is the best news i’ve ever heard in my life. It’s really a blessing to have met u. You see at least for now i’m happy : ) many thanks to you… love&respect .

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