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Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Hart of Heaven"

Paramahansa Yogananda's poems serve to deepen yoga meditation, offering devotees new ways of grasping the spiritual nature of all creation.

Paramahansa Yogananda

Introduction and Excerpt from "The Hart of Heaven"

In Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Hart of Heaven," the speaker creates his drama employing the controlling metaphor of God as a Deer, fleeing from the hunter. The devotee then is portrayed as the hunter who seeks the animal, determined to fell it, capture its carcass and possess it. The poem was inspired by "The Hound of Heaven," written by Francis Thompson. In Thompson's poem, however, the "hound" or the one doing the chasing is God. Thus the situation of the poem is reversed in Paramahansa Yogananda's "The Hart of Heaven." About Thompson's poem, John Francis Xavier O'Conor, S.J, has remarked:

The name is strange. It startles one at first. It is so bold, so new, so fearless. It does not attract, rather the reverse. But when one reads the poem this strangeness disappears. The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.

Thus, also the strange metaphor of God as an animal that a man would shoot, dress out, cook, and eat might at first seem quite inappropriate and wildly bizarre, but like the poem that inspired it, the strangeness of "The Hart of Heaven" disappears and the "meaning is understood" as the reader progresses through it. Thus, both poems remain excellent examples of paradox.

Excerpt of "The Hart of Heaven"

Like a wild, cruel hunter,
Sure of my prey,
I chased the Heavenly Hart
Through forests of dark desires,
Mazes of my passing pleasures.
Down corridors of ignorance
I raced for Him — the Hart of Heaven. . . . .

(Please note: The poem in its entirety may be found in Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA, 1983 and 2014 printings.)

Commentary

Inspired by Francis Thompson's "The Hound of Heaven," this poem dramatizes the search for God-realization as a hunter chasing a Deer.

First Movement: The Human Condition

The speaker likens himself to a "cruel hunter," who is chasing a Deer—"Heavenly Hart"—through the forest. Only this "forest" is the human mind filled with "dark desires," "passing pleasures," and "ignorance."

The hunter hurries after the Deer, but the animal flees farther from the hunter. It is motivated by fear of the hunt, who is "equipped with" his weapons that are like "spears" of "selfishness."

Thus the speaker has dramatized the human condition: humankind chases after Ultimate Bliss while ignorantly filled with desires for earthly pleasures. But the "Hart of Heaven" sensing those unholy desires races even farther from the seeker, interpreting those earthly desires as dangerous impediments to be feared.

Second Movement: The Continued Chase

As the Deer continues to speed away from the hunter, the heavenly Hart seems to communicate to the hunter through the echoing earth. The Hart informs the chasing hunter that He is faster than the hunter's feet. The vain passion-filled greed of the hunter has pushed at the Hart. Then the Deer tells the hunter that no one who frightens Him away with his bombast can ever hope to capture Him.

The speaker then asserts that in his continued hunt of the Deer he "flew on the planes of heavenly prayer," but because of his restlessness his just crashed the plane to earth. Again, the Deer flees from the speaker/hunter, and again the heavenly Hart informs the hunter He is faster than the "noisy plane of prayer" that is filled with "loud-tongued hollow words." Again, this empty activity merely frightens the heavenly Hart and motivates Him to race from the sight of the hunter.

Third Movement: Making Progress

The speaker/hunter now announces that he forsakes his "spears," his "hunting dogs," and even his plane. Quietly, he concentrates on his prey, and all of a sudden he sees the Deer "grazing peacefully." Quickly, the hunter/speaker takes aim and shoots, but his hand was unsteady so he misses, and the Deer goes prancing off again. The echoing earth then again informs the hunter that he needs "devotion" to gain the Deer's attention, and without devotion the hunter remains "a poor, poor marksman!"

The hunter/speaker continues to shoot but the Hart again easily evades him, as He echoes back to the hunter the information that He is far "beyond the range of mental dart." The Hart remains beyond the mind which can never capture the precious treasure.

Fourth Movement: The Successful Capture

The speaker/hunter, who now is desperate to capture the heaven Hart, announces that he abandons this ineffective chase. He finds himself then being "led by intuition" and "curious wondering." He finds a "secret lair of love" within himself. He "stroll[s]" within this new-found haven of love instead of running widely and then experiences his heart's desire: the "Hart of Heaven" comes into his sight "willingly."

The speaker/hunter had finally captured the coveted "Hart." The speaker, who now has transformed from hunter to devotee, then continues to shoot his "concentration-dart[s]." But he was now shooting eagerly and steadily with devotion.

A few of his shots even missed their mark, but the Heavenly Hart remained, no longer fleeing in fear from the darkness that had frightened Him away. The hunter/devotee had now relinquished his inner turmoil, adopted a quiet heart, which allowed the Deer to enter and remain.

The Hart of Heaven admonishes the devotee that only deep inner stillness and pure love can capture Him and keep him; after the devotee had attained those qualities, the Hart Itself will supply the assistance needed for the devotee be able to receive the coveted Divine Blessing.

Autobiography of a Yogi

Autobiography of a Yogi

© 2018 Linda Sue Grimes