“The Japanese haiku poets understand perhaps as fully as anyone on earth the significance of inbreath and outbreath in poesis. A haiku poem is a breath poem that can be uttered in a single outbreath. It is a long outbreath — seventeen syllables, more or less. A long, slow, deep inbreath is needed to fuel the poem, and then:
An hour’s snow —
Heaven and earth briefly settle
All their old differences.
The green of pine trees
Never tires my eyes
So, too, the face of my friend. [James Luguri, To Make a World: One Hundred Haiku and One Waka]
To utter these poems properly, one has to breathe deeply and release slowly — instructions any yoga or meditation teacher will give as prerequisite to relaxing into the work to be done. The poem itself is a teacher. Light as a breath, it alights in the mind and opens a space of quiet around it. These two poems, like many haiku, harbor a little gentle humor, so the breath it takes to utter them may end in a final release of laughter.
The Japanese are masters of this form. But in English poetry as well, metrics, the study of poetic rhythms and cadences, can teach us to breathe text as song. Every breath space — period, comma, line break — allows a silence in which words just spoken may echo and resonate. We learn this most easily in song; but what we learn from song can be applied to the way we read and speak a sentence, making it available for hearers in a way that gives it full weight. As we read a text aloud, we literally breathe life into it. [George] Steiner observes that ‘The meanings of poetry and the music of those meanings, which we call metrics, are also of the human body. The echoes of sensibility which they elicit are visceral and tactile’ [Real Presences]. Which is to say that breathing the text actually confers a dimension of meaning. Phrase by phrase, pause by pause we open small silences in which to take in the words. They need those silences to grow in. Meditative practices like breath prayer and centering prayer, as well as lectio divina, can inform our lives as readers and slow us into deeper receptivity. When we hear the voice of the psalmist singing ‘Whatever has life and breath, praise the Lord!’ (Ps. 150:6), we might consider how breathing itself may be a form of thanksgiving — receiving and releasing what the Lord gives and takes away. So all the words we utter have their roots in prayer and enter our minds and hearts by inspiration.
Our lives are lived in relationship to words, written and spoken, sacred and mundane. They are manna for the journey. As embodied beings we take our whole bodies with us into the act of reading, which, at its best, is spacious, full-bodied, wholehearted, and infused with the breath of life.”
— Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (via bookofwriting)
The English major in me just swooned a little. I especially love the last paragraph.