18 Mar 2022
After David Whyte’s Self Portrait and
Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s The Invitation
It doesn't interest me what wealth you have built
even if you have built it from nothing.
I want to know what your heart is made of
and if it is strong enough to weather the storms
of living in the flesh of this world;
if it is flexible enough to bend without snapping
in the humility and hubris of growth;
if you are brave enough to reach your roots deep
into the well of grief, to drink.
I want to know if you are willing to stretch yourself
far out into the world with quaking limbs
and unfurl a blossom-filled hand as an offering
of tender beauty to share with all who pass.
Will you let them pluck, freely, a ripened fruit
from your delicious being? I want to know
if you will offer these gifts, dripping from your fingers
in a rich display of dressing-down, and release;
and if you are willing to do this year after year
though it will leave you exposed, arid, empty, cold.
I want to know if you can be warmed
by your own kindness; if your heart is made
of wood and blood; if you are willing to live
by giving of yourself to earth and air and other;
to rot, to burn, to turn with time, to change.
It doesn’t interest me what you’ve managed to save.
I want to know what you’ve given away.
Behind the poem...
I wrote To Know after David Whyte's poem, Self-Portrait – a work which prompted Oriah Mountain Dreamer to pen her arguably more famous poem in the same style, The Invitation. Both poems found me in a similar place in life: stripped down, grasping for the truth at the roots of things. Having memorized Whyte's poem and delved deeper into Oriah's by reading her book of the same name, I felt moved, eventually, to create my own version. Its inspiration is the journey of loss and discovery I found myself walking – and too, what was being asked of me to walk it well.