By Peter Y. Chou,

Line in Poem Literary Sources
Sing a hymn sublime flowing to the heavens
where the soul swims in the primordial waters
and flower gardens surround those who do good—
that's why the swan's last song is so joyful!
Rig Veda, 85.1,3 (circa 1500 B.C.)
Egyptian Book of the Dead, Chapter 85 (circa 1250 BC)
Holy Koran, 85.11 (7th century A.D.)
Plato, Phaedo, 85b (circa 360 B.C.)
Not words, not music or rhyme I want
but sun and moon and countless stars above
and grass, waters, mountains and trees below,
enduring dreams, all pure and lovely things.
Whitman, Song of Myself, Line 85 (1856)
Whitman, Passage to India, Line 84 (1856)
Whitman, Passage to India, Line 85 (1856)
A.E., Song and its Fountains, Page 85 (1932)
Graceful things— a letter on fine green paper
attached to a small budding willow branch,
a bright meteor swift and streaking like
a tossed white pebble arcing down the sky.
Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book, Section 85 (994 A.D.)
Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book, Section 85 (994 A.D.)
Gary Snyder, "The Mountain Spirit", Line 85 (1996)
Gary Snyder, "The Mountain Spirit", Lines 86-87
I can only pray unceasingly
for Land of Violets, Land of Spring
and then Joy is here— now forevermore
those lights innumerable glowing into one.
Emily Dickinson, Letter #85, (5 April 1852)
Emily Dickinson, Letter #85, (5 April 1852)
Emily Dickinson, Letter #85, (5 April 1852)
A.E., Song and its Fountains, Page 85 (1932)
Over the greens grass, the warm air shimmers,
the sky clears— moon and snow are one color.
I can't paint this, can only sing them here—
Nature would not be nature without spirit
Basho, Haiku, Vol. 1, Haiku 85 (1678)
Sogetsu-Ni, Moon in the Pines, Haiku #85 (1804)
Yuan Mei, I Don't Bow to Buddhas, Poem 85 (1798)
Novalis, Novices of Sais, Page 85 (1799)
and all its dizzy raptures. Not for this
good south wind still blowing behind me—
the seeds of beauty in space listening
to the notes flowing in the crystal stream
Wordsworth, Tintern Abbey, Line 85 (July 13, 1798)
Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Line 85 (1798)
Blake, Jerusalem the Emanation, Plate #85 (1804)
Shelley, To a Skylark, Line 85 (1816)
the snow-clad offspring of the bright sun,
the freshness of the space of heaven above.
Nature must be too young to feel or
many years too old—
    a hundred winters old.
Byron, Prisoner of Chillon, Line 85 (1816)
Keats, Endymion, Book I, Line 85 (1816)
Emily Dickinson, New Poems, Poem 85 (1875)
Emily Dickinson, New Poems, Poem 85 (1875)
Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Holy Grail, Line 85 (1869)
If life was always like that passing stream—
the three streams, three rivers under heaven
go on through the darkness, the waves fly back
into that empty too-much
    depth of silence,
James Joyce, Ulysses, Page 85 (1922)
Ezra Pound, Cantos, Canto #85 (1956)
Wallace Stevens, Palm at the End of the Mind, Poem 85 (1955)
Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, V.85 (1923)
e.e. cummings, 95 Poems, Poem 85 (1958)
while one thrush sings
    on the Tree of Heaven
and watches time like a hawk. It's so clear—
the arrow has not two points.
    The mind awakes,
the descent follows the ascent— to wisdom.
e.e. cummings, 95 Poems, Poem 85 (1958)
Ezra Pound, Cantos, Canto #85 (1956)
Ezra Pound, Cantos, Canto #85 (1956)
Ezra Pound, Cantos, Canto #85 (1956)
William Carlos Williams, Paterson, Page 85 (1958)
William Carlos Williams, Paterson, Page 85 (1958)
Six Songs, Song Without Words—
but God is words
and Soul is electricity whose name is Mind
woven over sand, snow, and clouds
bubbling before the sun,
    the one bright face.
Opus #85 of Brahms (1878) & Mendelssohn (1850)
Jack Keroauc, Desolation Angels, Chapter 85 (1965)
Allen Ginsberg, Howl, Line 85 (1956)
Merwin, Carrier of Ladders, Poem 85 (1970)
Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, Poem 85 (1954)
Janet Gray, A Hundred Flowers, Poem 85 (1993)
the celestial man with inner peace and joy,
whose mind is a sky emptied of all darkness,
who is content whatever comes his way,
grace illumines him with deeper awareness.
Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia, Section 85 (1749)
Saigyo, Mirror for the Moon, Verse 85 (1190)
Astavakra Gita, XVIII.85 (circa 200 B.C.)

Diadochos of Photiki, For Monks in India, Text 85 (486 A.D.)
Rain and thunder do not stop his teaching,
by the roaring sea, he chants sacred verses—
Seek not far for Buddha on Spirit Mount
for Mount Spirit lives always in your mind.
Chia Tao, Selected Poems, Poem 85 (843 A.D.)
Chia Tao, Selected Poems, Poem 85 (843 A.D.)
Wu Ch'eng-en, Journey to the West, Ch. 85 (1582)
Wu Ch'eng-en, Journey to the West, Ch. 85 (1582)
While others write good words, think of good thoughts,
when the mind is pure, it shines as a bright lamp—
Attention: the first step to Enlightenment,
poised like a hummingbird over a flower.
Shakespeare, Sonnet 85, Line 5 (1609)
Wu Ch'eng-en, Journey to the West, Ch. 85 (1582)
Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami,
    Merging with Siva, Lesson 85 (1999)
Awakened to the Higher Consciousness—
know this Truth— there's nothing to be attained.
Attune yourself to the altruistic life
and all your dearest dreams shall be realized.
Merrell-Wolff, Pathways through to Space, Ch. 85 (1936)
Wei Wu Wei, Ask the Awakened, Chapter 85 (1963)
Paul Brunton, Notebooks, Vol. 15, II.3.85 (1988)
Paul Brunton, Notebooks, Vol. 15, II.3.85 (1988)
Those who knows the Spirit returns to Nature—
the Beginning and End always coincide
as points on a circle drawn by a compass.
To know this, use a scale that's without measure.
Chu Hsi, Essentials of Learning, II.85 (1175)
Meister Eckhart, Commentary on Exodus, Section 85 (1329)
from Euclid's Geometry Lessons
Teaching of Zen Master Seung Sahn, Chapter 85 (1975)
Have equinoxious points of view all out of the true
    always there beyond belief—
the Original Face is your Empty Mind.
When all treasures are tried, Truth is best.
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, 85.28, 85.35 (1939)
W.S. Merwin, Present Company, Poem 85 (2005)
Tokugaku, Crane's Bill, Poem 85 (15th century)
William Langland, Piers Plowman, I.85 (1377)
Yes— by climbing, by singing, you can reach up
and hear time & space whistling together.
When you cease hearing, the Eternal Word speaks—
One single call and a hundred "Yes Yes".
Janet Gray, A Hundred Flowers, Poem 85 (1993)
Michael McClure, Ghost Tantras, Poem 85 (1967)

Angelus Silesius, Cherubinic Wanderer, Verse I.85 (1657)
Han-shan, Songs of Cold Mountain, Poem 85 (649 A.D.)
Far, far away the eagles over green hills,
this valley, its trees, birds, fish all dear to me
a full moon shines over the luminous lake
and the small hut— cherry and peach blossoms.
Su Tung-p'o, Selected Poems, Poem 85 (1100)
Po Chü-I, Selected Poems, Poem 85 (846 A.D.)
Rinzai, Lin-chi Lu, Section 85 (866 A.D.)

Yosa Buson Haiku Master Buson, Haiku 85 (1784)
Let joy arise in tranquil forest places—
the dove in spring—
summer, unborn flowers sleep in young seeds,
autumn stars frosty over Jade Springs
winter strawberry.
Santideva, Bodhicayavatara, VIII.85 (circa 700 A.D.)
Wallace Stevens, Opus Posthumous, Title of Poem 85 (1954)
Rexroth, "On Flower Wreath Hill", Lines 85-86 (1979)
Chia Tao, Selected Poems, Poem 85 (843 A.D.)
Numerology of words: 35 + 50 = 85
Time is long and old memories fade,
honeycomb of leaves sing good-bye to rivers,
the soul soars upward like a wing to meet
the tender dark of certain summer nights
Kathleen Raine, On a Deserted Shore, Poem 85 (1973)
Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets, Sonnet 85.5,7 (1960)
Karl Shapiro, Love & War, Art & God, Poem 85 (1984)
Denise Levertov, Sands of the Well, Poem 85 (1996)
when the moon's away and stars invisible.
How good it is, attentive to the darkness,
the beneficent grace of a single night—
nowhere to be happy but where I am.
Denise Levertov, Sands of the Well,
    Poem 85 "Hymns to the Darkness" (1996)
    Poem 85 "Hymns to the Darkness" (1996)
Robert Creeley, So There: Poems 1976-83, Page 85 (1976)

Meditation Notes to Poem #85:

This poem has 85 lines— 21 four-lines stanzas (84 lines) plus the title. For the context of sources for the lines, consult my web pages On the Number 85 to see how this poem was constructed. Despite the difference in space and time of the composition of each line, what unites these writers quoted is the number 85. That is, the writer's words appeared in verse 85, sonnet 85, chapter 85, line 85, or page 85. This poem is a mosaic from some 64 poets and philosophers all over the world. The sources date from the Rig Veda of India (1500 BC), Plato's Phaedo of Greece (360 BC), to Tang Dynasty poets of China (7th-9th century A.D.), British romantic poets (18th century), and 20th century American poets. An effort was made to include philosophical and poetical passages that are positive in outlook. It is from this subjective selections of inspired writing that this poem was composed. May this poem refresh our spirit and reawaken our mind to wisdom.

soul swims in the primordial waters:
The source of the primordial waters is from Chapter 85 in Papyrus of Ani in The Egyptian Book of the Dead. This chapter is about transformation into the soul of Atum, an early Egyptian deity who was responsible for the creation of the universe. Atum emerged as a bubble of air in the vast, limitless ocean of darkness— the undifferentiated primordial waters (Nu) that existed before creation. Later, Atum became associated with the setting sun, who gave birth to Shu (Wind) and Tefnut (Moisture).
(Egyptian Book of Life; Egyptian Cosmology; Egyptian Gods)
    References to the primordial waters may also be found in Genesis I.2,6-7:
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters,
and let it divide the waters from the waters.
And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under
the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

    In chemistry, the Primordial Soup is the ocean where the combination of chemicals— methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), water (H2O), and hydrogen (H2) with a spark of electricity (lightning) made the 20 amino acids, the building blocks of proteins, which would then evolve into all the species of life. Dr. Stanley Miller did these simulation experiments at University of California, San Diego (1953).
    In physics, the Primordial Soup refers to a microsecond after the Big Bang, when the exploding fireball of the newborn Universe was only a few kilometres across, all matter existed in a special state. The basic building blocks of matter— quarks and electrons, floated freely in an incredibly hot, dense soup. As the Universe grew and cooled, the quarks bound together into the protons and neutrons that abound today. This is what physicists think happened at the beginning of the Universe. To prove it, teams at particle accelerators all over the world have been racing to recreate that primordial soup— called quark-gluon plasma. (Brookhaven Ion Collider; A Recipe for Primordial Soup)

flower gardens surround those who do good:
The source is from the Holy Koran, Surya 85 titled "The Celestial Stations". Line 11: "those who believe and do good, they shall have gardens beneath which rivers flow". In Chapter 55 of Signs of the Unseen: Discourses of Rumi, the Sufi sage says: "those who speak well of others, are always in a paradise garden of flowers and herbs." Conversely, "those who speak ill of others will find themselves amidst thorns and thistles."

those lights innumerable glowing into one:
The source is from a poem on page 85 of A.E.'s Song and its Fountains (1932). A.E. or George William Russell (1867-1935) is an Irish poet and artist. He was a mentor to William Butler Yeats and James Joyce. A.E.'s poems and paintings are inspired by mystical vision. The colors of the rainbow are ROYGBIV— red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. If our world is represented by these colors of multiplicity, then their source (see Newton's prism) is white light— the philosophical symbol of Oneness.

If life was always like that passing stream—:
The source is from James Joyce's Ulysses, page 85 (1922), where he is referring to "heavenly weather". However, an earlier reference (circa 500 B.C.) may be found in the Analects of Confucius (Lun Yu, IX.17): The Master standing by a stream, said, "It passes on just like this, not ceasing day or night!" Streams and rivers could run dry or be diverted, but that which passes on without ceasing is Pure Consciousness, ever-present whether we're awake (day) or asleep (night).

the three streams, three rivers under heaven:
The source is from Ezra Pound's Cantos #85 (1956). Since Pound is writing about ancient Chinese Emperors, he may be referring to the Min River of Fukien which is formed by the confluence upstream of three rivers, the largest of which is the Chien. The other two rivers are Fu-t'un and the Sha. However, in this poem, the three streams or the three rivers symbolize the three frames of time— past, present, future or the three states of consciousness— waking, dreaming, deep sleep— "whose waves fly back into that empty too-much depth of silence"— Pure Consciousness.

Tree of Heaven:
Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is the Chinese sumac, a deciduous tree that can reach 80 feet or more in height. Mythology: In Maya mythology, Yaxche is the tree of heaven under which good souls rejoice. In Norse saga, the ash tree Yggdrasil provides a magical springwater of knowledge. The Tree of Life in Genesis is a tree in the Garden of Eden whose fruit gives everlasting life. After Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge, God exiled them from the Garden, and placed an angel with a flaming sword guarding the Tree of Life [Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling], fearing that if they ate from it, they would become immortal like the gods (Genesis III.24). In the Jewish mystic teachings of the Kabbala, the Tree of Life consists of the 10 Sephiroth and 22 paths associated with the Hebrew alphabet.

the descent follows the ascent— to wisdom:
The source is from William Carlos Williams's last poem, Paterson, page 85 (1958). Usually wisdom is associated with the realms of the gods, so one would think that ascent follows descent to wisdom. But Lao Tzu says in the Tao Te Ching: "The reason the river is the lord of ten thousand mountain streams is because it remains below them." Hence, a sense of humility should be cultivated if one wishes to experience the Tao, which is more likely to be found in the Spirit of the Valley rather than on mountaintops. Thus, a humble descent of the ego is essential if wisdom is to come our way. See the Zen story What Is Your Star?

Six Songs, Song Without Words— but God is words:
Opus #85 of Johannes Brahms is Six Songs (1878).
Opus #85 of Felix Mendelssohn is Song Without Words (1850).
"God is words" is from Jack Keroauc's Desolation Angels, Chapter 85 (1965).
We may associate the Six Songs with the Six Days of Creation (Genesis, I.1-32),
the Song Without Words with the Seventh Day when God rested (Genesis, II.2-3),
and "God is words" to the opening of Gospel of John, I.1:
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
But God is also beyond words, ever present in silence, in the gap between thoughts.

Soul is electricity whose name is the Mind:
The source is from Allen Ginsberg's Howl, Line 85 (1956). Our body may be likened to electric appliances while the soul is electricity that enlivens the body, bringing heat to the toaster, sound to the radio, light to the light bulb. When the tungsten filament burns out, the light bulb is dead, but the electricity is not. When we identify ourselves with the body (appliance), we are mortal. But when we identify with the soul (electricity), we are immortal and eternal. The same may be said of the Mind which is eternal, the essence and substratum of the three states of consciousness— waking, dream, and deep sleep. When the waker falls asleep, the waking world dies. When the sleeper awakes, the sleep world dies. Likewise the dream world dies when the dreamer wakes or goes into deep dreamless sleep. However, the Mind (Soul) is ever present in all three states of consciousness. Another analogy is the dying of ice when it melts to water, and the dying of water when it evaporates to steam, and the dying of vapor when it condenses to liquid. But H2O is ever present in ice, liquid water, and vapor.

the one bright face:
In this poem, the one bright face is not the sun, but the Mind— woven over the four elements of nature: sand (earth), snow (water), clouds (air), and sun (fire). This Mind may be identified with Aether or quintessence (from quinta essentia, "fifth element") as described by Plutarch in On the E at Delphi: "The fifth element some call Heaven, some Light, others Aether." This one bright face may be associated with the celestial man (sage) in the next stanza whose mind is like "a sky emptied of all darkness" and illumined with cosmic consciousness. The next six stanzas of the poem reflect the teachings of the celestial man.

know this Truth— there's nothing to be attained:
This is from Chapter 85 of Wei Wu Wei's Ask the Awakened (1963).
But he gives the source of this quote to the Zen Master Huang Po, Wan Ling Record (850 A.D.). A student at the beginning of the spiritual quest for enlightenment thinks that he will gain or attain some mystical treasure outside himself, not realizing that "the Kingdom of Heaven is within you" (Luke, XVII.21). When the ocean wave realizes that the Kingdom of Water is not out there somewhere, but is always within and is its very essence, it becomes joyful, knowing that while its form is ever changing and ephemeral, its essence is the same and eternal. Thus this Truth— "there's nothing to be attained."

the Beginning and End always coincide:
The source is from Meister Eckhart (1260-1328), Commentary on Exodus, Section 85 (1329): "the First or Principle and the End always coincide." An example is given in the next line of this poem "as points on a circle drawn by a compass." Other examples: New Year Eve and New Year Day coincide at 12 am midnight. When the Full Moon wanes to nothingness (darkness) or its end, it begins its New Moon cycle waxing to fullness (light). The Ouroboros image of the serpent biting its tail symbolizes the beginning (head) swallowing the end (tail). It represents all cyclical phenomena in nature where the first and last are united.

the Original Face is your Empty Mind:
Hung-jen, the 5th Zen Patriarch, told his monks to write a verse showing their understanding of the original nature of Mind. Whoever writes the best verse will receive the robe and become the 6th Patriarch. The head monk, Shen-hsiu wrote on the wall of the south corridor:
        The body is the Bodhi tree,
        The mind is like a clear mirror.
        We must polish it at all times,
        And not let the dust gather.
Hui-neng (638-713 A.D.), the rice-pounder, when told about this verse, knew it was not the true meaning of Zen. Being illiterate, he asked the cook to write his version:
        Bodhi originally has no tree,
        The mirror also has no stand.
        Buddha nature is always clear,
        Where can the dust gather?
The 5th Patriarch told Hui-neng that he understood the essence of Zen and transmitted to him the Dharma and gave him the robe. He told him to leave the monastery at once for the other monks will harm him. Hui-neng headed south with an entourage of monks chasing behind wishing to kill him. Finally, one monk, Chen Hui-ming, a general of the third rank, whose conduct was coarse and violent, caught up with him on a mountain. Hui-neng placed his robe on a rock, but Hui-ming could not lift it up. He then said, "I've not come for the robe, but the Dharma. Please teach me." Hui-neng gave him this koan: "Not thinking of good or evil, just this moment here and now, tell me what is your original face before your parents were born?" When Hui-ming heard this, he was at once enlightened.
(Philip B. Yampolsky, The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch,
Columbia University Press, New York, 1967, pp. 130-134)
    Beginning students who are given this koan, will dwell on a physical level. Was I in my father's sperm or my mother's egg? But if they were not born yet, where was I— in the genes of my grandparents or some disembodied entity before taken on human form? When the student moves to a metaphysical level, and realize one's original face is formless and changeless— he experiences the eureka moment— I am Empty Mind, Don't Know Mind, the Pure Consciousness that is everywhere and eternal.

When you cease hearing, the Eternal Word speaks—:
The source is the German mystic Angelus Silesius (1624-1677),
Cherubinic Wanderer, Verse I.85 (1657): How God's Word Is Heard—
        If thou wouldst hear / the Eternal Word speak unto thee, /
        First must thou wholly lose / the hearing faculty.

If we're constantly occupied with the mundane world and mired with the senses, we'll not experience the spiritual delights offered by the Mind. Hence Chapter 1 of the Kena Upanishads speaks of "the Ear of the ear, the Eye of the eye" that allows us to apprehend the eternal. That's why Beethoven could compose the 9th Symphony and The Last Quartets, gigantic breakthroughs in music while he was totally deaf. Likewise, Monet painted his Waterlilies when he was nearly blind.

nowhere to be happy but where I am:
This concluding line of the poem is from Robert Creeley's poem "Later" in So There: Poems 1976-83, page 85 (1976). A similar remark was made by Creeley when he died on March 30, 2005. When I learned about it at Stanford's Symposium on Creeley's Poetry (Nov. 5, 2005), I told his wife, Penelope Creeley, how it resembled the last words of Zen Masters on their deathbed. It reflects the philosophy of the enlightened sage: "The sage is content whatever comes his way." (Astavakra Gita, XVIII.85 (200 B.C.). Such is the advice that the Zen Master Yunmen (864-949) gave to his disciples: "Every day is a good day."

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (11-5-2006)