To Break A Promise - David Whyte

Kakadu Sunrise - Western Australia - 2005

Kakadu Sunrise - Western Australia - 2005

Make a place of prayer, no fuss,
just lean into the white brilliance
and say what you needed to say
all along, nothing too much, words
as simple and as yours and as heard
as the bird song above your head
or the river running gently beside you.

Let your words join
one to another
the way stone nestles on stone,
the way water just leaves
and goes to the sea,
the way your promise
breathes and belongs
with every other promise
the world has ever made.

Now, leave them to go on, 
let your words
carry their own life
without you, let the promise
go with the river.
Have faith. Walk away.


Authors Note - This poem, ‘To Make a Promise’ sometimes lives under the title “To Break a Promise” , as to my mind, both the making and breaking of promises involve exactly the same combination of absolute presence and radical letting go. All romantic and committed forms of love live and breathe not only with the ground of the past and present but with a horizon of implicit promise, an invitation to a shared sense of becoming.

When this horizon of shared promise disappears a relationship is in deep trouble, no matter the solidity of its every day grounding. Often the breaking of a promise is the simple coming to understand that the horizon has actually already gone, that it disappeared a long time ago and must be re-gathered and re-established in each individual life.

But in love or out of it, one of the enduring triumphs of a long term commitment is the way both partners become apprentices to the promise itself, realizing like the other they are with, that it has its own life, its own difficult and surprising invitations, and its own constant beckoning to vulnerability, presence and depth.

Many times the promise is never spoken out loud, is implicit and walks with us as an invisible companion, other times, at crucial thresholds, being able to say the promise out loud, simply and courageously is all that is needed for our new life to begin again. Then we can ‘walk away’ and let the promise do its own work without our will, our anxiety or our over elaborate plans get in the way. DW

Paul J HowellComment