Books Dusty Bookshelves and Library Loot Poetry Friday Reading Themes

Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye’s Call for Quiet Reflection and Kindness

I am happy to join Poetry Friday once more which is hosted this week by Violet Nesdoly who often shares her wonderful original poems with us. As the semester is about to begin and waves of work and deadlines would once again drown my inner voice and sense of quietude, I thought that a little honey from Naomi Shihab Nye’s Honeybee is in order, and so I borrowed this book from our public library.

I have to thank the Poetry Friday people for introducing me to the poems of Naomi Shihab Nye. Being a part of this affirming, vibrant, and ever-growing community has been that much needed space of quiet reflection for me. I enjoyed this book greatly, and I would often sneak in a few moments to read it during the day, no matter how busy I am. It is not only a collection of poems, it also contains a few short ‘essays’ or ‘prose’ that really served more like parables to me – with their pockets of wisdom, nuggets of truth, and varying shades of silence and grief and deliverance.

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

A key indicator for me that I have ‘bonded’ or connected with a poet is when I am inspired to see the world differently. I would even go as far as claim that I feel a key turning within me, unlocking a flood of emotions – yet holding that in place with fragile hands that gently channel those layers of pain to seep through slowly – with rhythm and grace and beauty.

This week, I’d like to share a reminder for us teachers, book-lovers, students, writers, avid readers to slow down and make time for silences and random acts of kindness. Here is Nye with her wise words:

The Problem of Muchness
One thing does not lead to another,
                             it leads to everything.

Days as pennies, grasses, tidal swells of speckled distraction,
and how could you waste time, really?
                            What did it mean to waste time?

If you stared at a soft beam of light crossing a floor,
                             was that looking wasted?

The concept of “catching up”
felt troublesome, too.
                              Catch up with what?
The yellow Post-it notes strewn across the desk?

I tried never to rush, never to think of more than one thing
at any given moment.
While brushing hair I remembered unsent letters.
While feeding the cat I saw weeds wagging their tongues.

— Naomi Shihab Nye (p. 112)

Here is another one which is part of her prose entitled We Are the People (p. 58) – I like this one because it ends with a question, or a challenge, even. And I’d love to hear what you have to say about it, dear friends. I am only sharing a fragment from the piece here:

One evening, after remembering there used to be a lovely thing in the sky called a “sunset,” I trundled to my front porch, sat on the top step with an icy glass of freshly squeezed limeade, some crushed mint leaves thrown in for good luck, and waited. The western sky rumpled and heaved, brewing elegantly, turning over, graying and pinking all at once. Maybe it was too cloudy for a sunset. Cars rolled past, going home from work. What a comforting, sometimes lonely hour.

A photo taken by my husband of the sunrise here at East Coast Park in Singapore

Streaks of red shot out from behind the gray rumples. My neighbor walked past with her dog. “What’s wrong?” she called. I said, “What? Nothing.” She said, “Why are you sitting there like that?” I pointed at the sky. She looked at it and shrugged. “Oh. You look locked out.”

So ask yourself, you swirling tornado of a human being, in a world of disoriented honeybees, do you want to look locked out the minute you sit down?

I ask you. – pp. 60-61.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

26 comments on “Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye’s Call for Quiet Reflection and Kindness

  1. This is lovely, Myra! It makes me want to read more of Naomi Shihab Nye, but more than that, to take up her project:

    “I tried never to rush, never to think of more than one thing
    at any given moment….”

    All the best as you re-enter the “waves of work and deadlines.”


    • Thank you so much Violet for dropping by and for hosting Poetry Friday this week. Nye’s project is indeed quite challenging for people like me who’s used to multi-tasking and doing a thousand things at the same time, but yes, we shall try. And we shall persevere.


  2. “If you stared at a soft beam of light crossing a floor, was that looking wasted?” I love this. Whether we are called to stare at light beams or enjoy a sunset (beautiful photo, by the way), the challenge to is be fully in that moment. Today’s demands on our time are not conducive to this way of living. I want to practice more, think of my cat when filling her bowl,allow the act of brushing my hair to be one way I care for myself.


    • Hi Joyce Ray, lovely reflections. I try to eat as slowly as I can to savor each distinct smell, every luscious taste, the crumbling in my mouth as I swallow the food down. But I find that more and more it’s a luxury I don’t have any longer, as I rush and meet the deadlines set before the deadlines. Breathing – it’s beautiful too, but very few people realize that power of the air filling our lungs. We are all such busy honeybees.


  3. She is so very thoughtful. I am glad you have finally discovered her, Myra. I’ve shared quite a few of her poems with students in the past, & her anthologies for young students are wonderful. No, I don’t want to look ‘locked out’. This makes me wonder if those years ago, when seeing someone on their front porch, would ever ask that question? What a statement about our culture. And-compliments to your husband for that photo-gorgeous!


    • Hi Linda, I am so loving Naomi Shihab Nye. That’s a thought to ponder on, right? The look of being lost and locked out when one is merely enjoying the beauty of the sunset, it IS sad, really. I love how her writing flows so seamlessly, nothing is missed – she transforms every day life to tiny pinpricks of light and reflection one can lose one’s gaze into. Truly beautiful.


  4. Loved this post from start to finish! The freedom of summer does make the beginning of the school year seem to loom a bit ominously. I can see our tornado-hood coming.


    • Hi Tabatha, tell me about it. Tornado month coming up!!!!! Will be leaving for Finland too at the end of the month! 🙂 And deadlines!! Haha. Oh well. I’m so glad you liked the post. 🙂


  5. I love that first poem so much — I struggle every day with the ‘muchness’ of my life. 🙂 Every time I walk out my front door I see “weeds wagging their tongues.”

    I’ll have to read more of her poems.


    • Hi Katya, don’t we all struggle with that ‘muchness?’ Even while we were on vacation, I was replying to emails, even revising a manuscript that was due in a week’s time while we were in New York {!}, and just working even while resting. Yes, do read more of her poems and tell me how you find it. Such wisdom packed in lovely verses and occasional prose.


  6. was that looking wasted?
    catch up with what?

    These really resonate with me.


    • Hi Liz, thanks so much for dropping by. It does speak to the reader, doesn’t it. 🙂 Our life is so hurried, oftimes.


  7. Myra, thanks so much for this. I love this: “A key indicator for me that I have ‘bonded’ or connected with a poet is when I am inspired to see the world differently.” It fits with something I’ve been thinking about this week — who are my “fairy godmothers” in writing? Your words are exactly what I’m thinking of. And the “muchness” really is a struggle because I want to see/feel/hear/touch/taste it ALL. Which means I don’t want to waste time, yet when I am experiencing those moments, I DO want to take as much time as I need/desire. Happy day to you!


    • Hi Irene, I am glad that this post affirms that which you have been thinking about this week. That’s a great project: thinking about your fairy godparents in writing, I should undertake that too one of these days. I’m sure it’s not just a godmother, there’s a godfather somewhere there. 🙂 The ‘muchness’ captures us all in its sparing, nostalgic, ‘lost’ way.


  8. Thank you for this reminder to slow down.


  9. I enjoy Nye’s poetry so much. We voted to give Honeybee a Cybil the first year I was a final round judge.

    Isn’t it strange that we might look “locked out” when we attempt to slow down and be in the moment? At this very moment, after a busy day, I’m looking out the window at the setting sun shining through the trees. The lush greenness and the gentle motion of the leaves is so soothing. No — not a single wasted moment.


    • Oh wow, Jama. That’s great, I didn’t know about the award. Definitely well-deserved. I read some of Nye’s passages out loud to my husband and daughter even when we are out dining someplace, it’s that good. Among my favorites is her prose about the museum and the Grand Canyon.

      I am glad to see that not one single moment is wasted on you. Just as I thought. Always always ‘sucking the marrow out of life.’ 🙂 Beautiful.


  10. Thank you! She’s one of my favorites!


  11. My post this week echoes your theme. And my answer is yes. I want to sit on the front steps and care not one whit if I look like I’m locked out.


  12. I love this collection though haven’t read it recently.Thank you for sharing this lovely reflection on a too-chaotic (for me) summer weekend!


    • Hi Laura, it is good to reflect every once in awhile and to just stop for a moment and breathe. Thanks for dropping by.


  13. Pingback: Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye’s The List «

  14. Pingback: August Round Up and the Winner for the AWB Reading Challenge «

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