Poem of the Week, by Rolf Jacobsen

Last week I was listening to a podcast in which the speaker quoted a Buddhist teacher he’d once had, who said “You don’t have to like everyone you meet. You just have to love them.” Yeesh! The idea of loving everyone, no matter who, no matter what they’ve done to others, themselves, the world, me, feels impossible. But also, somehow, right.

So I’ve been trying the idea on for size, using my one tried and true method of conjuring warmth inside me for (almost) anyone, no matter how brutal they are, which is to imagine them the way they must once have been, back when they were tiny. Back when there was no war in them.

When They Sleep, by Rolf Jacobsen (translated by Robert Hedin)

All people are children when they sleep,
there’s no war in them then.
They open their hands and breathe
in that quiet rhythm heaven has given them.
They pucker their lips like small children
and open their hands halfway,
soldiers and statesmen, servants and masters.
The stars stand guard
and a haze veils the sky,
a few hours when no one will do anybody harm.
If only we could speak to one another then
when our hearts are half-open flowers.
Words like golden bees
would drift in.
– God, teach me the language of sleep.

For more information about Rolf Jacobsen, here’s his Wikipedia entry.

For more information about poet and translator Robert Hedin, check out his website.

Words by Winter: my podcast

One comment

  1. Mim Kagol · December 4, 2021

    Alison, Thank you for introducing me to this poet and this poem! “If only we could speak to one another when our hearts are half-open flowers…”


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