This is the final poem I will be sharing by David Whyte.


There is a faith in loving fiercely
the one who is rightfully yours
especially if you have
waited years and especially
if part of you never believed
you could deserve this
loved and beckoning hand
held out to you this way.

I am thinking of faith now
and the testaments of loneliness
and what we feel we are
worthy of in this world.

Years ago in the Hebrides,
I remember an old man
who walked every morning
on the grey stones
to the shore of baying seals,
who would press his hat
to his chest in the blustering
salt wind and say his prayer
to the turbulent Jesus
hidden in the water,

and I think of the story
of the storm and everyone
waking and seeing
the distant
yet familiar figure
far across the water
calling to them

and how we are all
preparing for that
abrupt waking,
and that calling,
and that moment
we have to say yes,
except it will
not come so grandly
so Biblically
but more subtly
and intimately in the face
of the one you know
you have to love

so that when
we finally step out of the boat
toward them, we find
everything holds
us, and everything confirms
our courage, and if you wanted
to drown you could,

but you don’t
because finally
after all this struggle
and all these years
you don’t want to any more
you’ve simply had enough
of drowning
and you want to live and you
want to love and you will
walk across any territory
and any darkness
however fluid and however
dangerous to take the
one hand you know
belongs in yours.


I loved how this poem surprised me. The first two stanzas allude to the theme of romantic love that Whyte brought out in “Midlife Woman.” However, in the next stanza, he quickly moves away from romantic love. He brings us into a scene straight out of an Irish painting, an old man by the sea, and implies that the man’s faith in Jesus is a kind of true love as well. We are cast into the Biblical story of Peter’s great faith and doubt, both in Jesus and himself, and finally, we are playing the role of Peter ourselves. We are the ones called by the Divine out of the boat as an act of faith and true love.

Do we have the courage to walk on, or will we drown as we have so many times before?

This poem reminds me that True Love is an act of faith as much a decision we make for ourselves and for life itself as it is for the other.  


I wanted to wrap up this week of David Whyte’s poetry with some of my favorite work. I honor and appreciate the poems that change and challenge me, but I long for poems that love me. How does a poem do that? By helping me to love myself. I shared this poem last year, but it bears repeating.

“Midlife Woman”

Mid life woman

you are not

invisible to me.

I seem to see

beneath your face

all the women

you have ever been.


Midlife woman

I have grown with you


in another parallel,

breathing with you

as you breathed,

seeing with you

as you see,

lining my face

with an earned care

as you lined yours,

waiting for you

as it seems

you waited for me.


Mid life woman

I see your

inner complexion

breathing beneath

your outward gaze,

I see all your lives

and all your loves,

it must be for you

that I wanted to become

more generous,

a better man

than ever I could be

when young,

let me join all your

present giving

and all your receiving,

through you I learn

the full imagination

of every previous affection.


Mid life woman

you are not invisible to me,

in you

I see a young girl,

lifting her face to the sky,

I see the young woman

in haloed light,

full and strong,

standing before

the altar of time,

waiting for her chosen.

I see the mother in you,

in your past

or in some yet

to be understood


I see you

adoring and

I see you adored,

and now,

when I call your name

I want to see

day by day,

the woman

you will become

with me.


Mid-life woman

come to me now,

I see you more clearly

than all

the airbrushed

girls of the world.

I became a warrior

only to earn

your present

mature affection,

I bear my scars to you,

my eyes are lined

to smile with you

and I come to you


and unshaven

walking rough

and wild through rain

and wind and I pace

the mountain

all night

in my happy,


at finding you.


Mid life woman,

In the dark of the night

I take you in my arms

and in that embracing

invisibility feel all of your

inner lives made touchable

and visible again.


Mid-life woman

I have earned

my ability to adore you.

Mid life woman

you are not invisible to me.

Come to me now

and let me kiss passionately

all the beautiful women

who have

ever lived in you.

My promise

is to you now

and all their future lives.


I do not know a middle-aged woman, who does not long to be seen in this way. We don’t know how to ask for it and only poets like Whyte can speak it so eloquently, but  everyone longs to be loved for the fullness of their humanity, not just the veneer of their imagery. In a world that worships at the fountain of youth, mid-life is the turning point when the accolades diminish and the dream of being loved passionately begins to fade away. We are softer; our faces are lined; our hearts and bodies are marked by the cares we have carried for years. It’s easy to believe love will never come, or that if we had it once, it will never come again.  Are we worthy of love even now, at this late hour? Whyte says yes, and yes, and yes again.

To the midlife women reading this, let this poem be a mirror, reflecting you in all your beauty. And if you love a woman in her midlife, let her know through a word, a glance, or an embrace. Even a silent prayer of gratitude may carry the energy she needs to keep going and growing in wisdom, age and grace.

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“Midlife Woman” PC: Matt Maude, London, 2015


This poem by David Whyte is called “Sometimes.” The irony is that Whyte’s poems don’t challenge his readers sometimes, but all the time.


if you move carefully
through the forest,

like the ones
in the old stories,

who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,

you come to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests,

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

that can make
or unmake
a life,

that have patiently
waited for you,

that have no right
to go away.


This is one of Whyte’s simpler poems to understand, but that makes it no less challenging to engage with. I have never visited the landscape he describes, the  deep mystical Irish countryside, but I have experienced the kind of “trouble” that landscape brings up for him. It isn’t the setting that is important; it is silence and the stillness it offers. It takes a special place, a place far from the busyness of the world, to hear the “questions/ that have no right/ to go away”.

In our modern world – one that prioritizes performance and efficiency (supreme market values) above all else – these questions are rarely asked. They don’t make sense; they don’t really matter; and to answer them honestly might require us to transform our lives. The lines that haunts me above all else are these:

… to stop what
you are doing right now,

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

For years now, this invitation has arisen again and again, to not just consider what I am doing, but who I am while I do it. In all that I do – parenting, marriage, teaching, working, volunteering, studying – how am I showing up and why? I want to be able to name and claim my energy and purpose honestly and with integrity. To be clear, I fail all the time in my execution, but I try to never fail to ask the “questions/ that have no right/ to go away”.

David Whyte lists and elaborates on his questions that have no right to go away in this essay for Oprah.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“Start Close In”

Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.

Start with
the ground
you know,
the pale ground
beneath your feet,
your own
way to begin
the conversation.

Start with your own
give up on other
people’s questions,
don’t let them
smother something

To hear
another’s voice,
your own voice,
wait until it
becomes an
private ear
that can
really listen
to another.

Start right now
take a small step
you can call your own
don’t follow
someone else’s
heroics, be humble
and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake
that other
for your own.

Start close in,
don’t take
the second step
or the third,
start with the first
close in,
the step
you don’t want to take.


I wish this poem was already in existence when I heard yesterday’s poem, “Sweet Darkness.” I heard that first poem as an “invitation” to change and this one as a “how to.” Though I found my way without access to its particular wisdom, I have found it so helpful since. It is a daily reminder to wake up, to take stock, and to always start “close in.”

I am a future-oriented thinker, so I have a tendency to get ahead of myself.  I don’t while away hours thinking about the past; I don’t often get lost in the present moment. Rather, I can spend hours daydreaming about the future and how things might go. I can get ten days, ten weeks, ten months of planning under my belt in just minutes. This poem gently, lovingly, and wisely calls me to start in the here and now.

This poem is a call to problem-solving in the present moment by taking a long, hard look at the real, which is almost always “the step/you don’t want to take.”

This poem asks me:

What am I avoiding?

What am I refusing to see?

What don’t I want to change?

Whyte invites us to ground ourselves, literally, in“the pale ground/ beneath your feet” and metaphorically by finding the ground of our own being, listening to our own voice, intimately and humbly. Only then will we have the wisdom to courageously make the next right step.

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My favorite shoes to take steps in these days…

The second week of National Poetry Month is dedicated to David Whyte, the poet, essayist, and speaker, who reignited my love of poetry almost two decades ago. I “studied” a fair amount of poetry for both my graduate and undergraduate degrees,  which I mostly neither cared for, nor truly understood. As a result, my early love for poetry faded away. But one day, I heard David Whyte speak at a conference and he rekindled the fire. In the midst of reading his poetry, he also preached a message about importance of bringing passion and commitment to your life and work. He lit a spark in me, which has become a flame that burns in me to this day. Here is that poem he shared.

“Sweet Darkness”

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
It’s time to go into the night
where the dark has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you
can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will make a home for you tonight.
The night
will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.

When I heard Whyte speak, I was in the midst of parenting three small children. While I would not have called my life “dark,” it had certainly gotten smaller, more noisy and chaotic. I had allowed so many voices into my head – culture, church, parent, spouse, children –  I had little idea what my own voice was saying. When Whyte repeated this line – over and over again:

Anything or anyone/ that does not bring you alive/ is too small for you.

something deep within me stirred and I recognized a truth I had not dared to speak, or even recognize. My life was too small and I was ready for this time of “confinement” to be over. Something new needed to be born – the fullness of me as a woman in her own right, not simply as a wife and mother. I shared these lines of Whyte’s poetry with Tim Kirkpatrick and he met me there, convinced as I was that “the world was made to be free in.” It has been a sweet, sometimes lonely, and dark journey, but it has been worth it every step of the way.

What is too small for you right now?

Who is limiting your potential?

Where do you find yourself trapped instead of free?

Don’t be afraid to name whoever, or whatever arises as you ask these questions. It does not mean they are bad, or that you have to leave them, but it does mean you can start pushing against the boundaries, creating more freedom for everyone in the process.

gray candle lantern
Photo by Lukas on