“Hush! Listen to the Earth”

The latest part of a Southeast Asia Globe series that shines a light on the region’s finest poetry

Nathan A. Thompson
December 22, 2014

The latest part of a Southeast Asia Globe series that shines a light on the region’s finest poetry

Compiled by Nathan A. Thompson   Illustration by Oliver Raw

Drawing on the research of Professor Suchitra Chongstitvatana and her work on the influence of Buddhist philosophy on contemporary Thai poetry, this month we look at two female Thai poets writing about the Buddhist experience. Thai Buddhist poems are traditionally didactic, and these two draw from that tradition but depart from it by dropping the sermon in favour of images.

Illustration: Oliver Raw
Illustration: Oliver Raw

Chomchand is a literary critic and novelist. The poem “Voices of the Night” comes from her 1998 collection Dawn in the Night and opens with a description of beauty and stillness in the nighttime forest. The narrator is rapt in “the radiant world” but she soon becomes disturbed. The next few stanzas are full of noise: sobbing, screaming and laughing. At first the narrator is not sure of their source: “Whose heart is crying?” she wonders. But then, in the penultimate paragraph, she realises that “my heart is making noises”. Rather than loathe her noisy heart, she listens without judgment – a core part of Buddhist philosophy – and realises, through the juxtaposition in the final stanza, that she always listens to “surrounding people” but never to her own “inner voices”.

Chamnongsri Rutnin is a playwright and translator, and her poem “Black Ants” is from her 1997 collection titled Under Rain and Thunder. “Black Ants” is a contemplation on human life and flux. The ants are a metaphor for human beings, the majority of whom go through life following others, “tired, exhausted, so serious… never ask questions”. For many Buddhists, the majority of people are lost in ignorance of their true nature and this belief is reflected upon in the final line: “Maybe just a very few / Know their destination!” The ants also represent the constant flux of reality. They are compared to a “bursting black stream”, an image that contains the paradox that, even though some may be aware of their situation, all are swept along by nature’s grand movements. 

“Voices of the Night” 

by Chomchand

Softly smoothly the voice echoes 

The leaves are falling to sleep 

Hush! Listen to the earth 

Fading, aching petals are dying 

Crying heart-rending tears! 

Young pure petals are blossoming 

Listen to their joyous melodies! 


What magic of divine Nature 

The radiant world is descending! 

The voices of the World are magical 

Close your eyes, savouring the Divine! 


Whose sobbing is that 

Echoing in the quiet night? 

Coming and going… so far away 

Whispering of the Night! 


Listen whose heart is crying? 

Listen what screaming noise 

Listen what joyous laughing 

Where are they all from?

Now come, listen again 

Listen to myriads of new voices 

The night and the World is passing us 

My heart is making noises 


Mostly I listen to surrounding people 

Mostly I try to give answers 

Mostly I enjoy hearing others 

Yet never listen to my inner voices!


“Black Ants” 

by Chamnongsri Rutnin

Yesterday millions of black ants

Migrate like bursting of a black stream 

At dawn the stream looks so fierce 

Afternoon it is still strong 

At dusk on the meditation path 

The stream becomes so tiny 

Winding like a dry waterway 

From where, to where who knows 

Among the millions, 

How many know their destination 

Just following others 

Where does that end, they don’t know 

Tired, exhausted, so serious 

Never ask questions 


Just pushing forward 

With all their might  

Maybe just a very few 

Know their destination! 

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