The Monk Stood Beside a Wheelbarrow

by Jane Hirshfield ( from After published by HarperCollins)

The monk stood beside a wheelbarrow, weeping.

God or Buddha nowhere to be seen --
these tears were fully human,
bitter, broken,
falling onto the wheelbarrow's rusty side.

They gathered at its bottom,
where the metal drank them in to make more rust.

You cannot know what you do in this life, what you have done.

The monk stood weeping.
I knew I also had a place on this hard earth.


Battlerocker said...


McKoala said...

This one I like. Unselfconscious and open. My kind of poetry.

Soul of Dawn said...

"You cannot know what you do in this life, what you have done"

true..so true

Sherry Decker said...

Excellent poem.

"You cannot know what you do in this life, what you have done."

Maybe that's a good thing.

Carter said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Thanks.

Yardbird said...

"God or Buddha nowhere to be seen --
these tears were fully human,"

...but within those tears is where one finds God. The brokeness that is the human condition is where the divine is revealed.

Anonymous said...

Certainly, a fine poem. But--following up a theory from Buffysquirrel (or was it shael- the-pixie-queen), on which day this week will the Snarky twin return?

mary said...

Another one by Jane (one of the best living poets imo)

"The Poet"

She is working now, in a room
not unlike this one,
the one where I write, or you read.
Her table is covered with paper.
The light of the lamp would be
tempered by a shade, where the bulb's
single harshness might dissolve,
but it is not, she has taken it off.
Her poems? I will never know them,
though they are the ones I most need.
Even the alphabet she writes in
I cannot decipher. Her chair --
Let us imagine whether it is leather
or canvas, vinyl or wicker.Let her
have a chair, her shadeless lamp,
the table. Let one or two she loves
be in the next room. Let the door
be closed, the sleeping ones healthy.
Let her have time, and silence,
enough paper to make mistakes and go on.

Jane Hirshfield

Anonymous said...

Blimey. I didn't think I liked poetry.

memyselfandi said...

Must have been a christian monk - no buddhist would be so self-absorbed... c'mon, who cries in a wheelbarrow? It's a nice image with the rust and all, but pretty hoaky when you think about it.

Give me Basho anyday - "Never forget the lonely taste of the white dew" - that's truly lovely.

Anonymous said...

MS, thanks for posting that. Although we do not mourn as those who have no hope, the bitter tears come from the loss and loneliness -- all part of being human. (We just had a death in the family -- an aunt who died young after a hard life)

Anonymous said...

The reason the poem works so well, in my opinion, is because the images of the monk and wheelbarrow are so hard drawn in our minds. We know what a monk and a wheelbarrow look like. The poems that don't connect usually have images that are too subtle or have none at all. A nice positive repast on this July 4th. Thanks.

s.m.o'shea said...

memyselfandi, I don't know what you mean. I didn't see anything like that. Even buddhist monks are human. Humans hurt, and humans cry. It's part of life. And did you mean to say Christians are selfish? That's not a fair thing to say. (Not that I intend to start a theological argument... I don't. I just wanted to say my piece.)

I liked this poem. It was beautifully simple and honest.

Val Tear said...

You cannot know what you do in this life, what you have done

Now there's a blessing.

romance phd said...

This makes me think immediately of William Carlos William's "The Red Wheelbarrow." They resonate.

Fourth Witness said...


Methinks you've hit upon something.

Post the random poem that references monks, tears, and wheelbarrows - and you've got a hot topic suitable for serious contemplative commentary.

Monks = the desire for the spiritual, that most of think only monks can uncover.

Wheelbarrow = the work-a-day death-cycle that most of the cublicle-dwellers of America find themselves in.

Tears = Where we all live and die.

We all live close to pain and death - we all bust our asses in the drudgery of work - and we all want to attain what the monks seek - and we can.

Appreciate the post. Good job of getting your readership to ponder the deeper things on this Day of Independence.

Fourth Witness said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
memyselfandi said...

No, I didn't mean to say that christians are selfish - 'self-absorbed' was the term I used. Buddhists strive to accept everything and deny nothing that comes their way, good or bad. In fact, the poem reminded me of one of Whitman's:

"I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contained,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the
mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived
thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole

And,of course, they all love a good pail of gin...