approval seeking,  David Whyte,  Poetry

“Sweet Darkness”

“You must learn one thing. The world was made to be free in.” — David Whyte

Sometimes the right poem can work life-changing magic. And sometimes it all depends on what you’re going through when you read it. David Whyte’s “Sweet Darkness” is one such poem for me. Revisiting it today, I am struck this time by the sheer power of its last three lines. This heart-stopping poem is an invitation to stop wasting our time on futile distractions — and a clarion call to discover the real work that we were meant to do….

By David Whyte

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your home

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

–Reprinted from The House of Belonging, by David Whyte (Many Rivers Press); 1997

Photo by Cindy La Ferle 

Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.


  • Cindy La Ferle

    Glad you enjoyed! Several writers in my classes who didn’t care for poetry at all have now become serious fans of contemporary poets. Sadly, some poetry isn’t all that accessible to most readers, but the poems I’ll be including here will appeal to everyone — and still have literary merit. I promise.

  • Joanne

    Beautiful, beautiful verse. At first reading, I could definitely copy those last 3 lines and make it a mantra for life. They say so much, while elevating all that we are.

  • Kathleen Scott

    I’m a normally a non-poem reader…I liked this one. Glad you’re doing this, Cindy. Because you’re doing the winnowing, and we’ll only be reading the good, I’ll probably discover that I didn’t know I loved poetry.

  • Cindy La Ferle

    Kathleen — I love doing the “winnowing” for you, and can’t wait to share the other poems next in line. BTW, quotes from “Sweet Darkness” were featured with a gorgeous photo essay in a previous issue of Oprah magazine a while back. Talk about mainstream! 🙂

  • Sharon

    Cindy, I am so glad you posted this poem. Serendipity. There are some things we can learn only in the sweet confinement of our aloneness. I will read this again and again.

  • Marlynn Likens

    Love your new series, Cindy. I have loved poetry, probably all my life, and use to cut my teeth on Shakespeare, Millay, and Parker. Also did interpretative poetry readings at various times in my life. And of course, as a young girl/woman, wrote poetry. I, too, love the last few lines of his poem which reminds me of something a dear friend told me: It will take 3 positive people to 1 negative person to bring you back to the positive side of life. . .and so I love the phrase “is too small for you.” No truer words have been said.

  • deb

    I am thrilled you are doing this , Cindy.
    I look forward to your selections. I do love poetry , it seems. Even write some :).
    And because I always enjoy your readers insightful comments, this feature will only bring great things!

    And I have to read this a few more times ..

  • Joanna Jenkins

    Thanks Cindy! I’m going to enjoy this series very much.

    I agree, a poem should be read several times to take it all in. I also think a poem sometimes also has a different meaning when read later, when we’re in a different head space or place in our life.

    Looking forward to the next one…


  • Cindy La Ferle

    I’m happy to see a good response to this series. As Deb points out, the insightful comments left here really enrich the conversation. It’s fun to learn what the poems mean to other readers.

    For those who remain ambivalent about poetry, I want to add that I’ll continue to post news/essays on other topics weekly. Poetry won’t be the main focus.

    Marilynn, you’re so right about the negative comment ratio. Back when I was writing newspaper columns, one negative or mean-spirited letter could bring me down all day — even if I’d gotten several positive notes in the same batch. Of course, we grow from constructive criticism too. But generally speaking, there are a few people out there who’d simply love to take us down a peg or two and watch us squirm. (Sadly, even some relatives and “friends.”) David Whyte’s poem reminds us that those people are “too small” for us.

    • Cindy La Ferle

      Cafe Pasadena: Thanks for asking about “true nature.” True nature = who we really are underneath the social mask. The authentic self. It’s hard to talk about this stuff without lapsing into what a friend calls “English-major jargon” — a real buzz killer for some people. 🙂

  • cindy

    What a fabulous poem. I LOVE reading poetry aloud to my students. It’s one of my favorite things about teaching. I’m looking forward to this series, Cindy!

  • Cheryl Wright

    When I read the poem, the first words of my mouth was,

    “Oh crap! I know this feeling and this struggle.”

    Isn’t it amazing that in our loneliness as creative people, we are so inextricable linked by our common experiences – passions, fears, doubts, struggles with procrastination, perfection and processes, triumphs and success.

    Mr. Whyte captures it all, in his short but or so powerful and inspiring poem.

    Thanks for featuring this poem. I look forward to the series.

  • Jenn

    Cindy, I love this new series on your site. I look forward to following your poems!! I love how this poem talks of the darkness as sweetly.
    my fav. lines are:

    [Give up all the other worlds
    except the one to which you belong.

    Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn]


    [anything or anyone that does not bring you alive

    is too small for you.]

    Poetry has always been a part of me, sometimes hidden but always there.

    hugs, Jenn

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