By Peter Y. Chou,

Line in Poem Literary Sources* & Correlations
Breathe in the many... Breathe out the One
* Plato (428-348 BC), Philebus, 16d
I reckon the gift of seeing the One
in the many and the many in the One.

Breathe in the beauty... Breathe out the truth
* John Keats (1795-1821), Ode on a Grecian Urn, Line 49
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty,"—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Breathe in the circle... Breathe out the square
* Dante (1265-1321), Paradiso, XXXIII.134
As the geometer intently seeks
to square the circle, but he cannot reach.

Breathe in the heaven... Breathe out the earth
* Moses, Genesis, I.1
In the beginning God created
the heaven and the earth.

Breathe in the mountain... Breathe out the lake
* I Ching, Hexagram 41 (c. 1000 BC)
At the foot of the mountain, the lake—
the image of decrease

Breathe in the darkness... Breathe out the light
* Moses, Genesis, I.4
and God divided the light from the darkness.
Breathe in the morning... Breathe out the joy
Book of Job, XXXVIII.7 (c. 1520 BC)
When the morning stars sang together,
and all the sons of God shouted for joy.

Breathe in the rivers... Breathe out the sea
Ecclesiastes, I.7 (c. 977 BC)
The rivers all flow to the sea,
yet the sea is never full.

Breathe in the winter... Breathe out the spring
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), Poem 1707
Winter under cultivation
Is as arable as Spring.

Breathe in the acorn... Breathe out the oak
* Master Subramuniya (1927-2001), Reflections, 11
The potential of the oak lies vibrating
within the atomic structure of the acorn,
as the Self within man.

Breathe in the water... Breathe out the wind
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), Poem 1302
I think that the root of the Wind is Water—
It would not sound so deep

Breathe in the garden... Breathe out the rose
* Sa'di (1213-1292), The Rose Garden (1258)
Take a leaf from my rose-garden.
A flower endures but five or six days
But this rose-garden is always delightful.

Breathe in the artist... Breathe out the line
* William Blake (1757-1827), A Descriptive Catalogue, XV
The great and golden rule of art, as well as of life, is this:
That the more distinct, sharp, and wirey the bounding line,
the more perfect the work of art;... Leave out this line
and you leave out life itself; all is chaos again,
and the line of the almighty must be drawn out
upon it before man or beast can exist.
Breathe in the music... Breathe out the dance
Plato (428-348 BC), Laws, II.654a
The gods string us together
on a thread of song and dance.

Breathe in the paper... Breathe out the poem
Brenda Hillman (b. 1951), "Split Tractate" in Death Tractates (1992)
though there was always this gap
between my hand and the page,
I had only to trace the pen
over the words;
the poem was already written—
Breathe in the weaver... Breathe out the time
Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), Poem 128
Tell me what time the weaver sleeps
Who spun the breadths of blue!

Breathe in the father... Breathe out the child
* William Wordsworth (1770-1850), My Heart Leaps Up,
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Breathe in the wisdom... Breathe out the sage
Book of Proverbs, XIV.33 (c. 1000 BC)
Wisdom rests in the heart of him
that has understanding.

Breathe in the spirit... Breathe out the dove
* Gospel of John, I.32 (30 AD)
I saw the Spirit descending from heaven
like a dove, and it abode upon him.

Breathe in the splendor... Breathe out the stars
Plotinus (204-270), The Enneads, III.8.11
But as one that looks up to the heavens
and sees the splendour of the stars
thinks of the Maker and searches

Breathe in the vision... Breathe out the Good
Dante (1265-1321), Paradiso, XXXIII.81
l'aspetto mio col valore infinito
my vision reach the Infinite Goodness
Breathe in the blessings... Breathe out the peace
King David, Psalms, XXIX.11 (c. 1000 BC)
The Lord will give strength unto his people;
the Lord will bless his people with peace.

Breathe in the wonder... Breathe out the prayer
Evagrios the Solitary (345-399), On Prayer, 153
If when praying no other joy can attract you,
then truly you have found prayer.

Breathe in the silence... Breathe out the song
Lu Chi (261-303), Wen Fu: The Art of Writing, IV.2
Out of non-being, being is born;
out of silence, the writer produces a song.

Meditation Notes to Poem:

This poem was inspired by Li-Young Lee's Poetry Colloquium at Stanford on Tuesday, May 23, 2006. During the Q & A session, Lee said that his father told him that we breathe 15,000 times daily. Lee said while breathing in he says "Thank you" and while breathing out he says "Good-bye". Upon learning meditation many years ago, I was taught to breathe in positive qualities and breathe out negativities to rid oneself of mental toxins. No such attempt is made in this poem. Rather it was composed to bring about an alchemical transformation, to heighten our spiritual awareness, and to experience epiphany.

In some lines there may be a cause-effect relationship, but in others, it's synchronicity or serendipidity, so that the inbreath and outbreath are neither positive or negative but equally harmonious. This poem was composed over several days during my half-hour walk down Palm Drive after leaving Stanford's Green Library at midnight. An attempt was made to mimic the process of breathing. The inbreath line has five syllables, the outbreath line four syllables in this poem. The extra syllable in the inbreath reflects the oxygen carried by the four protein chains of hemoglobin molecule when we breathe in. When we breathe out, oxygen is released. Max Perutz won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for elucidating the three-dimensional structure of hemoglobin. He spent another ten years refining these studies to show that on the microscopic scale, hemoglobin expands and contracts when oxygen is taken up and released respectively, just as on the macroscopic scale our lungs expand and contract while breathing in and out.

Some of the lines were composed with literary or philosophical passages in mind (*), but others were found after the poem was completed. I was curious to see if others shared these ideas, and was surprised to find them among my favorite writers. Additional images may be found when the poem is read vertically— Inbreath lines: many beauties circle heaven, mountain darkness morning rivers, winter acorn water garden, artist music paper weaver, father wisdom spirit splendor, vision blessings wonder silence. Outbreath lines: One truth square earth, lake light joyous sea, spring oak wind rose, line dance poem time, child sage dove stars, good peace prayer song.

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© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: (6-6-2006)