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A Different Kind of Progress: The Poetry and Philosophy of Rilke, Rumi, Mary Oliver, and Tagore, Set to Song

A beautiful musical homage to the eternal dance of life and death.

“Even poetry, Sweet Patron Muse forgive me the words, is not what music is,” the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay exclaimed in a letter. “Without music life would be a mistake,” Nietzsche proclaimed in contemplating the singular power of music. Given this aesthetic envy, how befitting and redemptive that some of history’s greatest poetry and philosophy should become the creative seed for beautiful music in singer-songwriter Shannon Hawley’s debut album, A Different Kind of Progress — an exquisite thirteen-song cycle, five years in the making, inspired by the poetry and philosophy of beloved writers like Rainer Maria Rilke, Mary Oliver, Rumi, and Tagore.

“Rainer’s Song (The World You Carry Within You)” is based on Rilke’s timeless clarion call for embracing uncertainty and living the questions — one of the wisest things a human being could live by, which penetrates the psyche all the more deeply as Hawley fuses Rilke’s appeal to the mind with music’s enchantment of the heart, embodying Oliver Sacks’s assertion that “music can pierce the heart directly; it needs no mediation”:

Another track, “Mollusk and Slug Interlude,” was sparked by Rilke’s abiding wisdom on love:

“Kidnapping a tree” is based on a poem of Tagore’s, celebrating trees, those perennial poetic muses:

“How Real” is based on Rumi’s poem “Float, Trust, Enjoy,” found in The Soul of Rumi:


Muhammad said no one looks
back and regrets leaving this
world. What’s regretted

is how real we thought it was!
How much we worried about
phenomena and how little

we considered what moves
through form. “Why did I spend
my life denying death? Death

is the key to truth!” When you
hear lamenting like that, say,
not out loud, but
inwardly, “What moved you
then still moves you, the same
energy. But you understand

perfectly now that you are not
essentially a body, tissue, bone,
brain, and muscle. Dissolve

in the clear vision. Instead of
looking down at the six feet of
road immediately

ahead, look up: see both worlds,
the face of the king, the ocean
shaping and carrying

you along. You’ve heard
descriptions of that sea. Now
float, trust, enjoy the motion.”

“Winter’s White Owl” is inspired by Mary Oliver’s poem “White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field,” found in her New and Selected Poems, Volume One — an immensely enlivening perspective on death:


Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —
as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

Complement A Different Kind of Progress, also available on CD Baby, with Jack Kerouac set to song by Patti Smith, E.E. Cummings set to song by Tin Hat, William Blake set to song by The Wraiths, W.B. Yeats set to song by Christine Tobin, Allen Ginsberg’s musical adaptation of Blake, and Natalie Merchant’s songs based on Victorian nursery rhymes.

Published December 17, 2015




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