Poetry and Religion

Casual discussion amongst spiritual friends.
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 1161
Joined: Tue Jan 20, 2009 12:04 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Poetry and Religion

Post by zavk » Mon Jun 08, 2009 7:10 am

Dear friends,

I'm going to go out on a limb here and post a poem by Australian poet Les Murray.

Given the themes raised in recent posts, I've been trying to articulate my thoughts about religion, but I'm having much difficulty. But speaking very generally and tentatively, my opinion is that current criticisms of religion (articulated by the likes of Dawkins et al.) do raise an important cautionary note about the dangers of unreflexive religiosity and fanaticism. But at the same time, I also feel that these criticisms are somewhat narrow in their insistence on reading religion solely on the modern scientific premises of true/false. If religion deals with 'truth', it does so in a somewhat different manner--this is of course not to say that it is immune to rational inquiry or that it has license to ignore scientific premises.

So how does religion deal with truth then? I can't really answer but I think Les Murray's poem makes a good attempt, even if it raises more questions than it answers. My aim here is not to restart the debate on religion as such but merely to explore new paths of inquiry in a debate that seem to have cloistered [<-- a religious metaphor but quite apt here, I think] itself. Anyway, FWIW:


Poetry And Religion

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing's said till it's dreamed out in words
and nothing's true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier's one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?

You can't pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can't poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,

fixed centrally, we call it a religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror

that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There'll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds - crested pigeon, rosella parrot -
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.

Les Murray

PS: I am not elevating poetry into some special status over science or religion or anything like that. I just think it is helpful to take pause to reflect on words and see what they mirror back at us.
With metta,

User avatar
Posts: 8504
Joined: Tue Jan 06, 2009 11:32 pm
Location: Queensland, Australia

Re: Poetry and Religion

Post by cooran » Mon Jun 08, 2009 8:01 am

Hello zavk,

Sometimes the Inexpressible, Things as they Really Are, can be best expressed in poetry. There are portions of the Samyutta Nikaya where the Teachings are in the form of poems.
Personally, I love the mystical poetry of Rumi. :smile:

But there lies a danger here ...

Staying at Savatthi. "Monks, there once was a time when the Dasarahas had a large drum called 'Summoner.' Whenever Summoner was split, the Dasarahas inserted another peg in it, until the time came when Summoner's original wooden body had disappeared and only a conglomeration of pegs remained. 1
"In the same way, in the course of the future there will be monks who won't listen when discourses that are words of the Tathagata — deep, deep in their meaning, transcendent, connected with emptiness — are being recited. They won't lend ear, won't set their hearts on knowing them, won't regard these teachings as worth grasping or mastering. But they will listen when discourses that are literary works — the works of poets, elegant in sound, elegant in rhetoric, the work of outsiders, words of disciples — are recited. They will lend ear and set their hearts on knowing them. They will regard these teachings as worth grasping & mastering.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

User avatar
Posts: 18442
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:49 am
Location: kanamaluka

Re: Poetry and Religion

Post by Ben » Mon Jun 08, 2009 1:47 pm

I agree with you Ed.
Thanks for the Murray poem.
Yes Chris we should be mindful of the proliferation of literary works taking the place of the Dhamma, but we should not allow the fear of superceding the Dhamma prevent us from communicating the Dhamma, or the experience of Dhamma, in literary form. I am particularly inspired by the verses within the canon, not least the Theragatha and Therigatha.
Anyway, back to topic we go...

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Bing [Bot], Garrib and 52 guests