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Behind My Eyes [With CD]

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  821 Ratings  ·  82 Reviews
Combining sensitivity and eloquence with a broad appeal, Li-Young Lee walks in the footsteps of Stanley Kunitz and Billy Collins as one of the United States s most beloved poets. Playful, erotic, at times mysterious, his work describes the immanent value of everyday experience. Straightforward language and simple narratives become gateways to the most powerful formulations ...more
Hardcover, 106 pages
Published January 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 1st 2008)
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Apr 01, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Only a few poems in this collection sing for me like those in LYL's ROSE; still, those few really sing. Mother is figured here, a nice complement to the figured, almost mythic father in ROSE; also LYL mines his immigrant experience here and reaches into his childhood in Indonesia, feeling the loss of it.

In this book are the simple, natural, monosyllabic images I find central to Lee, with those subtle twists, often in the verb, to defamiliarize: “when trees start to ache and green” (84) [I admit
Apr 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
This is Lee’s fourth collection of poems and I think his best, though I have the discoverer’s fondness for his first collection, Rose. It was on a shelf in a narrow bookcase in the reception area of the Chinatown History Project that I first saw Lee’s work, pulling a copy of Rose while I waited for an appointment. Just killing time but I was so captivated that I bought the book after reading just a handful of poems. Lee investigates language and meaning, turning words this way and that until the ...more
Robert Beveridge
Li-Young Lee, Behind My Eyes (Norton, 2008)

Li-Young Lee has been one of my favorite poets for over twenty years, ever since I first picked up The City in Which I Love You in my college bookstore on a whim back in 1990. Part of the reason I'm such a fan is that Lee, while embracing the poetry-as-therapy paradigm so prevalent among bad poets, but always staying on the correct line of that other paradigm so important to poets, show-don't-tell. Thus it was that I cracked this book and started readin
Aug 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites
Let's see and hear what rests and runs behind these eyes and ears. Let's see and hear if this simple thought experiment works in and out of breath's heart and mind: In and out of my heart and mind rests and runs this breath, these (analogical) limited lines of thought: Li-Young Lee is for and to poetry like Hayao Miyazaki is for and to anime. Beautiful. Breathtaking. Earthly. Familial. Fatherly. Heavenly. Hospitable. Interstitial. Motherly. Mystical. Universal.

I used to listen to the CD recordin
Aug 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
I couldn't quite get into this collection of poems, but I wish I could. Maybe if a better reader took me through a few of these I'd enjoy it more. As it was, I did like a few lines, like this one, from "In His Own Shadow," because I like the idea that not recognizing another master than Death is just a lack of sight:

His body throws two shadows:
One onto the table
and the piece of paper before him,
and one onto his mind.

One makes it difficult for him to see
the words he’s written and crossed out
on th
Mar 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
In his fourth collection, Li-Young Lee again expertly explores issues of mortality and the spirit, writing meditative verses that are grounded in natural imagery. With each collection, Lee has deftly explored the line between the metaphysical and the physical worlds, placing the human directly in between the two, as "a blossom mortally wounded on its stem" (71), always trying to traverse the knowledge of our own mortality, and to delineate between what is temporal and what is eternal in this lif ...more
Helen Chung
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
Li-Young Lee's poems are thoughtfully written and immersed in biblical language and story. The poet was born in Indonesia to Chinese parents, and the family fled to escape anti-Chinese sentiment, settling in the U.S. in 1964. Lee's father became a Presbyterian minister.

Here is a paragraph lifted from the Poetry Foundation blog's bio on the poet: "Lee has said that he considers every poem to be a “descendent of God.” When asked about flawed poems by Poets and Writers, Lee explained: “There are g
Oct 26, 2010 marked it as to-read
Jeff Oliver posted this poem along with the AK lit happenings calendar. I'm always hungry for more of Lee's poetry -

To Hold

So we’re dust. In the meantime, my wife and I
make the bed. Holding opposite edges of the sheet,
we raise it, billowing, then pull it tight,
measuring by eye as it falls into alignment
between us. We tug, fold, tuck. And if I’m lucky,
she’ll remember a recent dream and tell me.

One day we’ll lie down and not get up.
One day, all we guard will be surrendered.

Until then, we’ll go on
John Struloeff
Jan 04, 2009 rated it really liked it
I enjoy Li-Young's poetry. He has a controlled, steady, mystical voice -- in person and on the page. I heard him read a number of these poems when he was at Stanford. At his craft lecture, he talked about the connection between words/utterance and breath. Breath in, breath out. You can't do both at once -- it's a steady swing, back and forth, controlled, meditative. Sometimes certain poems or lines are confusing -- a bit too abstract and mystical -- but when he's good, he's good. I find myself r ...more
Tracy O
Sep 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: poetry
I start to roll my eyes in consulting conversations when someone uses the phrase "robust resources" or in design discussions when someone refers to the "integrity of the materials," or in poetry articles when I see the term "spaciousness". These phrases must have meant something real when they were fresh, but they are such cliches I have to shy away from using them. But, spaciousness is the best description for this poetry. I had more room in my head after I read the book. Beautiful rhythm and l ...more
Jennifer Collins
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Lee's poems are consistently stunning, pulling together careful observation, powerful language, and graceful moments in any given line and stanza. Falling into his work is something like journeying into another space and another mind, his poems are each, from beginning to end, so carefully constructed. And yet, they seem effortless, and they are readable and engaging. Few poems in this collection are not stand-outs, and in most collections, any of these poems would leap from the pages and demand ...more
Jun 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of contemporary poetry, any readers
Recommended to Hayley by: Graduate School Professor
I can't think of many other words that come to mind when I read this besides "moved," "Rivers," and "memory." I don't even think all three of them necessarily make sense in this context. What I mean to say is that Lee's poetry not only brings the past alive in each poem, but in the reader as well. I was particularly enraptured by "Sweet Peace in Time" and "Living with Her." Additionally, some of them walked the line between 'funny' and 'pensive'- like "Virtues of the Boring Husband," not that Le ...more
Kevin Fanning
Apr 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A poem is such a tiny thing that strives to contain the entire universe. If one poem hit the target, that would be enough for a lifetime. So it's astonishing how perfect and lovely and stunning fulfilling so many of these poems are.

I don't know how Li-Young Lee is able to connect so completely with life on such a deep emotional level, but I'm thankful that he's doing it.

His early stuff was so good, and he's just getting better and better. It's absolutely stunning.

I got this from the library but
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing

"...All of Time began when you first answered
to the names you mother and father gave you.

Soon, those names will travel with the leaves.
Then, you an trade places with the wind.

Then you'll remember your life
as a book of candles,
each page read by the light of its own burning."

Some books can withstand the closer scrutiny of a second reading. Some books demand this. BEHIND MY EYES is a new book no matter how many times it is read. It is always relevant, always raw, always tender.
Kirsten Kinnell
Jan 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, poetry-modern
I loved this-- just not quite as much as Book of My Nights. It traces a wider arc stylistically, sometimes more ephemeral sometimes more lucidly narrative. I like both extremes, but the swinging between them caused the collection itself to seem less centered. Nevertheless, Lee's themes of his childhood immigration to the States and the tangible yet mysteriously just-out-of-sight, nearly tidal, influence of God and his parents-- these themes come more sharply into focus in this collection.
CX Dillhunt
Aug 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have read this book three time; incredible mix of prose poetry at its best (Virtues of the Boring Husband), memoir (Secret Life, The Shortcut Home), and mysitical/magical (The Lives of a Voice, My Favorite Kingdom, Station) to name name six of my favorite rereads in a book that really defies categorization. Doves, water, sister, mother, father, apples, light, dark crawl as words bigger than life through the poems tying them together, knotting into your mind.
Gary McDowell
Jul 03, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: ho-hum
It's good, but it's nowhere near "acceptable." Seven years I've waited... for this? No. Some brilliant poems here, but overall I was unimpressed. Give me Rose or The City in Which I Love You anyday... Behind My Eyes only on low-confidence days.
Cathryn Cofell
Aug 02, 2011 rated it liked it
While for me, not as powerful as his earlier books, getting to hear him read those poems trumps every other book I own (ie; all of them). Now, if I can just figure out how to teleport his body to the passenger seat of my car for the full 3-d experience!
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I relate so much to Lee's intricate feelings as an immigrant. The experience of trauma, the problem of language, etc are all at core of the immigrant identity. Lee also manages to transform his everyday experience into astonishingly moving and romantic symbols. A pretty good job.
Dec 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful. Also, if you enjoy Li-Young Lee's work, it is very worthwhile to look him up on YouTube to see videos of his poetry readings.
Monica Snyder
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Word art.
Aug 01, 2017 rated it liked it
I was completely floored by Lee's second book, The City in Which I Love You, so I may have been unfairly comparing this collection to that one, with its sweeping ambition and its innovative conversation with other texts (i.e. The Song of Solomon). For me, this collection simply had less "wow" power; there were less times when I lowered the book to my lap and whistled, or laughed with incredulity. It may be that I read this in too close proximity to Ocean Vuong's Night Sky with Exit Wounds (a vas ...more
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Where is he writing from? Where does he go when he writes these poems? I have no idea. Some of these lines made me perplexed, as if they are spoken from a place where the concept of "sky" and "shadow" and "death" are completely different. I looked at the lines "Death creates a blind spot. / Man is a secret, blind to himself," "Sister, we died in childhood, remember? / Into birds we died, into their flying," "A clock the bees unearth, / gathering the overspilled minutes." over and over.. Some of ...more
May 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 21st-century, poetry
I don't often read poetry. I'm drawn more to the actions of varied characters in prose or thought-provoking analysis in non-fiction. But every time I pick up a book of poems, I hope that they're as good as this one. It feels good to be so intimate with someone. Stories and commentary are for many. But poetry brings you mouth to ear with one person - whispers attempting to explain existence.

There is darkness, sadness here - a speaker who has seen horrendous things. But there is also hope, which I
rachel selene
Apr 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
All of Time began when you first answered
to the names your mother and father gave you.

Soon, those names will travel with the leaves.
Then, you can trade places with the wind.

Then you’ll remember your life
as a book of candles,
each page read by the light of its own burning.

this was my second collection by li-young li, following the exquisite experience i had with his Rose last year. i was less impressed with this set of poems — i felt my eyes glazing over more often than i felt the breathless,
Sherry Elmer
Mar 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
In his poem, “Virtues of the Boring Husband,” Li-Young Lee writes:
“Maybe love for God amounts
to the Beloved returning
the Lover’s gaze.
And out of that look and looking back,
All of our notions
Of space, home, distance,
Beginning, end, recurrence,
Death, debt, fruition, number, weight
Emerge; all are issue
Of that meeting between
Lover and lover, our souls’ intercourse
With what it loves.”
If this is love for God, or at least a form of it, then Li-Young, with his keenly observant eye, repeatedly shows
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: indigenous
was hoping to like this more however I did not feel like I could really get into the poems and I found myself drifting away. I tried to listen to the author reading the poems but it was no better - it just felt like random words put together.
Aug 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: literature, poetry
Sometimes sentimental, but also sometimes heartbreaking.
Jul 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
May 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
I have never before read a book of Li-Young Lee's poetry but was pleased to have the chance to when I found this at one of my bargain outlets. I've been disappointed and have been reluctant to write a review. Most of the poetry is preoccupied with Christian religious ideas (which I have no connection with) and nurses obscurity. I was relieved when I looked at others' impressions here on goodreads and found out that I was not the only one who has had a problem with this book to the point of feeli ...more
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Li-Young Lee is an American poet. He was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents. His great-grandfather was Yuan Shikai, China's first Republican President, who attempted to make himself emperor. Lee's father, who was a personal physician to Mao Zedong while in China, relocated his family to Indonesia, where he helped found Gamaliel University. His father was exiled and spent a year in an I ...more

If your name suggests a country where bells
might have been used for entertainment,

or to announce the entrances and exits of the seasons
and the birthdays of gods and demons,

it's probably best to dress in plain clothes
when you arrive in the United States.
And try not to talk too loud.

If you happen to have watched armed men
beat and drag your father
out the front door of your house
and into the back of an idling truck,

before your mother jerked you from the threshold
and buried your face in her skirt folds,
try not to judge your mother too harshly.

Don't ask her what she thought she was doing,
turning a child's eyes
away from history
and toward that place all human aching starts.

And if you meet someone
in your adopted country
and think you see in the other's face
an open sky, some promise of a new beginning,
it probably means you're standing too far.

Or if you think you read in the other, as in a book
whose first and last pages are missing,
the story of your own birthplace,
a country twice erased,
once by fire, once by forgetfulness,
it probably means you're standing too close.

In any case, try not to let another carry
the burden of your own nostalgia or hope.

And if you're one of those
whose left side of the face doesn't match
the right, it might be a clue

looking the other way was a habit
your predecessors found useful for survival.
Don't lament not being beautiful.

Get used to seeing while not seeing.
Get busy remembering while forgetting.
Dying to live while not wanting to go on.

Very likely, your ancestors decorated
their bells of every shape and size
with elaborate calendars
and diagrams of distant star systems,
but with no maps for scattered descendants.

And I bet you can't say what language
your father spoke when he shouted to your mother
from the back of the truck, "Let the boy see!"

Maybe it wasn't the language you used at home.
Maybe it was a forbidden language.
Or maybe there was too much screaming
and weeping and the noise of guns in the streets.

It doesn't matter. What matters is this:
The kingdom of heaven is good.
But heaven on earth is better.

Thinking is good.
But living is better.

Alone in your favorite chair
with a book you enjoy
is fine. But spooning
is even better.”
“Have You Prayed”

When the wind
turns and asks, in my father’s voice,
Have you prayed?

I know three things. One:
I’m never finished answering to the dead.

Two: A man is four winds and three fires.
And the four winds are his father’s voice,
his mother’s voice . . .

Or maybe he’s seven winds and ten fires.
And the fires are seeing, hearing, touching,
dreaming, thinking . . .
Or is he the breath of God?

When the wind turns traveler
and asks, in my father’s voice, Have you prayed?
I remember three things.
One: A father’s love

is milk and sugar,
two-thirds worry, two-thirds grief, and what’s left over

is trimmed and leavened to make the bread
the dead and the living share.

And patience? That’s to endure
the terrible leavening and kneading.

And wisdom? That’s my father’s face in sleep.

When the wind
asks, Have you prayed?
I know it’s only me

reminding myself
a flower is one station between
earth’s wish and earth’s rapture, and blood

was fire, salt, and breath long before
it quickened any wand or branch, any limb
that woke speaking. It’s just me

in the gowns of the wind,
or my father through me, asking,
Have you found your refuge yet?
asking, Are you happy?

Strange. A troubled father. A happy son.
The wind with a voice. And me talking to no one.”
More quotes…