This is the third volume in a series by Roger Housden (Chasing Rumi: A Fable About Finding the Heart's True Desire) which includes Ten Poems to Change Your Life and Ten Poems to Open Your Heart. The author states: "Unlike prose, poetry does not explain things. It conveys the feeling of what happens. It articulates our deepest wonderings and aspirations, it shows us the world and ourselves in ways we might never have noticed before; it can name the questions that we wrestle with. Sometimes, it can prompt you to live your own answers in response. . . . Good poetry emerges from the wellsprings of the human spirit, and if we are in the right place in ourselves to hear it, we can call forth our own inarticulate knowings, and offer a mirror into the core and truth of our own life."
In this beguiling work, Housden has chosen poems from a diverse group: Americans Thomas Merton, David Whyte, Stanley Kunitz, and Jane Hirshfield; the Basque poet Miguel de Unamuno; Anna Swir from Poland; the Greek poet C. P. Cavafy; and three of his favorites, Rumi, Mary Oliver, and Naomi Shihab Nye.
Freedom is not a goal, it is a process of coming into our own. We are already free, and all we need do is move beyond the blinders that hold us back: the ego, the opinion of others, caution, sadness, and the fear of failure. The poets write about these hindrances, and Housden helps us see just what they are talking about in their capacious observations.
Take, for example, his commentary on Mary Oliver's poem "Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches?" He is enthralled with the line "Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?" Here's what he says about it: "Mary Oliver is one of the pre-eminent line-makers. And this particular line is a string of words you are unlikely to forget. I mean, just notice your breathing now. Are you, in fact, breathing just a little? Of course. Most of us are. And she is on to us. It seems, with a few dynamic exceptions, to be part of the human predicament to live for much of the time on the air in only one lung. But then someone says something, and we notice we draw a deep breath, and another life becomes possible to us in an instant." Dare we say that we cannot really be free until we breathe deeply and take in the joys that life offers in abundance?
Housden mines the meanings in these ten poems and keeps our eye on the prize of freedom.