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Poetry from the Women-s Order Convention 1999

by Sangharakshita

... and you know ready to shoot any little bird that ventured near. So I thought this really quite unfortunate. In fact I wrote another long poem about it called Hercules and the Birds, but this is a short one. `St. Francis and the Birds', on that same subject.

I very well remember coming across those heaps of cartridges of all those different colours, it's a very, very vivid and poignant memory.

Well here's a poem about Il Convento, about those retreats, called simply `Tuscany 1983', so it will probably bring back memories to those of you who have been there, perhaps very recently. So, `Tuscany 1983'.

Well, we're progressing through the years so we come now to one of those new, unpublished poems. And it's called, `The Call of the Forest'.

What does the forest whisper With every wind-stirred leaf, From many-centuried oak tree To our old blossom sheaf? What does the forest whisper When nightingales are done, And cicadas fall silent? The forest whispers, `Come'.

What does the forest whisper In sunshine and in shade, Down every moss-hung alley, In each deer-haunted glade? What does the forest whisper When full or crescent moon Steeps nodding crests in silver? The forest whispers, `Soon'.

What does the forest whisper From depths primeval where The sound is lost in stillness, As clouds dissolve in air? What does the forest whisper When, from the darkling bough, Drop one by one the dead leaves? The forest whispers, `Now'.

But the whisper's a dream-whisper, For years on years have flown Since oak and ash and holly Could call the land their own.

The whisper's a dream-whisper, For cities of the plain Usurp the once green kingdom, Of forests they have slain.

The whisper's a dream-whisper, For forest is a dream Of days when man through nature Had sense of a Supreme.

The whisper's a dream-whisper Of a time when he could feel In the pressure of the Actual The touch of the Ideal.

The whisper's a dream-whisper, The dreams are of the soul, And soul itself a forest Beyond the mind's control.

The whisper's a Soul-whisper, That like a muffled drum Calls from your mind-built cities, "Oh man, to freedom come!" Well we're getting near the end, but we're going back to The Complete Poems for a poem. This is one which I think I wrote back in the late `60s and it's called `Life is King'.

Right, the last two poems are unpublished poems. The first one is `White Tara'.

Appearing from the depth of heaven The white-robed goddess calm and bright Sheds, moon-like, on this lower world The blessing of her silver light.

Seven eyes she has, all open wide, In face and forehead, hands and feet, For she of pure awareness is Embodiment and paraclete.

One hand, in teaching gesture raised, Imparts a wisdom thrice profound, The other, open on her knee, For endless giving is renowned.

A lotus at her shoulder grows, Complete with flower, and bud, and fruit.

Her form is straight and still, for she Is grounded on the Absolute.

"Awake, arise," she seems to say, "Leave dreams, leave sloth, leave passions vile!" Oh may we, seeing her, go forth Encouraged by her perfect smile.

And then, last of all, The Dance of Death. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the Dance of Death, but in the late Mediaeval and early Renaissance period artists often depicted what was called the Dance of Death. Death was represented as a skeleton, and he was shown dancing with all sorts of and conditions of people. There was at the head of the list there was death the skeleton dancing with the pope, even the pope has to die, then with the cardinal, the bishop, the archbishop, the knight, the knight's lady, the merchant, the farmer, the peasant, the beggar. Death dances with them all. In other words, everybody must die, sooner or later. So this poem is on that sort of theme. And perhaps I should mention that when I was in Basel recently in Switzerland I went to the Historical Museum and I saw a whole collection of illustrations of the Dance of Death, evidently the theme was very popular at one time.

So, `The Dance of Death'.

You dance with emperor, pope and king, With knight and dame of high degree, You dance with youth, you dance with eld, And one day you will dance with me.

You take for partner whom you please.

To choose is yours and yours alone.

And one day I will surely find Your bony hand within my own.

Your bony knee against my knee As, whirling with you in the dance, My eyes behold, an inch away, Your ghastly grinning countenance.

But if I do not shrink from it, And boldly look you through and through, Your bony frame in dazzling light Will be dissolved and born anew.

Oh you a shining angel shape will be, And I, released from strife, will find The Dance of Death to be The revels of eternal life.

So there you are, thirteen poems. You haven't had to say anything, you've just had to listen, and I hope you've enjoyed it.

(Dhammadinna) Samata, crying again! What can I say? Yes, maybe, yes, tears of emotion, some of us. Well, the look on your faces, yes, I think everybody did thoroughly enjoy your poetry reading Bhante. What can I say but thank you so much for joining us and reading, well for selecting those poems. Well I don't know what to say about that selection except that, well, except what?! It seemed to very sort of poignant, there seemed to be a sort of build-up in it, a building up built up and down again in a way.

...(someone else inaudible) ah right yes, a little humour, quite a lot of seriousness and well, teaching there. So I'm just going to offer you a nice bunch of flowers on everybody's behalf to say thank you.

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