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Post Election Darkness, And Light

In a Dark Time

by Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood --
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.
That place among the rocks -- is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is --
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

-- from The Collected Poems of Theodore Roethke, by Theodore Roethke

(Commwntary by Ivan M. Granger

I know many of us are deeply disturbed and frightened by the results of the US elections this week. I won't say that things are okay. I will just say what I have said elsewhere in recent days:

Before election day and after election day, the work remains the same-- to give a helping hand, to protect the vulnerable, to cultivate a livable future, to be less blind to others, to be fully present, to embody love in a troubled world.


This poem by Roethke is one of those poems to keep close in difficult times.

In a dark time, the eye begins to see

The struggle against despair, disorientation, darkness. The solitary individual lost in a lost world. We have all been there at some point in our lives. Deep seekers have a particular tendency to travel through those shadowed spaces.

I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall.

That despair is often a deep seated sense that something is fundamentally wrong with the human world presented to us. It can feel uncaring, limited, violent, broken, and incomplete. In other words, it is a place that does not accept the individual as he or she is. To operate in the human world, we are forced into games of pretense and self-disguise. It is a feeling of homelessness and isolation.

What does one do when the soul is at odds with circumstance? It creates a terrible crisis. As social creatures, we align with the group mind, often without awareness or consent. The more naturally we do this, the better we fit into society and exist in the human world. But what about the eccentrics and visionaries, those who resist that psychic pull in order to answer the soul's need to be itself and see beyond social artifice?

The edge is what I have.

They tend to dwell at the edges. That is where both danger and possibility are found. There we gain the possibility of seeing clearly for the first time, witnessing reality as a complete and self-fulfilled individual.

But the danger is very real, as well. No longer relying on socially constructed reality as our boundary we also lose our safe landmarks. The psyche becomes disoriented and fragile.

To navigate this necessary dark night of the soul, the seeker and the artist must cultivate a highly refined inner sense of balance and discipline. This is an important reason for developing a vigorous spiritual practice. Without the necessary inner solidity, the tendency is to rely on dangerous crutches, like excessive drinking and drug use -- a terrible problem for so many creative non-conformists.

Think of it this way: The normal consensus reality is like the rigid shell of an egg. It does an excellent job of safely containing the unformed individual and protecting it from exposure to the unknown outside reality. But, if the individual remains within that shell forever, he never experiences the fullness of life. Through spiritual practice, one awakens the fire of life and takes on inner solidity and form. Then, when the shell has become too confining, we can break free into the open air without danger of fragmentation, ready to encounter the new world.

...Those dark periods we experience, they do actually serve a purpose, awakening clarity of vision and a compassionate heart. When we feel most vulnerable and lost, we are often going through our greatest growth and transformation, readying for the blaze of light.

Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

We must learn to work deeply amidst the darkness. We discover who we really are slowly emerging from the shadows, for that is our stable landmark when all else shifts about.

The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.


Which poem do you read when you are troubled or frightened? What gives you comfort, clarity, or courage? Let me know.

Sending love.
Poetry Chaikhana | Sacred Poetry from Around the World


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 14th, 2016 02:28 am (UTC)
That is amazing and beautiful. Roethke says the truth so perfectly.

Here's the one that has strengthened me--not as fine a poet as he, but a meaning that I can stand with:

What Are Years?

by Marianne Moore

What is our innocence,
what is our guilt? All are
naked, none is safe. And whence
is courage: the unanswered question,
the resolute doubt, —
dumbly calling, deafly listening—that
in misfortune, even death,
encourages others
and in its defeat, stirs

the soul to be strong? He
sees deep and is glad, who
accedes to mortality
and in his imprisonment rises
upon himself as
the sea in a chasm, struggling to be
free and unable to be,
in its surrendering
finds its continuing.

So he who strongly feels,
behaves. The very bird,
grown taller as he sings, steels
his form straight up. Though he is captive,
his mighty singing
says, satisfaction is a lowly
thing, how pure a thing is joy.
This is mortality,
this is eternity.

Edited at 2016-11-14 02:31 am (UTC)
Nov. 14th, 2016 08:11 am (UTC)
For me it was "The Serenity Prayer"

And this couplet from one of the Upanishads:

Lord, lead me from illusion to wisdom;
lead me from the unreal to the real.
Nov. 14th, 2016 11:33 am (UTC)
Oh, yes, I love that one from the Upanishads.

And from the Bhagavad Gita: "You have a right to your work, but not to the fruits of your labor."
Nov. 14th, 2016 03:06 am (UTC)
Thank you.

I needed this.
Nov. 14th, 2016 08:13 am (UTC)

You are welcome.
Nov. 14th, 2016 04:16 am (UTC)
When I feel down l like to read, watch a science fiction. It fulfills me with a hope that humans are wise, workable, united with a wish to achieve something worthing the attempts. Wars, hate, fear are always our features along with intuition, mutual aid, kindness so it is up to us which world we are living in. All must obey the general law and every troubles could be overcome I believe...
Nov. 14th, 2016 08:16 am (UTC)
I am unsure about what "general law" means/
But thank you for sharing that.
Nov. 14th, 2016 09:56 am (UTC)
In Russia we have our Criminal Code, 12 Commandments, or simply do not do to people what don't want them do to you...
For example, 1917 we had many problems, war, poverty, the society was divided with wealth level, religion, titles and people inside which even maybe had thought that they wish good for a country, with the help and money of outside people which certainly wanted to harm Russia, did bad things - killing, bribing to make a revolution but all this hell has started with ordinary Russians which had wiped their feet by other poor Russians... I think, if they didn't when maybe we now were living on really other planet cause Russia have been effecting the world more than intensely last thousand years...
Nov. 14th, 2016 03:10 pm (UTC)
AAh. yes, thank you.
Simple, fair rules are best.
provided we can agree on what "fair" meams
Nov. 14th, 2016 06:37 pm (UTC)
"provided we can agree on what "fair" meams"

As I told big troubles come from small lies. It is not some troubled moral question about this and that mislead people but simple lie to himself.
Nov. 14th, 2016 12:57 pm (UTC)
Mostly I turn to music for calm and focus. Like Leonard Cohen.

Although, and perhaps oddly, this poem by Robert Frost always helps...

The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Nov. 14th, 2016 03:21 pm (UTC)
This does not seem odd to me
Roethke says almost the same thing
(first line, second verse)
Nov. 14th, 2016 03:23 pm (UTC)
Indeed he did.
Nov. 14th, 2016 05:40 pm (UTC)
Here is my favorite, God's Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Nov. 15th, 2016 03:50 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing.
It took years to acquire an ear for Hopkins;
I am finally coming to enjoy him.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )



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