Skip to main content
Updated date:

Paramahansa Yogananda’s "Luther Burbank"

Paramahansa Yogananda's poems help focus the mind on the Ineffable through colorful poetic metaphors, imagery, and other literary devices.

Paramahansa Yogananda with Luther Burbank, 1924

Paramahansa Yogananda with Luther Burbank, 1924

Introduction and Excerpt from "Luther Burbank"

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 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.")

Excerpt from "Luther Burbank"

Beatific Burbank!
The great reformer Luther, thou art,
Of living plants and flowers of every mood —
The tender ones, the stubborn-growing ones,
Or cactus rude.

Thy peaceful ways
The cruel cactus took:
Its armor of thorns forsook
And learned to sacrifice its meat
For all to eat.

(This poem appears in Paramahansa Yogananda's Songs of the Soul, published by Self-Realization Fellowship, Los Angeles, CA, 1983 and 2014 printings. A slightly different version of this commentary appears in my collection of commentaries titled, Commentaries on Paramahansa Yogananda’s Songs of the Soul.)

Commentary

The old adage, "Great minds think alike," finds fulfillment in these two great thinkers: the advanced Eastern yogi and the accomplished Western scientist. Those two great minds discover that they have much in common because of their love and pursuit of truth.

First Movement: Scientist as Reformer

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: A Celebration of Experimentation

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: The Unity of Science and Love

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: Creating with the Creator

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: Botanical Magic

The speaker concludes by extending a compliment to the town where Burbank lived and worked his botanical magic: "O Santa Rosa, thou art blessed / To have blown the perfume of this great flower / That all people of the earth enjoy its shower / Of scent so sweet."

The speaker 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."

Luther Burbank— A Saint Amidst the Roses - Autobiography of a Yogi - Chapter 38

© 2021 Linda Sue Grimes

Related Articles