“The past is never just the past:
memory is a pulse passing through all created life….
The present fashionable obsession with living only in the now misunderstands the multi-layered inheritance of existence.”*
- David Whyte
is a rare poet, one who has made a career as a business consultant, writing books such as
The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America
. But his poetry is not (directly) about corporate life. His poetry is grounded in people and in places, in his relationship with family and friends, and, equally, in his relationship to the landscapes where he has lived, whether in his native Yorkshire or in the U.S. Pacific Northwest where he now makes his home.
I chose the word “grounded” because there is a tangible, earthy, sense of place in much of his work. In one poem, “Tan-Y-Garth,” he writes of a farm in Wales:
…. The farm
passed down but never possessed lives father to son,
life after life, feeding the sheep with grass,
the people with sheep and memory with years
lived looking at mountains.”
And those memories shape us in surprising ways, as he says elsewhere in the same poem:
“…. The rough ground of Wales
lives in the mind for years, springing moor grass under
feet treading concrete, hundreds of miles from home….”
Reading David Whyte makes me pay attention to the earth under my feet, the landscapes (Oregon, Germany, Maine, Texas, and elsewhere) that have fed my memories, and the people whose voices and whose touch have made me who I am. Whyte knows well the multi-layered inheritance of existence, that we are, indeed, shaped by all around us. He begins one poem, "Everything is Waiting for You," with the words,
“Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone.”
Oh, yes; I am familiar with that mistake.
Whyte does not write religious poetry in any conventional sense. There is little praise of Jesus, and even less of doctrine. But there is certainly awe before the great mysteries of life, and trust in the deep goodness of creation. In "Dance Night in Waterford City," Whyte addresses his mother, shortly after her death. He writes,
“we know you’ve been met now
and are well taken care of
and that somewhere
at the bottom of the dark well
of our going, there’s another
door of hospitality….
Reading David Whyte helps me to plumb those depths and explore life’s beckoning wonders.
P.S. We also wrote about David Whyte in an
, from 2014.
Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
(Edinburgh: Canongate, 2019), p. 108.
All poems are quoted from Whyte,
River Flow: New & Selected Poems, 1984-2007
(Langley, Washington: Many Rivers Press, 2007.