Poetry and Prose

The poetic imagination of David Whyte

David Whyte's writing traverses genres and demographics, always seeking to illuminate the fierce, radical beauty of human experience.

David Whyte

“It only takes one line of poetry to
your life”

The poet lives...

The poet lives and writes at the frontier between deep internal experience and the revelations of the outer world. There is no going back once this frontier has been reached; a new territory is visible and what has been said cannot be unsaid. Poetry is a break for freedom. In a sense, all poems are good; all poems are an emblem of courage and the attempt to say the unsayable; but only a few are able to speak to something universal yet personal and distinct at the same time; to create a door through which others can walk into what previously seemed unobtainable realms, in the passage of a few short lines.

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David Whyte on Substack

Horses Moving on the Snow

In winter
through the damp grass
around the house
there are horses moving
on the snow

in the half-light
they move quickly

following the fence
until the mist takes them

and evening
is the hollow sound of hooves
in the south field.

from "Horses Moving on the Snow" in River Flow: New & Selected Poems

The House of Belonging

I awoke
this morning
in the gold light
turning this way
and that

thinking for
a moment
it was one
like any other.

the veil had gone
from my
darkened heart
I thought

it must have been the quiet
that filled my room,

it must have been
the first
easy rhythm
with which I breathed
myself to sleep,

it must have been
the prayer I said
speaking to the otherness
of the night.

I thought
this is the good day
you could
meet your love,

this is the grey day
someone close
to you could die.

This is the day
you realize
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next

and I found myself
sitting up
in the quiet pathway
of light,
the tawny
close grained cedar
burning round
me like fire
and all the angels of this housely
heaven ascending
through the first
roof of light
the sun has made.

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love.

This is the temple
of my adult aloneness
and I belong
to that aloneness
as I belong to my life.

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

from "The House of Belonging" in The House of Belonging


is not a passive response to something we have been given; gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. Gratitude is not necessarily something that is shown after the event; it is the deep, a priori state of attention that shows we understand and are equal to the gifted nature of life.

Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege, that we are miraculously part of something, rather than nothing. Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair, we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter, the colour blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind, or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.

To see the full, miraculous essentiality of the colour blue is to be grateful with no necessity for a word of thanks. To see fully the beauty of a daughter’s face is to be fully grateful without having to seek a God to thank him. To sit among friends and strangers, hearing many voices, strange opinions; to intuit inner lives beneath surface lives, to inhabit many worlds at once in this world, to be a someone amongst all other someones, and therefore to make a conversation without saying a word, is to deepen our sense of presence and therefore our natural sense of thankfulness that everything happens both with us and without us, that we are participant and witness all at once.

Thankfulness finds its full measure in generosity of presence, both through participation and witness. We sit at the table as part of every other person’s world while making our own world without will or effort; this is what is extraordinary and gifted, this is the essence of gratefulness, seeing to the heart of privilege. Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences. Being unappreciative might mean we are simply not paying attention

from "Gratitude" in Consolations

Essays and prose

I often think that prose is the art of explaining, while poetry is the very essence of the thing itself.

But prose can come within a hairsbreadth of poetry in a good novel or in a scientific or psychological story, beautifully told. My prose books in some way have all been explanations of what I feel my poetry holds without any explanation, but in the storytelling that prose allows: in the narratives of my mother’s life, in the lives I follow in ‘The Three Marriages,’ or out of the fruitful traumas I experienced in the Himalayas or the Galapagos. Through storytelling, perspectives can be won and most of all enjoyed, far beyond the satisfactions of mere explanation.

But regarding prose, my most rewarding experiences came in writing the essays that made up Consolations, a book written almost completely whilst traveling around the planet, in hotel lobbies, trains, boats and planes and even on steep mountain sides: a series of lightning raids written in a kind of psychological collaboration with my then assistant, Julie Quiring; who helped shepherd, not only my writing endeavours but midwifing the essays out to my readers to meet our self-appointed deadlines. In writing Consolations in all of those memorable locations, I experienced the same physical sense of arrival and disappearance that has always accompanied the writing of poetry.

– David Whyte

"We think we know what we are talking about, the meaning of things, the basic rules of language, until we read David Whyte’s 'Consolations' where we are forced to reassess everything and begin again. Such an essential and beautiful book." - Nick Cave
The ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone. - from "Friendship" in CONSOLATIONS
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