The Pleasure and Power of Poetry

girls poetryThe fate of poetry is to teach us to fall in love with the world inspite of history. – Derek Walcott

New England poet and essayist Donald Hall calls poetry, The Unsayable Said, referring the ineffable quality of poetry; the way it gives voice to experiences that are beyond words. I always think of poetry as something written by the soul for the soul. This is why I find it best to read a poem for the felt sense it offers, allowing the experience of the words to wash over you without necessarily having to understand them with your conscious mind.

Poet Robert Pinsky in his two year term as U.S. Poet Laureate established the Favorite Poem Project. In traveling around the country promoting poetry in town hall style meetings where people came together to share their favorite poems written by someone else he found that everyone, from the members of the corporate board room to the janitorial staff, all had a poem that had really influenced their life.

Poet David Whyte, author of The Heart Aroused: the Preservation of the Soul in Corporation, who uses poetry to talk about the life of the soul in the workplace, has consulted for major corporation including Boeing, Xerox and IBM. The person who invited David to bring his work into the corporation had explained that there was no language in the corporate world for the kind of real changes that need to take place but that he heard that language in David’s use of poetry.

I think in this time of tremendous change in the world today, poetry holds for us a timeless wisdom and language that provides an awareness of what is really important about the essence of the human experience and our connection to something bigger than ourselves. By way of example I’ve included below four of my favorite poems by poets spanning nine centuries and spawned by different parts of the world; beginning with Rumi, the 13th century Persian Sufi mystic, then German poet and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who lived 1749 to 1832,  then Nobel Prize winning Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jimenez, 1881 – 1958 and finally Nobel Prize winning Poet Derek Walcott from Saint Lucia in the Caribbean born in 1930. I encourage you to savour each one, let the words enter your heart and feel poetry’s power to transform and inspire.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Rumi

The Holy Longing

Tell a wise person, or else keep silent,
Because the massman will mock it right away
I praise what is truly alive,
What longs to be burned to death.

In the calm water of the love-nights,
Where you were begotten, where you have begotten,
A strange feeling comes over you
When you see the silent candle burning.

Now you are no longer caught
In the obsession with darkness,
And a desire for higher love-making
Sweeps you upward.

Distance does not make you falter,
Now, arriving in magic, flying,
And, finally, insane for the light,
You are the butterfly and you are gone.

And so long as you haven’t experienced
This: to die and so to grow,
You are only a troubled guest
On the dark earth.

– Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Oceans

I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there in the depths,
against a great thing.
And nothing
happens! Nothing…..silence…..Waves…..
Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?

– Juan Ramon Jimenez

Love After Love

The day will come
when with elation you will greet yourself
arriving at your own door
in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
saying, ‘Sit here. Eat. You will love again
the stranger who was yourself.’

Give wine, give bread
give back your heart to itself
to the stranger who has loved you
all your life
whom you ignored for another
who knows you by heart.

Take down the love letters from the bookshelf
the photographs
the desperate notes
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life

-Derek Walcott

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