Please Call Me by My True Names

Please Call Me By My True Names is a poem writ­ten by Thich Nhat Hanh back in the 1970s. 

He wro­te it in respon­se to hea­ring the news about a young refu­gee girl from Vietnam thro­wing herself into the sea and drow­ning after being raped by Thai sea pira­tes. After medi­ta­ting all day on his anger in respon­se to hea­ring this news and ques­tio­ning what he could do if he was the­re, this poem was composed. 

The audio is from 2009 when he reci­ted this poem at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco during an evening of poe­try reci­tal and song.

The credit for the pho­to collec­tion in this video pre­sen­ta­ti­on of Thay’s rea­ding goes to Matthew Cheyne — thank you Matthew, for the work of love and crea­ti­vi­ty!
I uploa­ded the video to my YT account to be able to add addi­tio­nal sub­tit­les in dif­fe­rent lan­guages.

Please Call Me By My True Names

Don’t say that I will depart tomor­row-
even today I am still arri­ving.

Look deeply: every second I am arri­ving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fra­gi­le wings,
lear­ning to sing in my new nest,
to be a cater­pil­lar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding its­elf in a stone.

I still arri­ve, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that is alive. 

I am a may­fly meta­mor­pho­sing
on the sur­face of the river.
And I am the bird
that swo­ops down to swal­low the mayfly. 

I am a frog swim­ming hap­pi­ly
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-sna­ke
that silent­ly feeds its­elf on the frog. 

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bam­boo sticks.
And I am the arms mer­chant,
sel­ling dead­ly wea­pons to Uganda. 

I am the twel­ve-year-old girl,
refu­gee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the oce­an
after being raped by a sea pira­te.
And I am the pira­te,
my heart not yet capa­ble
of see­ing and loving. 

I am a mem­ber of the polit­bu­ro,
with ple­nty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my peop­le
dying slow­ly in a for­ced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast it fills the four oceans. 

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laugh­ter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one. 

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion. 

Thay walks …

The Song

The pra­tic­tio­n­ers in the Plum Village tra­di­ti­on of enga­ged Buddhisme have made a beau­ti­ful song from key lines of the poem. Please enjoy the music and sing along, if you like!

Lyrics of the song: 

My joy is like spring, so warm,
It makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
So vast it fills the four oce­ans.

Please call me by my true names
So I can hear all my cries and laugh­ter at once,
So I can hear that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names
So that I can wake up,
And the door of my heart can be left open.

(Instru­men­tal inter­lu­de, then repea­ting the words and music)

My joy is like spring, so warm,
It makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
So vast it fills the four oce­ans.

Please call me by my true names
So I can hear all my cries and laugh­ter at once,
So I can hear that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names
So that I can wake up,
And the door of my heart can be left open.