THE ENLIGHTENED HEART: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry ~ Stephen Mitchell:


“We dance round in a ring and suppose, / But the Secret sits in the middle and knows,” Robert Frost wrote, looking in from the outside. Looking out from the inside, Chuang-tzu wrote, “When we understand, we are at the center of the circle, and there we sit while Yes and No chase each other around the circumference.” This anonymous center—which is called God in Jewish, Christian, and Moslem cultures, and Tao, Self, or Buddha in the great Eastern Traditions—is the realest of realities.

Self is everywhere, shining forth from all beings,
vaster than the vast, subtler than the most subtle,
unreachable, yet nearer than breath, than heartbeat.
Eye cannot see it, ear cannot hear it nor tongue
utter it; only in deep absorption can the mind,
grown pure and silent, merge with the formless truth.
As soon as you find it, you are free; you have found
you have solved the great riddle; your heart forever is
at peace.
Whole, you enter the Whole. Your personal self
returns to its radiant, intimate, deathless source.

(Mundaka Upanishad)

Most of what we call religious poetry is the poetry of longing: for God, for the mother’s face. But the poems in The Enlightened Heart are poems of fulfillment. They were written by the Secret, who has many aliases. Sitting or dancing, all these poets have found themselves inside the circle—some of them a step within the circumference, some far in, some at dead center. Looking out from the center, you can talk about the circumference. But really, there is no circumference. Everyone, everything, is joyfully included.


Stephen Mitchell was educated at Amherst College, the University of Paris, and Yale University. He is widely known for his translations and adaptations of ancient and modern classics of poetry and wisdom. Languages that Mitchell has translated from include German, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Italian, and Danish. He has also adapted classics from languages he doesn’t know, including Chinese (Tao Te Ching, The Second Book of the Tao), Sanskrit (Bhagavad Gita), and Akkadian or ancient Babylonian (Gilgamesh). He has written a book of poems, two books of fiction, and the nonfiction book The Gospel According to Jesus, and co-wrote two books with Byron Katie, Loving What Is and A Thousand Names for Joy. Currently he is working on a verse translation of Homer’s Iliad, which is due to be published by Free Press in the fall of 2011. When he is not writing, he likes to—in no particular order—think about writing, think about not writing, not think about writing, and not think about not writing. His favorite color is blue, which happens to be the color of his wife’s eyes. You can read extensive excerpts from all his books on his website.


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