Old Poets’ Wisdom

As this challenging school year comes to a close, I keep reading my philosophical and poetical friends for their wisdom, both phronesis and sophia.

The Preacher of Ecclesiastes, Lao Tzu, Plato, Aristotle, Saint John, Rumi, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Emerson, Thoreau, Tagore, and Henry Bugbee have been sources of insight and exemplary guides to remaining well-grounded and adaptable throughout the year.

More contemporary voices like Ol’ Moose Doug Anderson, Niall Connolly, Mark Nepo, and Mary Oliver have felt like companions who speak to me from their essays, songs, and poems, sharing their experiences and showing me vital possibilities.

In these weeks of shifting from spring to summer mood in university work –a cultural transition that I strangely experience along with the natural transition from dry to rainy season in the Costa Rican tropics–, Mary Oliver has shown me the path to follow. In her poem “The Old Poets of China,” from the collection Why I Wake Early (2004), she writes:

Wherever I am the world comes after me.

It offers me its busyness. It does not believe

that I do not want it. Now I understand

why the old poets of China went so far and high

into the mountains, then crept into pale mist.

Mary Oliver

These verses remind me of the legend of Lao Tzu leaving the corrupt court of his ruler and riding a water buffalo beyond the Western border of the Chinese Empire, to disappear into the mountains. More importantly, they remind me of Wu Wei, flowing or effortless action.

They also make me thankful that I have been able to come to a secluded beach in the Osa Peninsula to listen to the voice of the sea, watch the changing textures and colors of sky, sea, and land; observe the rain fall upon the opposite shore across the Golfo Dulce; and enjoy the nesting of turtles and the presence of birds, monkeys, insects, and other animals in this world of wonder.

This world in Osa does not offer me its busyness –like the over-civilized, de-naturalized world of human business and enterprise– but rather its beauty, truth, goodness, and flow.

Flow in land, water, and sky

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