Poets Kenneth Rexroth and William Wordsworth Experienced Transcendence and Self-Awareness

Transcendence and a self-referral awareness are described by great poets when they interact deeply with nature. In the process, they experience their own inner nature. Their poetic expressions describe a state similar to what practitioners of Transcendental Meditation experience, where the body is deeply restful, more than deep sleep, and the mind is highly alert, peaceful, unobstructed by thoughts, unbounded.

Kenneth Rexroth

Kenneth Rexroth describes this experience in his poem, The Heart of Herakles, (The Collected Shorter Poems of Kenneth Rexroth). Looking up into the night sky through a telescope, he sees the enormous constellations and soon loses his sense of self. “My body is asleep. Only my eyes and brain are awake. … I can no longer tell where I begin and leave off.” In this expanded state he becomes aware of different aspects of nature being collectively self-aware with an “eye that sees itself.”

The Heart of Herakles

Lying under the stars,
In the summer night,
Late, while the autumn
Constellations climb the sky,
As the Cluster of Hercules
Falls down the west
I put the telescope by
and watch Deneb
Move towards the zenith.
My body is asleep. Only
My eyes and brain are awake.
The stars stand around me
Like gold eyes, I can no longer
Tell where I begin and leave off.
The faint breeze in the dark pines,
And the invisible grass,
The tipping earth, the swarming stars
Have an eye that sees itself.

You can hear Kenneth Rexroth read The Heart of Herakles in this July 13, 1955 recording, from 27:36 to 28:13, posted by The Poetry Center.

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth describes a similar experience of an inner physical suspension along with a deep seeing and joyful knowing while recalling a transcendental experience in his poem, Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour. July 13, 1798. Here are some excerpts from that long poem.

That blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened: — that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on —
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul;
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.

His initial experience of transcending within his own mind has matured as he recognizes that same transcendental essence throughout nature, thereby unifying his inner Self with the same Self of all conscious things.

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

Octavio Paz and Rumi share a similar cosmic perspective in their poems where their small eyes see enormous things, also looking up at the night sky arriving at a profound level of self-understanding.

See Craig Pearson’s essay on William Wordsworth on the TM Blog, and more articles posted here on awakened consciousness, transcendence and enlightenment. You can listen to Craig Pearson on KRUU FM show, Writers’ Voices, discuss his new book, The Supreme Awakening.

That blog post also includes a video presentation by Dr. Pearson in Dalby Hall on the MUM Campus. He opens his talk with a description and explanation of Wordsworth’s experience and poem at Tintern Abbey, and includes other beautiful descriptions of higher states of consciousness found in the literature from other times and places as well as from some of today’s most successful professional athletes, thereby showing the innate universality of this transcendental experience.

Another poet who may have experienced transcendence and self-awareness, although he would not have publicly admitted to it, is Mark Strand. See Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human. ~ Mark Strand (1934–2014).

Two poems I wrote, Seeing Is Being, and Being In Nature, share a similar sentiment, but not quite as eloquently as these masters! Two earlier published poems, Ode to the Artist and Sometimes Poetry Happens, share this mysterious interacting with nature and the creative process.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to “Poets Kenneth Rexroth and William Wordsworth Experienced Transcendence and Self-Awareness”

  1. lizzielines Says:

    Lovely Ken, I didn’t know about Rexroth. Check out Emily Bronte too:


    Best wishes,



  2. Nathanael Chawkin Says:

    Beautiful expressions here, Ken! The eye that sees the eye. Samapatti. Brahms and Mozart et al had similar experiences in composing music. Perhaps a part two? 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ken Chawkin Says:

      Sounds like a great suggestion. Why don’t you write that up and post it here. I can also create a separate blog post for you. Maybe include samples people can listen to as well when making your point.


  3. Poetry helps us imagine what it’s like to be human. ~ Mark Strand (1934–2014) | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] Ken Chawkin's articles & poems: Transcendental Meditation, consciousness & enlightenment « Poets Kenneth Rexroth and William Wordsworth Experienced Transcendence and Self-Awareness […]


  4. Poets Kooser, Rexroth, and Glück describe their experiences with telescopes looking at the stars | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] Kenneth Rexroth also wrote about the cosmos looking through a telescope and how it changed him in this poem, The Heart of Herakles. […]


  5. After looking through a telescope Louise Glück identified with the silent enormity of the stars | The Uncarved Blog Says:

    […] recently discovered poets writing about telescopes, like Ted Kooser and Kenneth Rexroth, what they saw through them, and how they were transformed by the experience. Here is a poem called […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: