I can't thank you enough for your many wonderful suggestions of praise
poems and contemporary psalms of various kinds. Because several of you
asked to see the handout I assembled, I'm enclosing the poems here. It
begins with three different versions of Psalm 19; then continues with a
range of praise-poems and petitionary poems, all of which felt to me
like psalms, or cousins of psalms...
I appreciate all of your suggestions, and only regret that I couldn't
fit them all into the ten pages I had allotted myself for this lesson
(And a happy Shavuot to all others who are celebrating it...)
The heavens declare the glory of God,
the sky proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day makes utterance,
night to night speaks out.
There is no utterance,
there are no words,
whose sound goes unheard.
Their voice carries throughout the earth,
their words to the end of the world.
He placed in them a tent for the sun,
who is like a groom coming forth from the chamber,
like a hero, eager to run his course.
His rising-place is at one end of heaven,
and his circuit reaches the other;
nothing escapes his heat.
The teaching of the Lord is perfect,
The decress of the Lord are enduring,
making the simple wise;
The precepts of the Lord are just,
rejoicing the heart;
The instruction of the Lord is lucid,
making the eyes light up.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
The judgements of the Lord are true,
more desirable than gold,
than much fine gold;
sweeter than honey,
than drippings of the comb.
Your servant pays them heed;
in obeying them there is much reward.
Who can be aware of errors?
Clear me of unperceived guilt,
and from willful sins keep Your servant;
let them not dominate me;
then shall I be blameless
and clear of grave offense.
May the words of my mouth
and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable to You,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
The heavens manifest Your splendor,
The sky, Your fingerprint,
How eloquent its message!
Each day speaks to the one that follows
And each night imparts what it knows
To the next.
Not words, no speech,
Though nothing is heard, it has voice.
Their messages encircle the globe:
To the end of the universe they give word.
The sun, he is at home in them.
And he—the sun—like a proud lover
Who comes forth from his tryst,
Rejoices like a sprinter
Speeding on his track.
From one end of the sky he dashes forth
And his circuit touches the entire rim.
And there is no hiding from his heat.
So is God’s teaching total.
So does it envigorate the spirit.
So trustworthy is God’s witness,
Making the confused wise.
So are God’s ventures direct,
So hearts are at bliss.
Awe of God brings purity
Lasting through all changes.
God’s determination makes for Truth,
In which all are made right.
God’s ways are
More attractive than gold,
More than heaps of jewels,
More pleasurable than honey
And delicate sweets.
I am devoted to You,
I want to glow in Your service;
In this practice I find refuge.
Who can apprehend
One’s own errors?
Please clear me
From what I am unaware.
Also from wanton harming
Protect me, who serves You.
Let evil not control me.
Then will I be made whole,
And I will be cleared from all guilt.
May the prayers I speak
And the awareness in my heart
Be transparent to You, God!
Please support and free me.
-- transl. Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD (PSALM 19)
God wrote a record in rocks and stars,
The tale of creation for us to read.
The old earth, rivered with ice and molten rock,
Revolved through eons of thrusting mountains and glaciers
The earth, first burning, then flooded and freezing,
Prepared through unhuman time the crust that would support life.
God writes in the planets and galaxies and systems of stars
A continuing record of the universe.
God writes in vast symbols a story of unending creation
Of a universe expanding and bursting into outer space.
Trembling, we contemplate the work of God.
Trembling, we pray to our Creator:
You Who alone understand the world You are making.
Pity the weakness of our insights;
Forgive our faltering pursuit of knowledge;
Plant in us the drive to search for truth,
Add to our understanding the dimension of humility,
Teach us Your ways.
-- Ruth F. Brin from Harvest: collected poems and prayers
Bless Thee, O Lord, for the living arc of the sky over me this morning.
Bless Thee, O Lord, for the companionship of night mist far above the
scyscraper peaks I saw when I woke once during the night.
Bless Thee, O Lord, for the miracle of light to my eyes and the mystery
of it ever changing.
Bless Thee, O Lord, for the laws Thou hast ordained holding fast these
tall oblongs of stone and steel, holding fast the planet Earth in its
course and farther beyond the cycle of the Sun.
-- Carl Sandburg
i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any—lifted from the no
of all nothing—human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
-- e.e. cummings
WHERE DOLPHINS DANCE
The work starts
As soon as you open your eyes in the
Hopefully you got
Some good rest last night.
Why go into the city or the fields
Without first kissing
Who always stands at your door?
It takes only a second.
Habits are human nature--
Why not create some that will mint
Your arms are violin bows
I have become very conscious upon
Whom we all play.
Thus my eyes have filled with warm
Soft oceans of divine music
Where jeweled dolphins dance
Then leap into this
--Hafiz, transl. Daniel Ladinsky
Bless the Lord, O my soul
Lord my God you are great
You are clothed with the energy of atoms
as with a mantle
From a cloud of whirling cosmic dust
as on the potter’s wheel
you began to tease out the whorls of the galaxies
and the gas escapes from your fingers condensing and burning
and you were fashioning the stars
You made a spatterdash of planets like spores or seeds
and scattered comets like flowers…
-- Ernesto Cardinal
FORTY-ONE: For Beginnings
Open my eyes, O Eternal, to change;
Fill me with longing for possibilities.
Let my life before be stepping blocks
To what you want me to become.
Open my eyes, O Eternal, to change;
Let me write beyond my narrow descriptions
To begin a new narrative,
Underlined with Your Name.
Open my heart, O Eternal
To put You ever before me;
Help me discard the insubstantial
And replace it with Your words.
Open my life, O Eternal, to fulfillment.
Where before were shadows
Let Your truths live in my life,
Sustaining my actions.
Turn me back to You, O Eternal,
Back to long befores I cannot remember
That beckon my soul.
Turn me back, O Eternal,
Opening me to change.
-- Debbie Perlman, from Flames to Heaven
AUGUST RAIN, AFTER HAYING
Through sere trees and beheaded
grasses the slow rain falls.
Hay fills the barn; only the rake
and one empty wagon are left
in the field. In the ditches
goldenrod bends to the ground.
Even at noon the house is dark.
In my room under the eaves
I hear the steady benevolence
of water washing dust
raised by the haying
from porch and car and garden
chair. We are shorn
and purified, as if tonsured.
The grass resolves to grow again,
receiving the rain to that end,
but my disordered soul thirsts
after something it cannot name.
from Otherwise: New & Selected Poems
like a skin on milk
I write to you
I hurl the letters of your name
onto every page, one and many
I know you are reading over my shoulder
look each of us possesses a book of life
each attempts to read what the other has scripted
in these almost illegible letters tipped by crowns
what is the story
we want to know
-- Alicia Ostriker, from The Volcano Sequence
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again
and fasten themselves to the high branches--
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands
of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails
for hours, your imagination
And if your spirit
carries within it
that is heavier than lead--
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging--
there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted--
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
--Mary Oliver, from Dream Work
PRAISE PSALM OF THE CITY-DWELLER
Lift your heads, all you peoples, to the wet heat rising in the airshaft,
to the pigeon feathers scattered on the sills, to the grey
triangle fo sky that drifts like a soft, wet shawl
For this is the day of the heat, when yellow sedans herd like goats,
when the smell of the body contains its own joyful death
See how the young men of the city weep and fall upon one another’s
shoulders, see how they turn their shining faces away from us who stand
encumbered by the changing sky
There was a place made, a clearing in the wilderness of bricks,
where they gathered to song—the microphone warbled,
the hot smell of tar and hope fanned in wings of smoke
Shout singing in your praises, all you peoples, for there will be more
days like this, when the mouths of the dogs fall open, pink
and quivering, and the cats lie down like lambs and close their eyes
While the hot grey heat rises like tissue from the skin, accumulating
in clouds of tears, there will be more days
Break the stick across your knee, O my brother, begin again
in the heat of further days
--April Bernard, from Psalms
GLORY be to God for dappled things--
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
--Gerard Manley Hopkins
THE CITY LIMITS
When you consider the radiance, that it does not withhold
itself but pours its abundance without selection into every
nook and cranny not overhung or hidden; when you consider
that birds' bones make no awful noise against the light but
lie low in the light as in a high testimony; when you consider
the radiance, that it will look into the guiltiest
swervings of the weaving heart and bear itself upon them,
not flinching into disguise or darkening; when you consider
the abundance of such resource as illuminates the glow-blue
bodies and gold-skeined wings of flies swarming the dumped
guts of a natural slaughter or the coil of shit and in no
way winces from its storms of generosity; when you consider
that air or vacuum, snow or shale, squid or wolf, rose or lichen,
each is accepted into as much light as it will take, then
the heart moves roomier, the man stands and looks about, the
leaf does not increase itself above the grass, and the dark
work of the deepest cells is of a tune with May bushes
and fear lit by the breadth of such calmly turns to praise.
--A. R. Ammons
my head is uncovered to my naked hair
I am dressed immodestly
my old body lacks teeth, lacks a breast
still cherishes itself
I eat what I want I am
an animal of flesh
as you know for you formed me in the womb
and made my desires what they are
I am waiting for you
in a bed of pleasure
--Alicia Ostriker, from The Volcano Sequence
When the night slides under with the last dimming star
and the red sky lightens between the trees,
and the heron glides tipping heavy wings in the river,
when crows stir and cry out their harsh joy,
and swift creatures of the night run toward their burrows,
and the deer raises her head and sniffs the freshening air,
and the shadows grow more distinct and then shorten,
then we rise into the day still clean as new snow.
The cat washes its paw and greets the day with gratitude.
Leviathan salutes breaching with a column of steam.
The hawk turning in the sky cries out a prayer like a knife.
We must wonder at the sky now thin as a speckled eggshell,
that now piles up its boulders of storm to crash down,
that now hangs a furry grey belly into the street.
Every day we find a new sky and a new earth
with which we are trusted like a perfect toy.
We are given the salty river of our blood
winding through us, to remember the sea and our
kindred under the waves, the hot pulsing that knocks
in our throats to consider our cousins in the grass
and the trees, all bright scattered rivulets of life.
We are given the wind within us, the breath
to shape into words that steal time, that touch
like hands and pierce like bullets, that waken
truth and deceit, sorrow and pity and joy,
that waste precious air in complaints, in lies,
in floating traps for power on the dirty air.
Yet holy breath still stretches our lungs to sing.
We are given the body, that momentary kibbutz
of elements that have belonged to frog and polar
bear, corn and oak tree, volcano and glacier.
We are lent for a time these minerals in water
and a morning every day, a morning to wake up,
rejoice and praise life in our spines, our throats,
our knees, our genitals, our brains, our tongues.
We are given fire to see against the dark,
to think, to read, to study how we are to live,
to bank in ourselves against defeat and despair
that cool and muddy our resolves, that make us forget
what we saw we must do. We are given passion
to rise like the sun in our minds with the new day
and burn the debris of habit and greed and fear.
We stand in the midst of the burning world
primed to burn with compassionate love and justice,
to turn inward and find holy fire at the core,
to turn outward and see the world that is all
of one flesh with us, see under the trash, through
the smog, the furry bee in the apple blossom,
the trout leaping, the candles our ancestors lit for us.
Fill us as the tide rustles into the reeds in the marsh.
Fill us as the rushing water overflows the pitcher.
Fill us as light fills a room with its dancing.
Let the little quarrels of the bones and the snarling
of the lesser appetites and the whining of the ego cease.
Let silence still us so you may show us your shining
and we can out of that stillness rise and praise.
--Marge Piercy, from The Art of Blessing the Day
Blessed be the Creator
and all creative hands
which plant and harvest,
pack and haul and hand
Blessed be carrot and cow,
potato and mushroom,
tomato and bean,
parsley and peas
onion and thyme,
garlic and bay leaf,
pepper and water,
marjoram and oil,
and blessed be fire--
and blessed be the enjoyment
of nose and eye,
and blessed be color--
and blessed be the Creator
for the miracle of red potaot,
for the miracle of green bean,
for the miracle of fawn mushrooms,
and blessed be Gpd
for the miracle of earth:
ancestors, grass, bird,
deer and all gone,
whose bodies became
carrots, peas, and wild
to human hands, whose
agile dance of music
nourishes the ear
and soul of the dog
resting under the stove
and the woman working over
the stove and the geese
out the open window
strolling in the backyard.
And blessed be God
for all, all, all.
--Alla Renee Bozarth