Commentary on 'The Promise,' a poem by Jane Hirshfield

First the poem, and them some comments ... 

The Promise
- Jane Hirshfield

Stay, I said
to the cut flowers.
They bowed
their heads lower.

Stay, I said to the spider,
who fled.

Stay, leaf.
It reddened,
embarrassed for me and itself.

Stay, I said to my body.
It sat as a dog does,
obedient for a moment,
soon starting to tremble.

Stay, to the earth
of riverine valley meadows,
of fossiled escarpments,
of limestone and sandstone.
It looked back
with a changing expression, in silence.

Stay, I said to my loves.
Each answered,

Poem copyright ©2011 by Jane Hirshfield, from her book of poems, Come, Thief, Alfred A. Knopf, 2011.

The message seems clear. Nothing stays. Even those that you trust to stay the most. The ones that you love. Even you yourself. You cannot stay. 

To me this poem explains two things simultaneously: that the promises that our loves make to us about staying are false. Our loves keep leaving us even if they promise to stay. It also shows that we -- or even they themselves who leave -- have little control over leaving. The changes happen whether we want or not.

We are all looking for our happiness to stay with us. Many of us have also realized that will be happy as long as we are with our love. As long as we have love, we are with our love, we should remain happy. As soon as we are seperated from our love, we become unhappy.

The key to unending happiness is to always be in the presence of our love. Whatever that love is, we want to make sure that love is absolutely real and true -- that it does not change.

The poem reminds me of Guru Nanaks first shook - Aad Sach: "That which was the same in the past, is the same now, and will always be the same in the future is the truth." The name of truth, or the essence of truth, is that which does not change over time. Your true love, is similarly your love that does not change over time. It was always your love, it is now your love, and it will always be your love. No wonder Guru Gobind Singh says that Love is the only path to God (Jin Prem Kiyo). 

So where is this true love that is the path to oneness and happiness? Is it the love that exists between two people?

Nothing stays. What we see and feel from our senses cannot be true love. Because everything changes. Not only does everything change, we generally have little control over these changes.

In a poem that I have found very profound and direct in its message, Guru Tegh Bahadur says the love of this world is false (Jagat Main Jhoothee Dekhee Preet). Whether it is the spouse or the friend, their love is not real. Whatever we think love is, it is not. The places that we are looking for love are equally obscure. Wherever we think love is, it is not. The love of the world is sham. The people who said "You're mine" are acting on behalf of their own needs. The pronouncements of love are a result of ulterior motives. In the end no one is with you. "I keep telling my mind," says Guru Tegh Bahadur says, "My mind is stupid. I keep explaining the reality of love to my mind, but it does not understand." He concludes that the only person who can cross the trecherous ocean of the world is the one who sings the songs of the limitless.  

The only love that has staying power is the love of singing oneness. For staying happy, we have to adhere to the love that stays with us always. What stays with us always is acceptance. The love of acceptance can stay with us. The song of limitless life is the love of acceptance. If we can sing acceptance of all the changes. If we can understand that our loves -- no matter how much they promise -- are going to change and leave, we will not have the expectations that make us unhappy. Having accepted we would sing the song of limitless life. We would realize that the purpose of life is to sing. The promise to sing is the only promise that can be kept forever. That is the only true promise.