Poetry Sunday: Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Perhaps before we can truly know kindness we have to have been in need of kindness. We have to have felt loss and sorrow. When kindness is shown to us in these circumstances, we learn how to show it to others. At least that seems to be what Naomi Shihab Nye tells us in her poem.


by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.


  1. It is quite profound and contains a good deal of truth. Its meaning seems to become clearer when you start to relate it instances in your own life.

  2. One of my favorite poets. I think my very favorite of her poems is Valentine for Ernest Mann, but I love this one, too, and used it on my Bayou Quilts blog in April. So many little concisely beautiful lines!

    1. I've featured several of her poems here over the years. They always seem profound and personal to me.

  3. Replies
    1. It’s always my goal to blow my readers’ mind with poetry!

  4. Kindness is inseparably related to loss... i hadn't thought it about that before... I'm not sure it's entirely true, tho...

    1. Each situation is obviously unique to the person experiencing it, so I would guess there is some variation there.

  5. You are so gifted in choosing just the right poems. Thank you, Dorothy, for sharing your gift!

    1. I’m always happy to share poetry that is meaningful to me.

  6. Have you heard the story behind this poem, Dorothy? I was moved by the story behind the poem. It's here: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/11/10/naomi-shihab-nye-kindness/ if you haven't heard it.


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