Poets Online Poetry Archive
The Tao

The Tao (pronounced "dow") is understood by Taoists as a mysterious, dynamic and creative force that is beyond definition. Paintings, have long been felt to be the most receptive medium for the expression of the essential, indivisible, Tao. The Taoist way in art is to gradually attune the onlooker through the particular inner rhythms of nature to the essence of the great Tao itself.

Landscape paintings have been particularly influenced by Taoist attitudes and ideas - not least of which is their admiration of nature and natural processes. The often deeply eroded mountain ranges with swirling mists clearly expose the workings of the principle of change. For the Taoists the solid-seeming mountains are as subject to the "winds of Tao" as the more obviously moving mists, clouds and water.

The Taoist-inspired painter aims to present a view of the world that is both satisfying and spiritually refreshing. This is achieved by creating a subtle harmony of opposites, a balancing of yin and yang, within the painting itself, the effect of which is beautiful, relaxing and potentially transforming.

Van Gogh said, " If we study Japanese Art, we see a man who is undoubtedly wise, philosophic and intelligent, who spends his time doing what? In studying the distance between the earth and moon? No. In studying Bismarck’s policy? No. He studies a single blade of grass.”

We looked at the poem "The Taoist Painter" by Arthur Sze (from The Redshifting Web: Poems 1970-1998, Copper Canyon Press) for this prompt and attempted to write a Taoist poem. We did not concern ourselves directly with the religious dogma of Taoism. Rather, we focused on the concept, as van Gogh suggests, of studying a "single blade of grass" in order to draw a reader into the entire landscape.

Another example by Sze is his poem "The Shapes of Leaves" where he asks us, "Have you felt the expanse and contours of grief / along the edges of a big Norway maple?" As in "The Taoist Painter", he has us step back and look at the larger scene. Click this link for more poetry by Arthur Sze. Your poem need not be nature or landscape, but must look at a small part of a scene in order to have the reader understand the larger context.

I saw a plane hovering,
nose slightly up,
above the highway today,
and I thought about love.

The plane was flying so
low I swear I saw red
ribbons coiled on its tail.

It floated slowly down
like a leaf, that lightly,
towards me, towards

us all-- towards what-
ever might get in its
way on its way to

the ground.

Svea Barrett-Tarleton



Every summer a weekend in August flies me to a friend's cottage in Maine.
Pleasant walks crush fragrant pine needles beneath our flip-flops.
Goose-bumps chase us from the lake.
Lazily we rock on the porch.
In the dusk, the nearby island glows yellow, brown and green -- encircled by blue.
Mallards, pintails, loons, and bats are here, breaking the stillness of my contemplation.
My heart breaks with the steady beauty of this world vista.
At dinner, ageless faces recall years of friendship.
With us is a new face, a baby come in March.
For us he measures the bittersweet pleasures of change.
In his eyes I see another vista, the wonderful world of tomorrow.

Ellen Kaplan


Everything, under the sun,
is lag-bolt and pressure-treated lumber;
everything else is outside, beyond far.
It does not reach.
Here, only the movement of grasses.
Here trees, breathing, rustle and whisper
openly secret secrets
only to nut-hatch and thrush.

Space will not order itself,
nor let me mark or catch
even the fiercest green along the ridge
or, lower, shadows of clouds on clover.

Ron Lavalette


others are easy
make it through
your own depths

keep your balance
as you walk
the tight rope
of your self

do not fall
least you drown
in emotion


envision a net
do not use it
as it may be
a figment

designed to
throw your guard off
and trick you
to submission

trust in self

go through
the darkness
with the knowledge of light

Tanya Waller


Preparing to speak this poem:

Relax the mind
   the body

Focus on the first word
   the first thought

Pull a breath from the air
   life deep into lungs

Release this first word on the breath
   this first thought into the universe

Preparing . . .

David Rosenak

As a beginning art student,
I was told to go to the park
and to look at a tree
while standing with my eyes
about an inch away
from the bark.

As a young person
I was not ready for this.

All I recalled from this exercise
were the black, wet smell
and the curious glances
of passers-by.
Not even a bug
crawled across that texture
to give reason
to my Being There.

As an old person
I return in memory to that place.

The textured ridges
of the bark
still smell dankly dark.
The shadowy people
are still there

as living question-marks
to my continuing endeavor;

but now giving reason
for my Being Here.

Catherine M. LeGault


All through a southern winter
The midnight creeper strangled the grapevine
Which supported it
September last, in a fit of anger

The sometime gardener
Ripped from the dying twisted stems
Green life’s mimesis with purple bud
Uprooted torn and violated, the creeper

Once destroyed, twice shy
Started up again behind the garden shed
The sometime gardener
h ad fallen sick and let it be
The grapevine’s leaves grew back
But it did not fruit this year

Iris Lavell

for Les Brown

This is the month when waning sunlight tips waves enamel white, highlights
the dog's graying coat. Deep red leaves blow along the beach this month,
translucent maps showing small rivers, monarch's wings pinned to sand.

This is the month when sky is anxious, a mollusk shell
a chest cracked open, gulls overhead turning black silhouettes,
steam from the body like smoke in the trees.

Evening warmth is discarded this month like the heart

you held in your hand, damaged muscle and tissue,
pumping blood, then not pumping.

Dan Spinella


i looked for the first time,
deeply into the silvered glass
at the image i now grow weary of,
and saw the shifting sands of time,
the perfect sunset on some exotic beach
long before each grain of sand was poured into a roaring furnace,
and rolled into this small sheet of clear
glass i now hold before me,
and it would seem
through which i can no longer see.
glass covered with that silver
torn from the earths face,
leaving behind open wounds,
sand from beaches that no longer exist
except in my imagination.
am i the only one to see
the price we pay for our vanity?

Ray Cutshaw


I have put it all behind me
I walk,
But my thoughts break my stride.

I want to stop,
Lean against a tree
Hold on to its roughness
For comfort
And watch the leaves fall
With my grief.

I walk on
The leaves fall quietly behind me.

Abha Iyengaar


the artery
from my heart
to yours is blocked
with old debris
never been sorted
as birch trees
cloning themselves
in murky water
dressed and naked
dark and spotted
from poor circulation
as the hands
of old lovers
from years
of holding
and clinging together

Ruth Zimmerman


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