Artistic Adventures in Paris

An Exhibition at Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne

Paris you are creation, blanketed in frustration.
The search for magic, at angelic intervals,
for pitched sentences of vibrating words,
Console me with your wisdom……

I took the time a week ago, to venture out with fellow Artist in Residence, Margaret O’ Brien, to an art opening at Musée d’art contemporain du Val-de-Marne, more commonly called MAC/VAL.  It was featuring an artist called Ange Leccia.

Logical Song (extrait), 2013.
Arrangement vidéo, 32‘ en boucle.
Courtesy galerie Almine Rech.
© Adagp, Paris 2013.

Friday was also my first day on the metro or bus, which we took to get there! I know, the small things in life right?! Anyway, if I was honest, I would say that at first sight, I was not impressed when I walked in. A video was playing on several massive wall installations in a giant exhibit space, maybe a hundred people were standing there looking vaguely interested and horribly intellectual, and the artists video subject was doing an average at best performance of Supertramps The Logical Song. I took a deep breath and promised myself I would give it a chance.

Post Modern Modernism

As I wandered around the gallery, with Margaret’s patient help, I started to understand a Charles Freger : Wilder Mannlittle more about the art we were checking out. Surprisingly enough, she felt it is not as modern as what is actually going on out there. As we joked about post modern modernism while looking closely at some photography in an exhibition of work by Charles Fréger called Wilder Mann, she gave me some pointers about the photos we were looking at and also about the video presentation for the Logical Song. She suggested that maybe the artists were exposing layers that we usual covered up.  Maybe, not being a singer was a reason the subject was on camera, peeling back layers of social norms and making us look at a more raw state of existence. This concept actually allowed me to experience everything in the exhibit with a new sense of understanding and appreciation.

Charles Freger : Wilder MannFreger’s photographs focused a lot on uniforms, masks, disguises and costumes as an almost second skin. The literature suggested that his work focused on “the construction of identity” and “the representation of the social body”. This actually made perfect sense. We look on these ‘costumes’ as weird and crazy, but yet in cultures we dress outlandish in terms of what other era’s or even other cultures might perceive. Considering that a lot of these pictures capture variations of ritualistic dress from religious or pagan past and present, its actually quiet fascinating trying to look on our existential actions as an outsider.

Making Sense of it All

Mac/Val, Paris

Mac/Val, Paris

After looking at various other exhibits, including Les Grands Verres by Dominique Blais, we went back in to the main exhibit room and sat through the entire Logical Song presentation – a series of videos arranged to music but in particular Supertramp’s the Logical Song. The “film exhibition” was somewhat like an intimate diary, or collection of films of the artists life, from the past and present. You could see a theme running through the work if you watched it all. We are invited to “interfere in the privacy of his reality, at the same time, returns to the spectator.”

Ange Leccia - Logical Song

Ange Leccia – Logical Song

As we watched and absorbed the piece, I noticed a rhythm of images, that helped lure the viewer on a journey through the timeline. The clips were actually very cleverly transitioning and thoughtfully ordered. For me, it was wonderful to watch an artist do their own thing and still connect with an audience on a level I had not seen before. Although I felt you really needed to be open minded, and a thinker at some level to appreciate the work, it was beyond a shadow of doubt, artistic and exceptional.

The Artistic Legacy

So what did the day achieve for me? Well, afterwards, Margaret, her friend Claudia and myself obviously went to a bar and had wine and hot chocolate as one does in Paris! Chatting about life and nationalities, it was a nice conclusion to a day of personal artistic stimulation.  Before returning home to my patient computer and even more patient musical ideas, we walked further through the city and looking at some gorgeous architecture at Hôpital d’instruction des armées du Val-de-Grâce and the interesting square tower of the Institut Oceanographique at the corner of Rue Gay-Lussac and Rue Saint Jacques. Finally, after walking Claudia to the metro, it was time to come home after a really enjoyable break.

As of now, I am finally feeling connected to finishing the 2nd movement of the concerto and hope to work on this week. I am thinking if I were done with that movement by the end of the month it would be a huge start. Is it too big of a daydream? Possibly! 10 lingering cues to complete in The Letters, several suite ideas jotted down on manuscript. Doing battle with a lingering dose of insomnia, a loud construction crew on a nearby street and a level of stress I haven’t felt in years, only time will tell how this plays out…

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A Nobel Laureate at the Centre Culturel Irlandais

an alley meets a rue..

an alley meets a rue..

Paris you are my Milonguera,
guiding me unnoticed
through my slow steps,
With a slight of hand
and a subtle leaning,
back and forth between feeble attempts to embrace the melonga,
and the impossible task of avoiding the seduction of such an enchanting partner……

An evening with Seamus Heaney

Aside from working on my intentions for the final direction of the concerto or working on more cues for the Mother Teresa film The Letters I’ve been living 24/7 for the last 3 months, I do once in a while stray out into Paris. Seriously! After finishing a cue demo, I rushed to be ready in time to attend Irish Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney‘s poetry reading in the courtyard here at Center Culturel Irlandais.

I headed out just after 7.30pm and was surprised to see the courtyard quite full already.

Seamus Heaney at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. Photograph: Des Harris/The Picture Desk

The Irish Times felt that an “otherworldly hush” descended for the 8pm readings in Paris, but I was more inclined to feel that as it had been raining all day, it was a surprise to see clear skies and a chilly but drying cour! Renowned Irish poet and fellow CCI artist in residence Gerry Smyth was already seated and I happily joined him. For a change, I brought my camera, ready to record and use as reference material for composing after enjoying an earlier poetry reading which was also part of Le Marché de la Poésie Poetry Festival.

When he came out, he seemed more frail than I had expected. When he started to read, itMarché de la Poésie was actually quite amazing. It reminded me of watching The Dave Brubeck Quartet on my 30th birthday as they shuffled out onto the stage at Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles and then this frail old little man literally lit up that piano! Sheamus, wasn’t quite so tiny, old, or frail, but he struck me as being both very introspective and very enlightened.

In a brief interview, Seamus gave some interesting insight into his process. When asked about his 2006 stroke, he mentioned that much and all as he didn’t wish for it, he had a new source of inspiration since then.  He was particularly struck by the fact that 4 guys had to carry him to help save him and it reminded him of a healing in the Bible where 4 men carried in a man to be healed. It struck him, that without the men carrying, would the man have ever been healed? It was a fascinating concept.

Seamus’s poetry was deeper than I expected and his reading was strong and evocative as he did battle with the birds in the courtyard as they intently sung to the heavens as dusk fell.  He even joked about it, spontaneously quoting a poem The Blackbird of Belfast Lough from memory. Reading from his heart, he seemed very connected with his words and his intent. It was very powerful to watch.

Afterwards, I hoped to maybe meet him, but it didn’t come to pass. What a shame. My evening came to a nice close however, when another cue was cleared for The Letters. Yay! Only 11 left now. Let me share with you, a little memory – Seamus reading his first poem of the night “The Given Note” about the Blasket fiddler who retrieves the mysterious Port na bPúcaí (The Fairies’ Tune) from Inisvicillane. You can read the poem and a great overview by Rachel Holstead at

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The Parisian Experience – Centre Culturel Irlandais

Rue Clovis

Rue Clovis – Paris V (Photo credit: Ciaran Hope)

Its June and I’m honoured to be starting a three month residency at the stunning Centre Culturel Irlandais in beautiful Paris!  I thought I’d be finishing the concerto over the last 2-3 months, but instead found myself working around the clock on a film score I’d been waiting 10 years to do! Now in Paris, my focus shifts to working on a suite for orchestra and completing the concerto.

When I arrived in Paris, the first thing I did was actually sleep for a few days. I totally crashed and burned and had no energy to even think! Now that I’m feeling more functional again, I’m excited at the possibility of finally taking the concerto to the finish line while I’m here.

The Centre Culturel Irlandais

The CCI building that I’m living in consists of two wings surrounding a gorgeous large Parisian courtyard.

English: Centre culturel irlandais - Paris Fra...

English: Centre culturel irlandais – Paris Français : Centre culturel irlandais (Vue général des bâtiments, côté cour) – Paris V (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Renovated somewhere between 1769 and 1775 to accommodate an ecclesiastical community, it still has that sense of spirituality with one of its wings housing a serene chapel and an incredible library.

I’m excited that I will get to check out the library which apparently has a collection of about 10,000 books, half of which date from the 15th century. Its going to remind me of the Long Room in Trinity I hope! The books (in English, French, Latin and Irish) mainly deal with theology, history, geography, philosophy and music.

Aside from that, I’ve bumped into some of my fellow Artists in Residence here who are at various stages of their stays. Writers/Poets Jaki McCarrick and Gerard Smyth as well as visual artist Margaret O’ Brien have all been incredibly welcoming to me and after we have dinner this weekend I’m sure I will have lots more to share about their work and experiences.

The Paris of Great Composers

Paris from a Window

Le Panthéon National, Rue Irlandais – Paris V (Photo credit: Ciaran Hope)

Its amazing what a town can do for inspiration. For many years Prague used to provide that inspiration and even though I have barely arrived, I can already tell that Paris oozes inspiration. The CCI is in the historic Latin quarter of Paris in the 5th arrondissement. I can see the imposing Pantheon from my bedroom window and take a 5 minute walk to the bustling Rue Mouffetard and its Parisian sensations. As one of Paris’s oldest and liveliest neighbourhoods (settled by the Romans around 53BC), its such an exciting prospect to be here working and living, soaking myself in the culture.

Thinking of all the great composers who were inspired by the city at some point on their creative journeys, I really do get goose-bumps realizing I am following in their rather large footsteps. From Stravinsky’s crazy premiere of Rite of Spring, to its famous residents such as Mozart, Prokoviev, Faure, Debussy, Offenback, Liszt, and Verdi, Paris contributed some real magic to their work during their lives.

I also found some great information on about some of their stays, so to round off the blog, I am officially making visiting their former homes part of a Parisian “Bucket List” this summer!

Verdi – 65, avenue des Champs Elysées: Paris 8 ème: Following the success of The Force of Destiny, Verdi moved to Paris.

Debussy – 56 rue Cardinet: In 1902, Claude Debussy arrived and began work on Pelleas et Melisandre. At the time, he was in a relationship with Gabrielle Dupont, left to be with her friend Rosalie Texier (who he would later marry) and was also romantically linked with singer Thérèse Roger! Whew! So who really inspired the lyrics for the opera?

Offenbach – 11 rue du Lafitte: Offenbach lived on Chaussée D’Antin, now known as Grands Boulevards, in 1858.

Fauré – 135 boulevard Malesherbes: During the summer of 1887, Gabriel Fauré began to compose one of my favourite pieces – his Requiem. Both his father and mother died that year as he began writing yet Fauré denied any relationship between those events and his Requiem.

Mozart – 8 rue du Sentier: An then there is Mozart. On March 11th, 1778, Mozart and his mother moved to Paris in search of work.

Prokofiev – 5 rue Valentin Hauy: Prokofiev lived in Paris on and off, from the 1920’s. In the 1930’s, living in the neighborhood of Breteuil, he began to work on his Piano Concerto No. 4 for Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein commissioned the work, but was prevented from playing it because he could not understand the notes. Thank God Cora is checking on the Concerto as I’m writing it!!!

Paris Workspace

Centre Culturel Irlandais, Rue Irlandais – Paris V (Photo credit: Ciaran Hope)

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Cill Rialaig Residency 2012 – Arriving

For the start of 2012, I was awarded a residency at the Cill Rialaig Project in a remote part of Co. Kerry called Ballinskelligs. I came down with the intention of spending a few weeks in seclusion writing trying to bring together the concerto into a more final version.

Finding the place is no walk in the park! Even with maps, arriving in Ballinskelligs at 5pm

View From Cill Rialaig Cottage

View From Cill Rialaig Cottage

when its dark is just a bad idea. I must have spent an hour or two going up various little bóithrín’s and constantly wondering if the deep dark on the left or right was the abyss of the edge of the cliff. I had visited the artist village over the summer while I was attending the Charlie Chaplin Film Festival in nearby Waterville, but my “turn right before the pier and take the left after that” memory of the directions from last time really were not working in the poring rain and pitch black.

I then had a crazy Kerryman in welly’s take advantage of the lost dublin car, by jumping out in front of me and muttering something in indistinguishable English, that I fairly clearly interpreted as asking for a lift to the pub. Even after I told him that the car was so full I wasn’t sure if I could hold him, he opened the passenger door and I had to shout at him to try and stop him from sitting in on top of food, electronics, pillows and clothes!

After making space, I took his directions and figured I’d ask if he new where I was going to, and surprisingly he answered and I wished him well at the pub and headed of waiting to see what his guidance brought. It brought me to the Cill Rialaig Project shop….Again……ugh….

my home for January 2012

my home for January 2012

One final try, and I was left with only one turn that I hadn’t tried yet in combination, and low and behold it turned out to be the correct one! Now the next issue after driving up to the cottage was finding the key, supposedly left hanging for me….of course I never figured it might be hanging on the OTHER side of the house by the OTHER door when I spent another tiring hour looking for it outside….

Anyway, a long tiring journey over, I got myself in, unpacked and ready to go. Except, I had not figured on the cold, and boy, was that first night cold. I should have taken the hint when I saw the hot water bottle beside the kettle in the kitchen! I used it every night since!


After getting settled in, I decided to order some turf for the fire so that I would escape another freezing night at the cottage! Joe said it would be there at 6pm or so, and that made me very happy indeed! More to follow….

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What the hell is a baby Concerto?

So, I’ve been writing away like a good thing and with Cora welcoming a little baby into the world, I got to thinking, what does a baby concerto look like? Well I figure it looks like a whole load of pages of musical possibilities and potential. It just needs time to grow up and makes its parents proud…


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Tyrone Guthrie, a Concerto and a Lake

Dinner at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre

A few weeks ago, I made my way up to a beautiful little corner of Co. Monaghan and a few weeks later, found myself wishing I didn’t have to leave again. There are not enough words to describe the experience of living and working in a community of artists for a period of time. The only question I have for myself is why it took me so long to try something like this in the first place?

The conversations over nightly dinner covered books, poetry, art and its place in contemporary Ireland and always included me as the solitary composer in the group, narrating the journey that led me to my rather generous and inspiring quarters in Annaghmakerrig.


Guthrie Composers Room

Guthrie Composers Room

After getting lost on Monday somewhere on the way to Coothill, I eventually made it 5 hours late, but in time to settle in and attend my first dinner at the Centre.  All the poets and authors were incredibly well spoken and exceptionally knowledgeable and I found myself just wanting to sit and listen to their conversations. Martin, Nollaig, Philip, Trevor and how could I forget Gerry. I honestly didn’t feel I had much to offer as a contributor! Over the course of my first week, I found my curiosity growing more and more with regards to the work of the artists in the group, but more about that later.

I set up my manuscript and got straight to work banging out my music on both the grand pianos in the composers studio. I was fascinated with the different timbres from each.  When I got overwhelmed with that, I would turn my attention to finding text for the 3rd movement of the concerto within the various scriptures I had brought to hunt through. This was interspersed with various trips to the kitchen, which was conveniently situated right beneath me, resulting in the consumption of copious amounts of tea and brown sugar…yummmm……

The more time I spent talking to the visual artists, the more I started to question what the hell I was doing. For the first time, more than with composers, or poets, or writers, I found myself in deep conversation with artists, trying to understand how they evolved from regular painting to developing their very unique individual styles.

Whether it was Janet Pierce exploring mysticism, Karen Hendy developing mark-making as a style to escape the conscious mind, or Susan D’Amato exploring visual and conceptual correspondences between the human body and cosmological forms, the artists I met really made me turn the looking glass on myself and ask myself what I am actually trying to do musically.

Beyond writing notes and things that sound nice,

what is my actual goal when I write music?

A huge part of the first week at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre was spent looking at what I was trying to write and asking myself what I was actually seeking musically. As the week came to a close, much to my surprise, I started to see myself in a different light as a composer. More than ever, I started to feel that my personal exploration was the juxtaposition of historical tonality and modern atonality, trying to find the perfect balance between the styles so they sit in harmony together.

Hope Concerto Score

Suddenly, I had re-discovered my inspiration. I also had a second theme! I had desperately hoped for a secondary theme for the dominant first movement theme and now I had it. They could flow in and out of each other, yet one was tonal and the other, atonal. It was quite and amazing discovery and quite a fantastic creative discovery actually.

As I worked away, I had no idea that my creaky piano skills were sending waves of sound wafting out the windows and floating throughout the Tyrone Guthrie grounds. Several people commented on the music and how amazing it was sounding even on the lake, much to my surprise!

I took time to play the thematic concepts for some curious artists and writers who passed through and one comment in particular that stuck with me was from Pam, who said she loved the opening theme.

My Window

“When the second theme came it,

it just unexpectedly lifted the beauty to a whole other level.”

Could I possibly get a nicer comment from a listener on a raw idea? Her excitement was infectious…. so infectious in fact, that I decided to see could I extend my stay, which is exactly what I did….

Week 2:

a piano exposed

Staying on took a little work. Out of clothes to wear, I had my mothers car which needed to be returned and I still had to find out if they had space, as the residency could only originally offer me one week.

After asking for the extra week, on the basis that the composer studio seemed open on the schedule, Monday morning arrived with Ingrid walking into the studio grinning from ear to ear telling me they had sorted me out and I could stay!  I dashed down like a little kid and had hugs for everyone in the office I was so happy. It was meant to be.

This second week was spent working my melody extensions

and seeing how far I could push them……

I discovered that the new 2nd theme worked over the original key of E minor, and more surprisingly directly over the first theme… So, they can actually sit together! That would most likely happen at the end of the movement or in the development if I have one and still go with a modified sonata form. That needs some figuring out.

I also spent a huge portion of the week working on my text. hmmmm…

verba mea audi Domine, intellege murmur meum.
Lucerna pedibus meis verbum, et lumen semitis meis

Salvete Deus, Laudate Dominus
Benedictus Sanctus Dominus, Salvete mediteris amen

V1 Posuere venia (gratia) sperare in Dei,
Qui Deum diligit mundum manent.

V2 Veni Verbum supernum, Deus, creator omnium
Audite, et meditabor in Cogita

V3 Verbum semper fluit amnis in infinita
Sustinui te, Domine, tu es spes mea

I analyzed my favorite chant lines and modes, and ultimately decided that I am going to try basing the opening around the tonic and the verse around the dominant of the mode which I think is to be aeolian.

After seeing Shostakovich use a bold and basic ostinato line repetitively throughout his 3rd movement Passacaglia, I realize that I can use the Gregorian form throughout my movement and it should work too.

The secret seems to be sticking to my choices.

I managed to find a strange chord based on the two inter related note clusters from the mode, that I think will sound nice and eery in wood winds, arriving in a seemingly pointless series of textural moments… If I move the Gregorian line through the orchestra, switching textures in the various repeats, I can create a nice arc to support a solo violin that should be a cross between Shostakovich’s 3rd and Beethovens 2nd movement.

This week, I also got to spend some personal time with the renowned artist Janet Pierce. She spoke in great detail with me about her art and I had no idea it was all based on meditation! She showed me the picture of her guru and told me about her inspiring trips to India and how it changed her art.

I like the bright light in them. It looks like there is a light behind the light and if you could jump into them, you would see the light thousands of times brighter. She laughed and said its like the light in meditation. We talked for hours on the topic we mutually love!

I honestly needed to meet other artists like this. It is something I’ve never really done before and I reminded myself of that when I felt guilty about not working more! Then, as is apparently usual for residents, I found myself considering staying a few more days ….yet again…

Week 3:

Annaghmakerrig lake

Monday morning, with Mary laughing at the inevitability of the request, I got the all clear to stay until Thursday night so onward and upward!

This week, I fell in love with boating on the lake. In fact, when I came back in the very first time, I set up a recorder and recorded myself playing, as I had an idea that didn’t seem to fit in the concerto, but seemed to be about the rowing on the lake, and the rhythm of the lake and water. I’ll get to finish it, and it will most definitely be called Annaghmakerrig Lake.

A few days later, I met the Irish poet Mary Dorcey on her way back from a grocery trip as I was working outside the conservatory on my translation. “Hello Mary and how are you today?” I asked. She smiled and not wanting to interrupt the workflow, hesitantly came over and said “its such a beautiful day isn’t it?”. “I know” I responded, appreciative of the gesture.

We proceeded to have a long and heartfelt conversation on the creative mind and on her poetry. She shared with me how one of her well known poems was started by a line that came to her out of the blue and then she ended up working backwards from there to form the verse.  On this residency, Mary is working with Dutch artist Felice Atelier, who is doing a set of paintings inspired by Mary’s poetry that will end in a book together.

This whole trip, I’ve ended up having several joyful discussions on creativity and life, and little by little discovering a shared interest in meditation and spirituality with everyone from Susan, to Mary, Jane and Karen. It was such a pleasant surprise.

The experience encouraged me to be more open to letting my spirituality appear more visible in my work, seeing as it drives it…

You know, since week 2, I was going to sleep every night with my themes playing in my mind, and waking up every morning with the themes running in my thoughts.

tools of the trade

I think being away from TV and radio helps, as does the fact that the last thing at night I was usually doing was playing the concerto voraciously on piano. I wonder can I maintain this in any way in the real world? Time will tell.

Mary surprised me on my final day, by coming on up to the studio to say goodbye in case we missed each other. Susan, Debbie and Felice did there best to embarrass me by serenading me as I tried to slip off to the car on my way out after my last supper – they didn’t succeed, as it was a wonderful final memory to have of such a beautiful place.

Tyrone Guthrie July 2011

I’m going to miss my late evening games of scrabble with Igor, Susan, Debbie, Pam, Felice and Roisin, late night Father Ted on the laptop with tea and friends, boating adventures on the tranquil lake and walking under the moon of Guru Purnima. I’m going to miss jokes over dinner, rich deserts and readings in the conservatory.  I hope I can make it to one of Philips plays in Cavan!

Goodbye Tyrone Guthrie, I will miss you, and draw inspiration from you, and return to you sooner than you think. Thank you for your inspiration and welcome. I wonder how Cora is doing?

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Videos and Concertos

[St. Stephen's Green Park, Dublin. County Dubl...

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

Well, this Monday, I headed into the Irish National Concert Hall with a fresh haircut, ready to make a film…. or something like that… 🙂

We arranged a morning film shoot around the NCH and the Victorian era St. Stephens Green in the heart of Dublin City. The idea, was to catch some footage of Cora and me and conduct a brief on camera interview with us about the concerto project. Following the recording of Coras Ravel performance, its another step towards documenting our journey. Hopefully, we have enough material to make a trailer to send around to prospective investors to possibly raise some funds towards either the documentary or the project as a whole.

It was a fun morning, but in the end I’ve realized that it broke my writing focus and that is just par for the course at this point. I need to try and stay on target with my writing time.

I am going through so many emotions its hard to even write about them. There is no point in wishing for something else, because this is who I am whether I like it or not. I am a sensitive writer, and I have never been able to shed this persona with any amount of meditation or effort. It is my core. It is my soul. It is my essence. I am coming to the realization that I am fated to be this way for my entire life, and much and all as I can adapt or evolve many aspects of my being, this is so fundemental to who I am, that there is no doctoring it.

Regular meditation seems to be the only antidote to inner turmoil that I have come across, and I am thankful for that daily. The emotional highs and lows that come with my chasing of notes, is often painful at best. The rush of discovering the sequences I want is short and intense, but such a strong part of the fabric that makes up this existence of mine, that I keep coming back for more, just like an addict, except this is beyond addiction. Its a dance that is part of breathing, part of waking and part of existing. Without it, I don’t exist. What an insane Karmic path.

I don’t claim to be anyone special. I just do what I am programmed to do in my DNA and hope it makes sense at some point. I write what I hear, but what I hear has already been written. I struggle with its accuracy, yet the less I stuggle the better the accuracy. The mind and the spirit have to be in perfect harmony for the struggle to me minimised. Its like an inverse correllation.

The sooner I get that through the stubborn mind, the easier this will all go. According to Sant Kabir:

Dheere Dheere Re Mana, Dheere Sub Kutch Hoye
Mali Seenche So Ghara, Ritu Aaye Phal Hoye

Slowly slowly stay my mind, Slowly everything happens
Gardner may water garden a hundred times, When the Season comes, there is fruit

Kabir tells his mind to slow down, and reminds it that everything in life happens in its own time. No matter the effort, karma will unfold in due course.

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