Forgotten Hunger

One of my favorite lines of poetry comes from the end of Larkin's Church Going, where he speaks of "discovering a hunger in oneself to be more serious."  I like the way it melds physical and spiritual desires, but also how this desire must be discovered or stumbled upon, revealed to the belly before the head.

That's often how poetry works best, in my opinion.  You stumble upon it when your head is thinking about something else.  A line comes spinning up out of memory like the little polyhedron that used to float to the plastic window on a Magic Eight-Ball.

I had the run of a quiet house early this morning and instinctively found my belly hungering for a poem. Then, serendipitously enough, I stumbled across  Gary Snyder's "Mountains and Rivers without End," which contains a section that playfully teases out our two kinds of hungers:
An ancient buddha said, "A painted rice cake does not satisfy
hunger."  Dogen comments:
"There are few who have seen this painting of a rice cake and
none of them has thoroughly understood it.
"The paints for the rice cake are the same as those used for
painting mountains and waters.
"If you say the painting is not real, then the material, phenomenal
world is not real.  The Dharma is not real.
"Unsurpassed enlightenment is a painting.  The entire phenomenal
universe and the empty sky are but a painting.
"Since this is so, there is no other remedy for satisfying hunger other
than a painted rice cake.  Without painted hunger you never
become a true person."
In a few weeks the fall semester begins, and I will once more be offering my painted rice cakes to students who don't believe they're all that hungry.


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