The Power of Poetry
By Martha E. Fagan, RN, BSN
This week as I pondered what to write I kept thinking of how words can be swords, shields or salves. At this time, I think we could all use a salve. For me poetry is just that, a soul- soothing salve.
Mary Oliver beautifully describes the power of poetry in these words from her A Poetry Handbook, “Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry. Yes, indeed.”
Below I’ve included three poems on the subjects of love and kindness. Each of them reminds us of our connection to each other as humans and how we must stop to look, training our inner eye to see the good within us all. And, each poem also reminds us that darkness and loss make lightness and connection all the more poignantly beautiful. May you take the time to read them slowly, maybe even aloud. Poetry begs to be read again and again as so much is being said between the lines. So, get a cup of tea and give yourself the gift of listening to the unwritten word and seeing through the lens of the poet…
LOVE by Czeslaw Milosz
Love means to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills—
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend
Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.
WEST WIND #2 By Mary Oliver
You are young. So, you know everything. You leap into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me. Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me. Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile away and still out of sight, the churn of the water as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the sharp rocks—when you hear that unmistakable pounding—when you feel the mist on your mouth and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls plunging and streaming – then now row for your life toward it.
KINDNESS by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes any sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is you I have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
If you enjoy poetry but may not be familiar with specific poets, ask one of our knowledgeable librarians to recommend some our books of collected poems. With our curbside pick-up, Bacon To Go, you can have a selection available in no time.
Martha Fagan is the Vice Chair of the Bacon Free Library. She may be reached through her email at [email protected]