Ten Poems to Set You Free
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Ten Poems to Set You Free inspires you to claim the life that is truly yours. In today’s world it is deceptively easy to lose sight of our direction and the things that matter and give us joy. How quickly the days can slip by, the years all gone, and we, at the end of our lives, mourning the life we dreamed of but never lived. These ten poems, and Roger Housden’s reflections on them, urge us to stand once and for all, and now, in the heart of our own life.
This volume brings together the voices of Thomas Merton, David Whyte, the Basque poet Miguel de Unamuno, Anna Swir from Poland, Stanley Kunitz, the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy, and Jane Hirshfield, as well as three of Housden’s favorites, Rumi, Mary Oliver, and Naomi Shihab Nye. His luminous essays on the poems show us how to integrate the poets’ truth into our own lives.
Roger Housden’s love of poetry and life leaps from every page—so much so that his readers feel they have found a guide and mentor through the extraordinary Ten Poems series. He has opened the eyes and hearts of many, not just to the power of poetry, but to the truth and beauty of the life of the soul. What more can one ask?
the banks of clouds. Look up and out; this is always Oliver’s byword—or even down, at the stone at your foot. Look with your whole heart, and that undivided attention to the physical universe, out beyond all self-preoccupation, may be enough to strike the match that catches your heart on fire. Perhaps you have not made that leap (of no distance at all). Well, there is time left— fields everywhere invite you into them. And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away from wherever
naturally, as if the silence itself is asking the question. The only spiritual practice that Ramana Maharshi recommended to the thousands of people who came to him from all over India, and indeed, the world, was the asking of this question. Who (be quiet) Are you (as these stones Are quiet). Do not Think of what you are Still less of What you may one day be. Rather Be what you are (but who?) be The unthinkable one You do not know. This is exactly as Ramana advised. Do not ask the
1997. Back to text 9 “THANK YOU, MY FATE” 1. Extract from “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?” by Mary Oliver. In this book and in West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. Back to text 2. Extract from “Dithyramb of a Happy Woman” by Anna Swir. In Happy as a Dog’s Tail. Trans. Czeslaw Milosz. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1985. Back to text 3. Extract from “Viscera Flicker” by Anna Swir. In Happy as a Dog’s Tail. Back to text 4. Extract
explanation, and other people’s stories (Rumi); of caution and prudence (Mary Oliver); of sadness (Unamuno); of failing luck and work gone wrong (Cavafy); free of whatever it is that prevents you in this moment from claiming the life that is truly yours. It is the truth that sets you free, and these poems are its messengers. For underlying this title is a question, one which echoes through every one of these poems: How can I stand freely in the truth of my life, feel the mettle of my unique
And yes, I have also felt abandoned at times—by the fates; in an early love, briefly; and as a child outside the babysitter’s door. More often, though, my life has been a creative tension between a condition of longing and one of belonging. The longing is something different to the feeling of abandonment. One longs for something only when one feels it to be close, or at least attainable. Abandonment is a condition of helplessness. Perhaps the value of abandonment as an adult is this, its capacity