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Poems in the Style and Spirit of Kabir

Poems in the Style and Spirit of Kabir

RELG 213: Introduction to Hinduism

Kabir teachingKabir was a 15th/16th century devotional poet and social critic from northern India. The songs of Kabir are known and passionately performed far and wide in India today. Beloved for his rough rhetoric and irony, his bold, blunt language, and fearless attitude, Kabir criticized both Hindus and Muslims, promoting a religion of the heart in which priestly mediations, ritual practices, doctrinal commitments had no significant place.  Whether through paradox, playful wit, or cutting satire, Kabir sought to expose the hypocrisy and pretension of so much “organized religion” while emphasizing the preciousness of life, the power of selfless devotion, and the presence of Ram (his favorite name for the inconceivable Divine) within each of us.

The poems below were each written in the style and spirit of Kabir.  Some address themes and topics that Kabir himself engaged, while others take on aspects of our modern world and experience from an intentionally “Kabirian” perspective.  All of these poems were written by students in Professor Patton Burchett’s “Hinduism” course (Fall 2021) at William & Mary.

Here is a link to some of Kabir’s own poetry:
Here is a link to The Kabir Project, which produced four documentary films and ten audio CDs and poetry books exploring how Kabir’s poetry intersects with ideas of cultural identity, secularism, nationalism, and religion in South Asia today:

Student Poems:
Fighting, Screaming, Shouting: Ritika Thope

Fighting, Screaming, Shouting

Stealing, Killing 

Over what? 

The One who says we must be peaceful? 

The One who says we must love each other? 

The One who maintains peace? 

A temple, where one puts their hands together for Krishna 

A mosque, where one kneels to worship Allah 

A church, where one sings in the home of Christ 

A synagogue, where one gathers to pray to the Almighty 

Is there a difference? 

Remove the four walls that surround them 

And look into their hearts 

And it is all one, the same


--Ritika Thope

Drunk with power: Ren Willis

Drunk with power

They lead the people like blind sheep

Preaching false truths and fear-mongering

You are led to the cliffs of self-destruction.

Truth has been lost in concrete walls and screens.

Tell me, why do you consume so blindly?

Having lost touch with our true nature,

Humanity walks willingly toward the abyss.

Lives taken and souls forgotten,

False prophets speak of a golden age

While turning the many against each other

And missing the point entirely.

Divided we forget our humanity

Pointing fingers at one another

When the men who play God are the ones to blame.

Humanity walks willingly toward the abyss.

We have forgotten our true nature living inside four walls.

Feel the dirt beneath your feet

See the stars above your head

Breathe deeply and come back to the center.

Unplug from the chaos and fear tactics of the government and media.

You will notice your mind slowly clear

Free from the strings of the puppet masters

You are no longer blind.

Wake up.

Do not walk willingly into the abyss.


--Ren Willis

Do you strip an orange for its peel?: Nathan Perdue 

Do you strip an orange for its peel?

Do you slice a melon for its rind?

Do you flay potatoes for their skin?

You are an ocean without salt

You are the sun without heat

You are people without souls

You birds who always fly for spring

You roaches who skitter at a sound

don't you know nothing grows on wind

where Earth grows all


--Nathan Perdue 

What brings you here?: Bradley Friedman

What brings you here? 


You still do not seem to know where you should be 

Your gods proscribed you freedom and life and you sit ascetic to it, caught in indecision. 

Perhaps then you are a sainted qadi? 

But no, you are not virtuous enough. 

And yet you are proud of the ignorance 

The wise suffer in silence in acknowledgement of their failures.

On and on the cycle rolls on, carrying with it starry-eyed fools

And you are at the front, creative fire-energy breathed into your mind. 


What self-reflection is there without realism?

What purpose is there without consideration?

Are you here to serve the gods or to serve yourself?

You act as if it is both. 


To waste the energy of creation like this is sinful

To deny it is within you would offend Ram

Though blameless he is for your stupidity

In the end, the first question must be answered for him.


Carry on in a blissful life of sin 

And you will never find a greater peace

Whether you look to an imam or to a yogi

While your purpose to Ram is still so lacking. 


--Bradley Friedman

Their homes are filled: Lyle Spitz

Their homes are filled

With items never used

They try to fit in

With people they don’t like

Stressed about problems

Manufactured in their minds

Their acceptance means so much

And yet it does so little

If they were to choose not to worry

Would their stress simply disappear?


--Lyle Spitz

Lying in the dark: Shomik Goshal

Lying in the dark

Too dark to see my hands next to me

Too dark to see my toes below me

Too dark to see the colors of the sheets I sit on

Too dark to see my nose in front of me.

Not listening to the hum of the air

Not listening to words from the street

Not listening to the hum of a phone

Not listening to the cars from the road.

Listening to the ringing in my ears

For the first time I focus on what has always been there

But its been too loud for me to listen

to the ringing in my ears.

I don't want to listen to you talk

I don't want to listen to her sing

I don't want to listen to him scream

I want to listen to the ringing in my ears.


--Shomik Goshal 

you may critique: Lizzie Kerman

you may critique 

You may blame 

but looking at man and beast one will see the same 


one to prance in costume 

yet beg food for the table 

yogi tell us what did you really have to do for those robes 

betrayal of Ram at the hands of disciples 

your pretentious outfit will not save you 

from your own ego 


Yogi how can you be so blind? 

the formalities to which you cling

are the rope that holds you back 


How can you claim that a woman is evil 

when from her womb bursts the child 

life itself 

Or is it truly that you fear 

you withhold your seed because you know 

that woman is divine and you are only man


--Lizzie Kerman

false tales: Lizzie Kerman

false tales 

told by false poets 

yet you block your ears 

to avoid the enlightenment Kabir delivers 


look beyond and see Ram 

I beg you brother 


follow and see 


the intangible is the important thing 

so then why to status do you still cling 

brahman and Shudra 

all mean nothing 


You create the shackles that you live inside 

to free yourself 

need only broaden your mind

and look into your body for the truth 


--Lizzie Kerman

We strive for acceptance and fame: Ben Schwartz

We strive for acceptance and fame

But what begins in the mind terminates in the head.

One's perception of acceptance is internal

And therefore can only come from oneself.


The praise and admiration of others is useless

As is their criticism and hate.

If one were to insult the power of the ocean

Does that make the ocean any less powerful?


--Ben Schwartz

Does such consumption satisfy?: Mia Houdek

Does such consumption satisfy?

Does it fulfill your hunger like milk in an infant’s belly?

Or does it leave your ego rumbling for more?

Nothing appeases the desires you’ve created


You are entertained by this selfish world

Enjoying the delight the sugar brings to your tongue

Prideful in the satisfaction of your wealth 

Pompous with your greed 


You forget your soul is hollow

No God can nourish back the starved spirit you’ve created

No creator can approve of what you’ve become 

With the endless greed

The neglect of our Earth

And the blindness to the One


You’ve abandoned your foundation

Your own Ram

And now you watch your life 

Become ravaged by the desires 

Not only of your own, but of everyone


--Mia Houdek

online dating: April Sage

online dating, 

swiping left or right.

judging only on looks,

not caring for who they are.

only to feel instant gratification,

most likely to become nothing more.


--April Sage
God is all knowing: April Sage

God is all knowing.

creating a path for all followers.

each willing to follow,

because they know

everything happens for a reason.


--April Sage
Devotion has become an illusion: Ava Edwards

Devotion has become an illusion

  No one devotes themselves to the great Ram

    They worship themselves and figures with no sustenance


That beautiful face of yours will rot one day

  As you become one with the earth

    But your Self will suffer, as you remain too enamored with your ego


You stray so far from Ram that they may not reach you now

  Where is your connection to him?

    Your river has run dry


He can no longer fill it

  So you lose faith in Ram

    But it is your doing, that severed connection


Your soul will remain a fish with no water

  A camera with no lens

    A lamp with no light


You remain in the cycle

  As the powerful Ram would have it

    Writhing around as a worm


Until you gain that chance to be human once again

  And once more

    The righteous Ram will give you a chance 


Will you take that chance?

  Or will you choose yourself again

    And the false idol you have become


--Ava Edwards

What do we gain: Olivia Koenig

What do we gain,

When we chase after riches, 

And approval from others

Through screens in our palms?


Says Kabir: Does our God exist on our screens?

Are we chasing after a mirage,

As we lose sight of our purpose

To chase the fantasy?


How many wealthy elite

Turn their nose up at giving away

Pieces of their fortune,

Then ask our God to extend charity onto them?


Says Kabir: Our earthly riches are fleeting.

If extreme wealth was what our Creator had in mind

Why are there children still hungry and thirsty,

Sleeping on the streets?


A man with full pockets, and no God

Is like a key without a lock,

A car without gas,

A phone without battery.

The religious “all-knowers” 

Who preach to others

Are celebrities with mass followings

Speaking with no authority.


Admired by many,

But out of step with his Creator

He serves only himself

To fulfill his greed.


--Olivia Koenig 

Why must you spend your time chasing?: Kenzi Fergus

Why must you spend your time chasing? 

You’re a lion chasing after its prey

You run until your hunger is finally quenched

But this hunger will never sleep 

It will only drive you back to the chase

A chase in which there is no finish 


You follow the rules of the game

Blindly and without hesitation 

You read the book and abide by its teachings

Why do you believe that your rule book is superior?


You do not see the circles you are running

Another may be running in squares

But you are all the same

You will forever return to the start of the chase


Will your hunger ever be satisfied? 

No amount of food will ever suffice

Too much will eventually spoil 

and decompose into the soil 

Just as you will too


--Kenzi Fergus

The object is mindfulness: Teddy Chunias

The object is mindfulness,

its channel: a digital application.

The seller is a profit seeker,

who claims good intentions.


What they sell is a comfortable distraction,

obscuring the divine.


--Teddy Chunias

Renounce the world some say: Teddy Chunias

Renounce the world some say;

embrace the sensual pleasures

others say.

Kabir says:

Ignore the learned fools;

listen to the heart’s beat

and the lung’s breath.


--Teddy Chunias

The people turn their devotion to the screen of glass: Emma Bury

The people turn their devotion to the screen of glass

They have mistaken its glow for the halo of their God

Says I: "Give up your false attachments

The God you seek is not the one you have found"


Some have decided to abandon this life

This world is already ruined, they say

They seek the milk and honey that lies beyond

Poor unfortunate ones 

Milk and honey are mere items of this world

Only dirt and dust await


--Emma Bury

Will this fame fulfill you?: Marjan Naji

Will this fame fulfill you?

Do these people disguised as gods 

complete your yearning?

For only Ram himself can do this


Greed, notoriety, recognition

Why must these matter?

If you never talk of Ram


So, you are born like this?

So what?

Worth is only defined

through devotion


--Marjan Naji

What is an easel with no artist?: Hannah Khan

What is an easel with no artist?

A blank slate? A new beginning?

Full of potential, yet no one to harness it

What a shame 


--Hannah Khan

People clash like waves upon the sand: Hannah Khan

People clash like waves upon the sand

The connection of the waves upon the sand creates energy 

This energy makes the world go round

And connects us with God 

They miss the purpose of waves and sand


--Hannah Khan

Many think themselves heroes: Jordan Hooker

Many think themselves heroes,

They claim to be Good

Yet do nothing heroic

While so many in the world starve

So many are thirsty, cold, or lonely

Lost, trapped, ensnared by harsh reality

It could go away if love were inherent

and we are conscious and can make it so


Is it arrogance? Ignorance? 

Or something much deeper?

A place within all of us where 

peace and happiness can flow outward

Something inside us that makes us aware

that we can treat our world with compassion

not just our neighbors, both distant and close

but also the trees, the ocean, the soil, the whole


What the hell is wrong 

with so many people

who cannot truly see

that we will all die


Awareness of this fact alone

means that we are all the same

That we should love, and smile, and share

That there is more than one path to salvation

on this pale blue dot

suspended in a sunbeam


 --Jordan Hooker

I hear a choir which sings: Nicholas Elsberg

I hear a choir, which sings

To an empty audience

As men fight outside over paper

Against the backdrop of a great fire

A flame that burns

Ever brighter

While all the water pails remain empty

And are melted into bullets


--Nicholas Elsberg

From dirt we arise: Nicholas Elsberg

From dirt we arise

And to dirt we return

Is that why we’re so content to wallow in the filth of greed?

How ironic that man

Trapped on a tiny rock

in an inky blackness of which he knows nothing

Thinks himself king of the universe


--Nicholas Elsberg

A world torn by hatred: Dolly Lebow

A world torn by hatred,

Ignorance against others,

Resentment for the world,

We find solace, peace, and calming,

Overcoming our instincts pushing us apart,

In Ram. 

Hypocrites, Heretics, and Betrayers.

No one understands each other,

We find that we all come together,

Away from our own delusions,

Once we realize that our minds deceive us.


--Dolly Lebow

As you drift: Tyler Milliken

As you drift

Along that endless river

Disregarding that call,

You turn your back on the moon

Devoured by water,

Suffering from the fire within

Still you drift,

Along that endless river


--Tyler Milliken

Shadows that lurk: Tyler Milliken

Shadows that lurk

Within the heart

Clawing their way out

So too does the 

Rotten barrel leak water

The rotten heart,

Can yet be mended

Just accept that kind embrace


--Tyler Milliken

Does a leaf regret falling?: Trevor Davis

Does a leaf regret falling?

We live cold lives,

Like leaves falling from winter's forests

Only Ram can provide warmth,

a way to escape the ice

that seeks to freeze us 

Who is he?

is he a leader or a puppet?

When he speaks does anyone listen?

Shame on me for listening

Like a dog in the streets

He is alone and ignored


Alone he wanders into the void,

A painful realization

he continues to move forward

falling endlessly into suffering,

He ignores all warnings

destroying his own mind

He forsakes Ram,

therefore he has no savior


--Trevor Davis

The things they call love: Adam Guerin

The things they call love

Remain a mystery to me.

The sport like nature,

Of boxes and roses,

Blindfolds and matchmakers,

All unfolding for our entertainment.

The love they attach to words,

Labels that they have created,

And they have divided themselves with.

Words, thoughts, and distinctions,

All of them are ready to die for.

Ready to kill for.

Love for a God called by any name,

A love sustained by scriptures they can quote,

But not understand,

And morals they speak of,

But not follow.

An overconfident righteousness,

That they wish to impress upon everyone.

What is this love they speak of?

A love so impure,

So inconsistent,

It speaks no truth.

There is no love based

In anger, hatred, and division.

Only blind confusion.

Speak of open truth,

Kindness and compassion,

Speak with no labels or biases attached,

Then and only then,

Can there be 

The thing they call love.


--Adam Guerin

Puffed up by ritual: Emma Jackson

Puffed up by ritual

Without knowing its meaning

The congregation attempts to soothe their guilt

By participating in empty motions

With no understanding of grace

The fall from perfection

Hits harder when deeds compete

With an ocean of mercy

The spirit we claim to follow

Is often so absent

In daily interaction

Where did we lose Him?


--Emma Jackson

From the fire we are created: Triya Ganguly

From the fire we are created 

From the fire we die 

To the men who live through their greed

Profiting off the oil that keeps engines running 

What is the point of that greed?

If it defames the earth in such a way 

That we can no longer inhabit it peacefully

You focus on your profits with no regard to the environment 

But how are you to survive if the earth is rejecting you? 


The fire that once created us is raging on our earth 

Thanks to the fumes your companies ignite 

You kill the earth that feeds you 

On the basis of your financial “purpose” 

But what value does money have 

When it serves to undo the world we inhabit? 


--Triya Ganguly

Through all Ram's found: Max Klein

Through all Ram’s found;

When seas are polluted

And forests uprooted,

So Ram

Is abandoned.


In coin

Only the outside shines

And quickly rusts away.

In good action

The inside shines

With Ram.


--Max Klein

Why do you constantly desire?: Aravindan Balaguru

Why do you constantly desire?

When you were young you craved for sweets

And with time you began to crave for friends

And then success in academics

And then success in your work

And then you sought a romantic relationship

And then you craved for a family

And you kept desiring for something

Your life has been full of desire and and thens

With only brief moments of satisfaction after obtaining your desires

Before that satisfaction ceases to exist

And you desire something new again

So why do you constantly desire?

What end goal do you seek to achieve?

You kill the true Self with your desire

And only seek to satisfy the self and your vanity


--Aravindan Balaguru

People get lost looking for truth: Kaylin Brown

People get lost looking for truth

They spend their time reading books of empty pages

They waste their energy on empty rituals

Truth comes from within

Stop searching outwardly

Ram is within


--Kaylin Brown

Where is the Lord?: Kaylin Brown

Where is the Lord?

Where is the divine?

You search and search

When will you realize

You are a fool

Traveling miles 

Instead of taking one step inside


--Kaylin Brown

You may think draping your body with the name of designers puts you above those in unassuming clothes: Annika Giese

You may think draping your body with the name of designers puts you above those in unassuming clothes

Yet they are cut from the same fabric

You claim a charitable image on your virtual platform but ignore those who reside on the street

Yet you breath the same air

You assume your weekly prayer will right your daily wrongs and shame those who do not follow the same

Yet you were created by the same Creator

You are blind to your contradictions

Your Creator is blind to your intentions

Unchain yourself from your ego


--Annika Giese