French Pantoums - A new take on contemplative listening

Posted on December 8th, 2017

I am a second year student on the Encounter Course. This term we have been deepening our practice of contemplative listening.

One of the exercises we were given, to enhance our understanding, was to write a ‘French Pantoum’. This is a 12 line poem, in 3 stanzas, in which 6 original lines are each repeated in a specified pattern. The form sets up interesting and unexpected emphases and unforeseen meanings which mirror the unpredictable way in which heart-felt sharing unfolds in the presence of a contemplative listener.

Each stanza break acts as a time to breathe, in which what has so far been voiced can be assimilated and digested: both by speaker and listener (or indeed poet and reader). The repetitions are recapitulations of what has been said already and act as spring board for the speaker to move deeper into her story. And the final repetition of the first line brings a sense of completion to a unique journey of encounter.

The 6 original lines were developed as the spontaneous responses to six questions relating to contemplative listening. Examples of the questions are: What qualities would enhance the practice? Who are your role models as contemplative listeners? What is a scriptural story that demonstrates contemplative listening?

The idea was simply to note down what came and feed these fruits into the prescribed pattern and see what arose. I did this and was amazed at the power of the result which I shared in the class.

I was so taken with this form that the next day I wrote 2 more. I hope the poems speak to you and that you too may be inspired to write your own French Pantoum

A blazing bush

A blazing bush lights the way toward Mount Sinai

Presence, silence and profound peace

Jesus, St Francis and Hazrat Inayat Khan

The Samarian woman draws water at the well.

Presence, silence and profound peace

Resonating with the still small voice of God

The Samarian woman draws water at the well

and dips a bucket into the heart of mystery.

Resonating with the still small voice of God

Jesus, St Francis and Hazrat Inayat Khan

dip a bucket into the heart of mystery

A blazing bush lights the way toward Mount Sinai.

An ocean of love

An ocean of love washes each tender heart

Enraptured, we sit and look at what is

Teresa of Avilla and John of the Cross

Jesus sleeps soundly on the storm tossed boat.

Enraptured, we sit and look at what is

Fresh grass trembles and shines in the sun

Jesus sleeps soundly on the storm tossed boat

and we sit with Mary on a hill as light dies.

Fresh grass trembles and shines in the sun

Teresa of Avilla and John of the Cross

join us with Mary on a hill as light dies

An ocean of love washes each tender heart.

Jacob wrestles the angel

Jacob wrestles the angel from dusk until dawn

Faith and Hope and Charity

Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich

A stranger joins us as we walk to Emmaus

Faith and Hope and Charity

Bright as the colours in God’s promise to the world

A stranger joins us as we walk to Emmaus

overturning all that’s not in our hearts.

Bright as the colours in God’s promise to the world

Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich

overturning all that’s not in our hearts

Jacob wrestles the angel from dusk until dawn

Peter Huitson

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