Words of WonderIn the beginning - David Whyte

Sometimes simplicity rises
like a blossom of fire
from the white silk of your own skin.
You were there in the beginning
you heard the story, you heard the merciless
and tender words telling you where you had to go.
Exile is never easy and the journey
itself leaves a bitter taste. But then,
when you heard that voice, you had to go.
You couldn’t sit by the fire, you couldn’t live
so close to the live flame of that compassion
you had to go out in the world and make it your own
so you could come back with
that flame in your voice, saying listen…
this warmth, this unbearable light, this fearful love…
It is all here, it is all here.

by David Whyte


To be honest, I don’t know if I have anything even vaguely useful to say about this poem. I came across it after I already had decided on a poem for this week (coincidentally called Begin – by Rumi) and it stopped me in my tracks like it had eight years ago when I first read it. But though it caught me back then and I copied it out, it soon slipped away and left no trace of memory till I saw it again now.  

I can’t even properly explain why reading it now, it moved me to tears – something so poignant and true in its repeatedly contrasting words that it makes my heart say ‘yes, this!’ but further words or narrative fail me. Or maybe I could go there… but to put my own words and concepts on it, somehow feels like it would cheapen it. 

The writer Pat Conroy said that “David Whyte makes the reading of poetry a matter of life and death” and I can see what he meant. (If you’d like to read a prose version of David’s view on what’s happening in the world and the role poetry has to play in it, I can recommend this winter’s Letter From the House).

But to come back to this poem: even though I may not quite understand it, in my heart of hearts I somehow know what he is talking about, and it lands as a call to action as well as a reassurance, a comfort and an affirmation. I’d love to hear if others find it equally moving…

Picture of Andy Goldsworthy, Japanese Maple Leaves, Supported by a Woven Briar Ring, 1987.