September 13, 2012 “In Beauty May I Walk”- Navajo Prayer

September 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

In Beauty May I Walk

In beauty may I walk;
All day long may I walk;
Through the returning seasons may I walk.

Beautifully will I possess again
Beautifully birds
Beautifully butterflies…

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk;
With grasshoppers about my feet may I walk;
With dew around my feet may I walk.

With beauty before me may I walk
With beauty behind me may I walk
With beauty above me may I walk
With beauty all around me,
may I walk.

In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, lively;
In old age, wandering on a trail of beauty, living again…
It is finished in beauty.
It is finished in beauty.

Navajo Prayer

“In Beauty May I Walk” is a Navajo prayer that I have come to love. It is simply asking to do all things in life with beauty, illustrated through the metaphor of walking.

Walking is a powerful image despite being a commonplace verb. This prayer is actually a chant, and the act of chanting mimics the repetition of walking- each chanted line is like one step on the poem’s walk, and the word “walk” repeated over and over again at the end of each line starts to sound onomatopoeic, like the heavy thud of a foot on a dirt path. The imagery of walking and the action of chanting sentences that end in “walk” fit comfortably together.

I wish I could find the Navajo word for “beauty” because the word is so crucial here. “Beauty” is such a complex word, and it would be interesting to see a more detailed translation of the original Navajo term.

I love the repetitious sentence structure as well. It reminds me of Whitman.

No hidden meaning here. Just let the eternal message of the desire for beauty in one’s life envelop you, and chant it out loud for full effect.

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September 11, 2012- “A Valediction of My Name, In the Window” by John Donne

September 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

A Valediction of My Name, In the Window

MY name engraved herein
Doth contribute my firmness to this glass,
Which ever since that charm hath been
As hard, as that which graved it was ;
Thine eye will give it price enough, to mock
The diamonds of either rock.

II.
‘Tis much that glass should be
As all-confessing, and through-shine as I ;
‘Tis more that it shows thee to thee,
And clear reflects thee to thine eye.
But all such rules love’s magic can undo ;
Here you see me, and I am you.

III.
As no one point, nor dash,
Which are but accessories to this name,
The showers and tempests can outwash
So shall all times find me the same ;
You this entireness better may fulfill,
Who have the pattern with you still.

IV.
Or if too hard and deep
This learning be, for a scratch’d name to teach,
It as a given death’s head keep,
Lovers’ mortality to preach ;
Or think this ragged bony name to be
My ruinous anatomy.

V.
Then, as all my souls be
Emparadised in you—in whom alone
I understand, and grow, and see—
The rafters of my body, bone,
Being still with you, the muscle, sinew, and vein
Which tile this house, will come again.

VI.
Till my return repair
And recompact my scatter’d body so,
As all the virtuous powers which are
Fix’d in the stars are said to flow
Into such characters as gravèd be
When these stars have supremacy.

VII.
So since this name was cut,
When love and grief their exaltation had,
No door ‘gainst this name’s influence shut.
As much more loving, as more sad,
‘Twill make thee ; and thou shouldst, till I return,
Since I die daily, daily mourn.

VIII.
When thy inconsiderate hand
Flings open this casement, with my trembling name,
To look on one, whose wit or land
New battery to thy heart may frame,
Then think this name alive, and that thou thus
In it offend’st my Genius.

IX.
And when thy melted maid,
Corrupted by thy lover’s gold and page,
His letter at thy pillow hath laid,
Disputed it, and tamed thy rage,
And thou begin’st to thaw towards him, for this,
May my name step in, and hide his.

X.
And if this treason go
To an overt act and that thou write again,
In superscribing, this name flow
Into thy fancy from the pane ;
So, in forgetting thou rememb’rest right,
And unaware to me shalt write.

XI.
But glass and lines must be
No means our firm substantial love to keep ;
Near death inflicts this lethargy,
And this I murmur in my sleep ;
Inpute this idle talk, to that I go,
For dying men talk often so.

John Donne,

I came across this poem because the fifth stanza is used in the dedication of Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, a novel I just started. The theme of the poem fits the theme of the novel- the things we leave behind and that we use to identify ourselves can only come so close to giving us true understanding of who we are.

Wolfe’s narrator’s fear is that we never really know others“Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father’s heart? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?” he repeats throughout the novel. A powerful image he uses to convey this is that of the mother and unborn baby, who live together for nine months without ever making eye contact. Language and symbols and the things we create help us make sense of our strangeness to each other, but can they really elucidate the core identities of those around us?

Similarly, the narrator in “A Valediction” is on his deathbed and must leave behind some memory for his lover. Will the invocation of his name, a label of language, engraved upon a window, be enough to conjure his spirit? The narrator insists that this should be enough for his lover’s mourning and memory, but soon realizes the absurdity.

Like all of Donne’s work this is incredibly rich with phrases and words multiple meanings (“engraved”, “firmness”, “hard and deep”, etc). I especially love the use of the word “cut” in the seventh stanza.

I would like to believe that Wolfe saw hope and salvation from the strangeness he so staggeringly felt in Donne’s fifth stanza. Consistent with Donne’s masterful metaphor, and hopefully without being too cheesy, the meaning that I see Wolfe achieving here is that love is the window that allows us to see each other clearly and utterly- to give us that understanding and knowledge of each other that we all so desperately want.

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