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Longing, Loss, Illness and Isolation, As Told By Poets From Around The World

>>As I confront the way our world is changing, I have found myself turning to literature to help meet, translate, and navigate the parts of myself that are not being met in isolation. Naturally, this state of mind brought me to my basement, where I found a box I had labeled in poorly scrawled sharpie, “Poetry from around the world,” a collection of poetry books I’d picked up in university. From this collection, and further research, I was inspired to mix and match different poets’ work to create an even more condensed collection; one that explored themes of longing, loss, illness and isolation. May this brief collection bring you some relief as it has for me.

Curated by Sean Mulligan

It does not roar nor thunder,

it spills no hail nor scatters lightning,

it unlooses no vast wind.

The great cloud simply rains.

Vittoka, India

O herdsman,

Coming along the shore

Sing your song to me…

Too lonely,

This lake in autumn.

Akiko Yosano, Japan

How quiet it is!

On the wall where the painting hangs —

a cricket.

How solitary it is!

Hanging on a nail —

a cricket.

Matsuo Basho, Japan

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast

In a field I looked into going past,

And the ground almost covered smooth in show,

But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it—it is theirs.

All animals are smothered in their lairs.

I am too absent-spirited to count;

The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less—

A blanker whiteness of benighted snow

With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars—on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

Robert Frost, United States

Restless night

My tangled hair

Sounds against my koto!

Is it three months of spring

And not one note struck?

Akiko Yosano, Japan

Have mercy, sleep,

and show me once again

my darling though it be but for a moment;

for when I see her

I shall hold her in my arms so tightly

she shall not go, or if she goes

must take me too.

Kalidasa, India

In the worst hour of the worst season

of the worst year of a whole people

a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.

He was walking—they were both walking—north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.

He lifted her and put her on his back.

He walked like that west and west and north.

Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.

Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.

But her feet were held against his breastbone.

The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.

There is no place here for the inexact

praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.

There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.

Also what they suffered. How they lived.

And what there is between a man and woman.

And in which darkness it can best be proved.

Quarantine, Eavan Boland, Ireland

Now it is the time of dark invitation

Beyond a frontier you did not expect;

Abruptly, your old life seems distant.

You barely noticed how each day opened

A path through fields never questioned,

Yet expected, deep down, to hold treasure.

Now your time on each becomes full of threat;

Before your eyes your future shrinks.

You lived absorbed in the day to day,

So continuous with everything around you,

That you could forget you were separate;

Now this dark companion has come between you,

Distances have opened in your eyes,

You feel that against your will

A stranger has married your heart.

Nothing before has made you

Feel so isolated and lost.

When the reverberations of shock subside in you,

May grace come to restore you to balance.

May it shape a new space in your heart

To embrace this illness as a teacher

Who has come to open your life to new worlds.


May you find in yourself

A courageous hospitality

Towards what is difficult,

Painful and unknown.

May you learn to use this illness

As a lantern to illuminate

The new qualities that will emerge in you.

May the fragile harvesting of this slow light

Help to release whatever has become false in you.

May you trust this light to clear a path

Through all the fog of old unease and anxiety

Until you feel arising within you a tranquility

Profound enough to call the storm to stillness.

May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness:

Ask it why it came? Why it chose your friendship?

Where it wants to take you? What it wants to know?

What quality of space it wants to create in you?

What you need to learn to become more fully yourself

That your presence may shine in the world?

May you keep faith with your body,

Learning to see it as a holy sanctuary

Which can bring this night-wound gradually

Towards the healing and freedom of dawn.


May you be granted the courage and vision

To work through passivity and self-pity,

To see the beauty you can harvest

From the riches of this dark invitation.

May you learn to receive it graciously,

And promise to learn swiftly

That it may leave you newborn,

Willing to dedicate your time to birth.

For a friend, on the arrival of illness, John O’Donohue, Ireland

Works Cited:

Anthology of Modern American Poetry, Oxford University Press, 2015

Sanskrit Poetry from Vidyakara’s Treasury, Translated by D. H. Ingalls, Harvard University Press, 1965

Akiko Yosano, Tangled Hair Selected Tanka from Midaregami, translated from Japanese by Sanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1987

World Kigo Database

Eavan Boland, Against Love Poetry, W.W. Norton& Company 2001

John O’Donohue Benedictus, A Book Of Blessings, Bantam Press, 2007

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