Photo by Chalabala/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Chalabala/iStock / Getty Images

Poems to inspire Karuna/Compassion


The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog
~ Robert Bly

I never intended to have this life, believe me—
It just happened. You know how dogs turn up
At a farm, and they wag but can't explain. 

It's good if you can accept your life—you'll notice
Your face has become deranged trying to adjust
To it. Your face thought your life would look

Like your bedroom mirror when you were ten. 
That was a clear river touched by mountain wind. 
Even your parents can't believe how much you've changed. 

Sparrows in winter, if you've ever held one, all feathers, 
Burst out of your hand with a fiery glee. 
You see them later in hedges. Teachers praise you, 

But you can't quite get back to the winter sparrow. 
Your life is a dog. He's been hungry for miles, 
Doesn't particularly like you, but gives up, and comes in.


 Wild Geese

~ Mary Oliver 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.

The Wings

~  Denise Levertov

Something hangs in back of me,
I can't see it, can't move it.

I know it's black, 
a hump on my back.

It's heavy. You
can't see it.

What's in it? Don't tell me
you don't know. It's

what you told me about--

inimical power, cold
whirling out of it and

around me and
sweeping you flat.

But what if,
like a camel, it's

pure energy I store,
and carry humped and heavy?

Not black, not
that terror, stupidity

of cold rage; or black
only for being pent there?

What if released in air
it became a white

source of light, a fountain
of light? Could all that weight

be the power of flight?
Look inward: see me

with embryo wings, one
feathered in soot, the other

blazing ciliations of ember, pale
flare-pinions. Well--

could I go
on one wing,

the white one?

The Mockingbird

~ by Mary Oliver


All summer
the mocking bird
in his pearl-gray coat
and his white-windowed wings

from the hedge to the top of the pine
and begins to sing, but it’s neither
lilting nor lovely,

for he is the thief of other sounds–
whistles and truck brakes and dry hinges
plus all the songs
of other birds in his neighborhood;

mimicking and elaborating,
he sings with humor and bravado
so I have to wait a long time
for the softer voice of his own life

to come through. He begins
by giving up all his usual flutter
and setting down on the pine’s forelock
then looking around

as though to make sure he’s alone;
then he slaps each wing against his breast,
where his heart is,
and, copying nothing, begins

easing into it
as though it was not half so easy
as rollicking,
as though his subject now

was his true self,
which of course was as dark and secret,
as anyone else’s
and it was too hard—
perhaps you understand—
to speak or to sing it
to anything or anyone
but the sky.


~Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, 
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.  
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth. 

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day

to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.