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Analysis of Poem "To Look at Any Thing" by John Moffitt

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

To Look At Any Thing

To Look At Any Thing

John Moffitt and a Summary of To Look at Any Thing

To Look at Any Thing is a poem based on the idea that the living world holds a mystery which can be appreciated only if we spend time learning the art of inner attentiveness.

The poem is:

  • free verse, with no rhymes or regular metrical beat;
  • a meditative poem, using eastern disciplines to create an approach to nature;
  • about the speaker, who is advising the reader, showing the way iintoa deeper understanding of things;
  • about being one with the object viewed and is the basic message.

Knowledge of anything comes from long observation, a way of seeing that is stripped of conditioning and convention. What we're used to seeing isn't always based on truth.

John Moffitt lived a life in search of truth, becoming a Hindu before converting to Christianity, using a meditative, philosophical approach to religion. He was a prolific article writer, contributing to various scholarly publications, and he published books of poetry as he travelled and learnt.

This poem appeared in a 1962 book, The Living Seed.

As a poet, he focused on nature, religion and the environment, combining craft and religious knowledge to produce work of quiet mindfulness.

To Look at Any Thing deals with form and deep reality and suggests that there is a revelatory aspect to observing things. When we look at a leaf, for example, it is necessary to relieve the mind and memory of past and possible future, concentrating solely on the present.

The poet distills his experience and creates this short, careful piece of free verse, quietly urging those who want to know to leave behind cliche and familiarity and enter into a relationship with the thing being observed.

It is a poem that encourages the reader to connect with the natural world by initially creating peace within themselves before experiencing the mystery of existence. The small silences between each leaf help the seer to attune to the connectivity of all—tree, rock, stream, snake and so on—everything is part of the miraculous fabric.

To Look At Any Thing

To look at any thing,
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
“I have seen spring in these
Woods,” will not do – you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
The leaves,
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.

Analysis of To Look At Any Thing

To Look At Any Thing is a 15 line free verse poem, that is, it doesn't have a regular rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.

  • The theme of the poem is the attainment of knowledge through looking, a meditative act that is essentially about transcending normal perception. We all look at things but how deeply do we enter into the relationship between observer and subject?

This poem encourages the reader (as observer) to become the thing they are looking at. It is a poem that is a kind of guide to deep seeing - necessitating a one step further into the reality that faces us, to become that reality, be it leaf or tree or rock and so on.

Understandably, the poet was a seeker of truth and practiced meditation having practiced both Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as being a Christian. Controversially, he felt these three major religions, complimented each other. He said:

' I am a Christian...but I can no longer say I am not a Hindu or a Buddhist...'

  • What is clear from reading this short poem is the use of repetition to reinforce the general message contained within. The verb to look for example, occurs three times, and the affirmative you must five times.

In contemporary terms, the poem is strongly related to mindfulness, specifically Buddhist mindfulness, and the school of Zen, where intuition and mental discipline over-ride ritual and linguistics.

Hence the reference to the small silences, the mysterious non-energy of life, inherent in the irreducible peace existent in things. The poet is urging the reader to completely take on the role of whatever it is they are observing, and this can only be achieved through 'long' looking and loving of deep reality.

© 2017 Andrew Spacey