The Seven Streams: An Irish Cycle
by David Whyte
59 poems ~ 167 pages
Price: $20.00
Publisher: Many Rivers Press
ISBN #: 978-1-932887-57-0
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Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

In commenting on David Whyte’s artistic gift, Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides, writes:

“David Whyte makes the reading of poetry a matter of life and death.”

In this collection, David Whyte’s poetry reaches out as if to say, “Life is a path we both can share; let’s take a walk beside the sea.” Note to the intrepid reader: If you walk with David Whyte, you risk changing your life; you risk becoming more than you might imagine.”

The Seven Streams is portioned out in eight headings: I. Return, II. Griefs, III. Pilgrim, IV. Islands, V. Thresholds, VI. Mother, VII. Mythic, and VIII. John. Each has its own unique emphasis; each contributes to Whyte’s cycle of life.

Among the many poems that spoke to my inner-spirit, “Coleman’s Bed” (III. Pilgrim), swept me into a Stream of contemplation:

          Find that far inward symmetry
          to all outward appearances, apprentice
          yourself to yourself, begin to welcome back
          all you sent away, be a new annunciation,
          make yourself a door through which
          to be hospitable, even to the stranger in you.

The poem continues with gentle language about giving oneself over to becoming a child again, to listening with attuned attention to rain falling, to birds singing, being conscious of “each falling leaf.” The world, within its natural tendencies, became for me, unspoken prayers:

           Above all, be alone with it all,
           a hiving off, a corner of silence
           amidst the noise, refuse to talk,
           even to yourself, and stay in this place
           until the current of the story
           is strong enough to float you out.

By the end of the poem’s 70 lines, I felt reborn. I felt empowered to: “walk on, broader and cleansed / for having imagined.”

While the poet has assembled an Irish Cycle, I found myself challenged to apply the collection’s emphasis on streams and cycles to my personal context.

In RETURN, I am on a plane and catch a vision of “an old man walking on the wet road.” Whyte’s detailed description, “He has a stick, a hat, old shoes, / a gait that says he will walk forever.” The poem “What it means to be Free,” captures freedom, in such simple things. I want to reexamine my priorities in view of Whyte’s Stream of Simplicity.

From GRIEF, Whyte’s Elegy for the late Mícháel Ó Súilleabháin, I found a Stream of Appreciation for a dear friend. In a touching retrospective, the poet sees and hears Michael’s music … the music of his life. It visits him in “The Music of the Morning Sun.”

The set of four poems from ISLANDS calls forth, in me, a Stream of Self-Renewal. Where, "you realized–part of you / had already dropped to its knees, / to pray, to sing, to look–to fall in love with everything / and everyone again …”. These poems have the “feel” of journey, of hard-fought victory, a return from exile. I emerged knowing where I needed to be.

In her book, Open House for Butterflies, Ruth Krauss writes, “Everybody should be quiet near a little stream and listen.” This wise saying seems a perfect fit. David Whyte writes about “streams” that flow, meet, and cleanse, baptizing one into the recovery of life.

At the outset, this reviewer cautioned the “intrepid” reader that there are risks involved. Taste and see, perhaps, you too, will pray, along with me:

           I thank you light, for the subtle way
           your merest touch gives shape
           to such things I could
           only learn to love …


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