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Poetic License and Mystical Wonderment

Christopher Buck | Apr 9, 2016

PART 3 IN SERIES The Passing Poetry of Life

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Christopher Buck | Apr 9, 2016

PART 3 IN SERIES The Passing Poetry of Life

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Yesterday I picked up a small volume of poetry, Waiting for Spring. It’s been quite a few years since I last read this collection of poems by my former mentor, Richard P. Jones, who, as professor of English at Pacific Lutheran University, was unofficial “poet-in-residence.”

Born in 1945, Richard Preston Jones died in 2010. He has been more or less forgotten as an American poet. His publications in literary journals are obscure (because it’s difficult to find them), and his small volumes of poetry, long out-of-print, are hard to get.

But I remember Professor Jones.

Reading Waiting for Spring brought back memories of studying his poetry, which I pored over (and sometimes puzzled over) in several fascinating class sessions of his poetry course. Let’s read and discuss one of his poems:

Only Through Waiting
Richard P. Jones

It is only through waiting that rocks bloom;
water can’t help them grow, or too much sun,
by mistaking them for some dark secrets,
hasten the hour of their germination.

Too much attention will just harden them,
and too much water will make them slippery
to touch and impossible to hold.
You must stand still at the periphery

of their vision, pretending not to hear
them singing each to each in the moonlight.
You must be as patient as sand, for it’s
only through waiting that rocks come out right.

Waiting for Spring, p. 20.

Ever hear the term “poetic license”? Only Through Waiting is a perfect example. When read literally, it seems quite improbable. After all, how can “rocks bloom”? How can stones grow? In what sense do they have “vision”? How can one hear these stones “singing each to each in the moonlight”? What’s going on here?


Like abstract art, Only Through Waiting is impressionistic. This poem has its own “dream logic.” In its own way, it makes sense, even though, when read literally, it makes no sense at all.

That’s what good poetry does—transport you to another world. By analogy, poets know that the spiritual world operates with its own psychic physics, commands its own mystical magic, and takes us to new horizons. In order to enter that world, one must be open to that which makes sense to the heart, even if it may defy logic. When we read and internalize poetry, you and I can enter the “Valley of Wonderment”:

After journeying through the planes of pure contentment, the traveler cometh to The Valley of Wonderment and is tossed in the oceans of grandeur, and at every moment his wonder groweth. Now he seeth the shape of wealth as poverty itself, and the essence of freedom as sheer impotence. Now is he struck dumb with the beauty of the All-Glorious; again is he wearied out with his own life. How many a mystic tree hath this whirlwind of wonderment snatched by the roots, how many a soul hath it exhausted. For in this Valley the traveler is flung into confusion, albeit, in the eye of him who hath attained, such marvels are esteemed and well beloved. At every moment he beholdeth a wondrous world, a new creation, and goeth from astonishment to astonishment, and is lost in awe at the works of the Lord of Oneness. – Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, pp. 31-32.

Art can be, and often is, an expression of mysticism, a mystic signature. That’s not to say that the poet, Richard P. Jones, who wrote Only Through Waiting was a mystic—just that his art evokes something of the mystical experience.

True mysticism is not psychedelic. It’s not an escape from this world. Rather, it takes us on a “journey to the center of the earth” in one’s interior world. The landscape can be breathtaking. There’s so much to explore, as Baha’u’llah poetically alludes to in this mystic passage:

The story is told of a mystic knower, who went on a journey with a learned grammarian as his companion. They came to the shore of the Sea of Grandeur. The knower straightway flung himself into the waves, but the grammarian stood lost in his reasonings, which were as words that are written on water. The knower called out to him, “Why dost thou not follow?” The grammarian answered, “O Brother, I dare not advance. I must needs go back again.” Then the knower cried, “Forget what thou didst read in the books of Síbávayh and Qawlavayh, of Ibn-i-Hajíb and Ibn-i-Málik, and cross the water.”

The death of self is needed here, not rhetoric: Be nothing, then, and walk upon the waves. – Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, pp. 51–52.

In light of this passage, let’s revisit the poem Only Through Waiting. The poet draws an association between the stones and water. Water polishes the rocks. The rocks become slippery and elusive: “too much water will make them slippery/to touch and impossible to hold.” By the reference to “sand,” we get the sense that the poet is by the seashore or lakeshore. We also get a picture of this experience occurring at night, when the poet says: “You must stand still at the periphery/of their vision, pretending not to hear/them singing each to each in the moonlight.”

Stones, so far as we know, are utterly devoid of sense. Deaf and dumb, they cannot see, much less sing “each to each in the moonlight.” And it may well be that the poet does not intend for us to suspend our disbelief in this way, but is simply conveying a message that we must be prepared to invest our physical surroundings, indeed our very lives, with a mystical dimension, that transcends the laws of physics, in order to approach the realm of metaphysics.

Welcome to the world of the spirit. It is a poetic, noetic realm. You need poetic license to get in.

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  • Christopher Buck
    Mar 1, 2018
    What a surprise and delight to read your post!
    Yes, please send me your father's oeuvre.
    With your permission, I'd like to see if I can publish his collected works.
    Let me what you think of that idea. Thanks!
    Did you see all four articles I wrote about your father?
  • Ian Jones
    Feb 24, 2018
    Mr. Buck. My name is Ian Jones and I am the son of Rick Jones. I just read an article you wrote about my father. Thank you for your kind words about dad. He really lived his craft and had more respect and knowledge of language than most of the people I know today combined. I have a ton of dad’s work that was never published and a few other books of his other than “waiting for spring “. I also have all the remaining copies of all his published work. ... If you are interested in a copy or copies of these works, I’d be more than happy to send you along a package. Thanks you again for your respect of my fathers work. I know that your time is limited and the fact you chose to write about dad means the world to me and my family.
  • Jenny Anams
    Nov 29, 2016
  • Zhoufei Qi
    Oct 9, 2016
    Good article. pls keep sharing such good articles.
    Safety vest
  • Apr 12, 2016
    Ahh, poetic license allows all freedoms, and some words make sense and others... take time to germinate. The noeticism of the intelligence is only part of the poet's power, as words are feelings also, as you know,, and the trick is to not let the words circumscribe the possibilities, as in throwing ourselves into the waves. Lovely, lovely. Now to unbuckle the world from my girth and walk upon the shores of life...
  • Apr 10, 2016
    Just what I needed to read at the end of the day. Evocative and lovely.
    Now to sleep, perchance to dream. Many thanks Dr.Buck.
  • Todd Lawson
    Apr 9, 2016
    A beautiful and illuminating meditation. Thank you Dr. Buck!
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