Soul Weight

            "What have you done
              with the garden entrusted to you?"

            — Antonio Machado
                 "The wind one brilliant day"

I've been pondering a lot about soul weight
after Bly's talk in his last Stanford Workshop.
He cites poems of Machado, Jimenez, and Rilke
that have more soul weight than American poets.

When asked how to judge soul weight, Bly says
"One who's always laughing is probably soul-less."
I tell this to a friend and she says "Bly's all wrong—
Everybody's got a soul— even my cats!

Didn't God breathe into us a living soul?"
I think about Joshu's dog, the Faust legend,
and weighing of souls in The Book of the Dead.
Can the soul be sold? Can the soul be cared for?

Bly's essay talks about Neruda's gravitas
"I know the earth, and I am sad" and Rilke's
"Only grief still learns". I recall Wang Yang Ming's
sigh "When all are merry, I alone weep and lament."

A century ago, Dr. Duncan MacDougall weighed
dying patients and found a weight loss after
their last breath to be three-quarters of an ounce—
this he proclaimed to be the weight of the soul.

I prefer the Upanishads rishi's insight that
the soul resides in our heart— smaller than
an atom and larger than the whole universe—
a mystery pearl of great price to treasure.

Bly tells us about radar development during
World War II with a navy buddy Eisy Eisenstein—
"He was the first one I knew who actually wrote
poetry and encouraged me to do it too."

"Some thirty years later, Eisy's name popped up
in a bar— he was teaching at some college.
I phoned and we arranged to meet in a New York
hotel lobby— and there I waited and waited

but Eisy never showed up." And from Bly's sigh
I sensed his sadness and the soul weight of that
moment— the way I often felt reading poems
of Emily Dickinson— so short yet so full of soul.

                                — Peter Y. Chou
                                    Stanford, 6-10-2008

Robert Bly's last Stanford Poetry Workshop (5-28-2008)
     and his essay on "Soul Weight" inspired this poem.

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (6-10-2008)