Mala of Love: 108 Luminous Poems
by Ravi Nathwani & Kate Vogt

New World Library, 2016. ISBN 978-1-608-68410-6.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 02/10/2016

Anthologies/Collections; Poetry

Finding words to express our profound love for another person can be a challenge. Sometimes we turn to the greeting cards created for such occasions but only rarely are the words just right. Perhaps the greeting card verses thrive on attachment and romanticism as the editors of Mala of Love point out.

In their book of poems, Ravi Nathwani and Kate Vogt hope to guide readers towards a realization of a more mystical love grounded in acceptance, joy, patience, compassion and gratitude. From my very first reading of the book, I felt they had achieved their intent.

The number 108 honors the 108 beads in the traditional meditation mala used by spiritual practitioners throughout the East. Each poem can be read aloud in the way one might recite a mantra with a mala strand.

Most of the poems are excerpts from the work of mystics across the centuries including Christian (St. John of the Cross, Mechthild of Magdeburg); Buddhist (Zenkei Shibayama, Izumi Shikibu); and Sufi (Attar, Hafiz, Rumi). Words of songs are included and the words of many modern day poets. The book is a rich diversity of genres, cultures and time periods.

"All you need is love, love / Love is all you need," wrote John Lennon and Paul McCartney in their well known song. Those few famous words are included in the book to remind us of love's sustaining power in times of joy and loss.

I so enjoyed reading the "luminous" gems in the book and wanted to find the complete poems for further inspiration and contemplation. The titles of the poems and their sources are acknowledged in the back. I'm intrigued, for instance, by Zeynep Hatun (?-1474), on of the first female Sufi poets of the Ottoman empire.

One wouldn't edit a book of love poetry without including the beloved Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda. One of his two poems excerpted is: "I love you without knowing how."

Czeslaw Milosz's poem "Gift" exudes such a feeling of contentment and a love that goes beyond the love for one other person. It describes an all-encompassing joy that connects everyone to a "sweet, gentle ocean of love," as the sages and saints expressed it.

"A day so happy," Milosz writes. "Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden . . There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess."

Derek Walcott in his famous poem, "Love After Love," writes of loving again "the stranger who was your self." This is a poem in which you are reminded to love and "greet yourself."

When in love with another we can experience parts of ourselves that haven't been fully expressed before. Alice Walker describes that feeling beautifully in "New Face": " . . . the new face I turn up / to you / no one else on earth / has ever / seen."

As a Zen Buddhist monk ordained in 1949, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks of "true love" as giving us "beauty, freshness, solidity, freedom, and peace."

Many couples have included the words of Paul the Apostle at their Christian marriages ceremonies: "Love is patient and kind..."

And bless that Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) whose exclamations of passion are uttered as if just yesterday: "Wild Nights—Wild Nights! / Were I with thee / Wild Nights should be / our luxury!"

How fascinating to realize our alphabet of 26 letters can be arranged into so many configurations, variations and expressions of love.

These poems, lyrics, and play excerpts are a delight and an inspiration. What a wondrous way to learn of poets' work across the ages and to realize inspiration for our own words of love.

Ravi Nathwani lectures on the Bhagavad Gita, consciousness, and Vedanta in the United States and Mexico. He taught at Tufts University from 1998 to 2013 and also at JFK University.

Kate Vogt writes and lectures on topics that engage others in timeless wisdom in the Yoga Sutras and other texts. Her articles, courses, and presentations include "There is No Place Like Om," "Seeing Beneath the Surface," "Yoga to Calm the Mind," and "Knowing Nature."

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