In POETRY by Beth Lee-HerbertLeave a Comment

Here is a commentary on one of my favorite poems and how it relates to the spiritual path.
The Red Poppy by Louise Glück

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart? Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
permit yourselves
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.

The poem, written from the perspective of a red poppy, embodies a climactic moment of spiritual awakening and its resultant fading. Spiritual awakening is an experience of the heart not the mind; once we drop into our heart and feel the natural longing for the divine, can our hearts begin to open, revealing the divine with us all along.

In the poem, the poppy reaches for the sun, causing her to open, revealing her fiery golden sun-like core. By yearning for the divine that seems to be outside ourselves, we reveal our inner sun, the core of divine that resides within. When we reach for the divine, the glorious nature of our own minds is revealed.

The climactic moment of the poem, “What could such glory be / if not a heart?” is the moment that gives the reader a taste of that dramatic opening into full bloom. However, such peak experiences are simply not meant to last.  They are momentary sparkles of grace, moments to draw on for inspiration. Clinging to them will not make them last a moment longer. We must also embrace their shattering. Once the poppy fully opens, she begins to fade.

When I read the poem, I feel my heart open with the poppy, bare and naked, viscerally remembering the relationship between the divine, outside and within. I’m reminded of the lesson I’ve learned time after time—that spiritual ecstasy is merely a prelude to the fading and shattering that follows. Shattering is not a bad thing. Experiences are meant to pass. In the same way it is impossible for a poppy to remain at the peak of her blossom, there is truly nothing to hold onto in the realm of the spiritual.

About the Author
Beth Lee-Herbert

Beth Lee-Herbert


Beth is a dharma practitioner based outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. She enjoys stainless skies and the fresh smell of rain, solitude and deep connection, silence and laughter, and every form of dance. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.

Featured image by Dénes Szabó, Hungary  & photo of one poppy by Adina Voicu, Romania.

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