Paramahansa Yogananda's "Luther Burbank"
Luther Burbank and Paramahansa Yogananda
A great Eastern yogi and a great Western scientist find they have much in common in their pursuit of truth.
Paramahansa Yogananda’s tribute to the famed horticulturist, Luther Burbank, dramatizes the exquisite relationship between the two unique representatives of Eastern and Western culture: the great yogi/spiritual leader from the East and the foremost scientist from the West. The poem “Luther Burbank” from Songs of the Soul features eleven stanzas of varying lengths in scattered rime.
(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")
First Movement: “Beatific Burbank!”
The speaker begins by directly invoking the name of the one to whom he is offering the tribute; he indicates that Luther Burbank’s foremost quality is his saintliness. By referring to Burbank as “Beatific Burbank!” in a soulful exclamation, the speaker establishes the profundity of spirit that will guide the homage.
The speaker then reveals the nature of Burbank’s grand work; he has been a “great reformer”—not of people, as the yogi has been, but of “living plants and flowers.” The speaker discloses the truth that plants, like people, are conscious beings; they behave according to “moods,” and they are variously “tender ones,” and “stubborn-growing ones,” as exemplified by the thorny “cactus rude.”
Second Movement: “Thy peaceful ways”
The speaker celebrates the experiment that led to the “spineless cactus,” a product the great horticulturist was successful in developing through his deep understanding of the consciousness of the cactus. Yogananda discusses the science behind this experiment in his Autobiography of a Yogi, his important book that he dedicated to Luther Burbank, calling him an “American Saint.”
Before Burbank’s science intervened, the walnut tree took much longer to mature and produce nuts. Through the great scientist’s work, he was able to shorten that time by half and soften the shells in the process.
The speaker compares the horticulturist to a “God-grown mental lotus-flower.” Burbank’s knowledge has disseminated “its supreme ways” and has mightily served humanity.
Third Movement: “Thou didst not ask, ‘Who art thou?’”
The speaker avers that the scientist’s understanding and science-through-love allowed him to understand the work of the guru without explanation: “We had one goal, one task, one law: / By knowledge to break / The walls of dogma dark.”
The two great minds were able to comprehend each other’s profound spirituality and goal of service. They found that their minds were like divers in a great sea of truth. They both eschewed “dread isms and dogmas.” They had no use for “all man-made false enigmas.” The speaker playfully refers to the two unique souls as “outcasts”: “We ‘outcasts’ know but one bright / Truth-made path of light.”
Fourth Movement: “God didst make thee, and all, in His image”
The speaker then lavishes praise on the accomplishments of the outstanding scientist who has “broken the dogma of ages.” The work of Burbank “show[s] the world of wonder” and that “the Creator’s child [is] a creator” also. And the esteemed American Saint demonstrated his God-given creativity by “creating new fruits, new plants.”
Fifth Movement: “O Santa Rosa, thou art blessed”
The speaker concludes by extending a compliment to the town where Burbank lived and worked his botanical magic: “O Santa Rosa, thou are blessed / To have blown the perfume of this great flower / That all people of the earth enjoy its shower / Of scent so sweet.”
He avers that Burbank has the talent and skill to correct any “imperfect plant” that Nature makes. And then he again addresses Burbank’s hometown in a final tribute to the master plant man: “Santa Rosa, thy Luther-flower the ages shall not fade; / In soil of memories shall it live, e’er fresh, / Through endless decades.”
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes