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.

“Sometimes”

Sometimes
if you move carefully
through the forest,

breathing
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,
and

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

questions
that can make
or unmake
a life,

questions
that have patiently
waited for you,

questions
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,
and

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