POETRY – A BALM FOR THE SOUL
We have now spent over three months in lockdown. For many people it has been simply the very worst of times. Countless families are mourning the loss of a loved one and many people are facing a bleak future with the loss of their jobs. By any reckoning, it has certainly been a chastening time. People tend to cope with such difficult times in different ways. Some find that praying gives them strength and resilience when life is stressful. Others find walking or meditation exercises helpful.
Still others (myself included), as well as praying, find solace and strength in poetry. Poetry is the language that many people reach for when everyday expressions fail them. Indeed, for some, poetry can be a form of prayer. And the two are closely related. The Psalms which form the basis of the daily Prayer of the Church, are poems and songs written for various occasions while many of the prayers we use in our liturgy read like poems. A poem need not just be something that we wheel out at special events such as a Wedding or Christening or even a Funeral. Read daily, poetry offers a kind of mental and spiritual balm that can help us cope better with whatever troubles us.
I like Ted Hughes’ philosophy that poetry “is a universal language in which we can all hope to meet”. In moments of loneliness or solitude – something with which many of us have become all too familiar recently – a poem can help us connect with other minds and remind us that we are not alone. Poetry, like good prose, has the ability to transport us to other worlds. Whether it is W B Yeats bringing us back to a childhood haunt in “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” or Shelley helping us explore undiscovered lands, or Wordsworth praising his daffodils, or the worlds of Shakespeare, Hardy, Hopkins and so many more – poetry has something to offer for every mood and occasion. Its infinite variety allows each individual to find just the right poem for the right kind of consolation. And there are so many to choose from.
.… that perches in the soul
A long-time favourite of mine with a theme that resonates for the moment is Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is the thing with feathers”. Here it is in full:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers-
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words-
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.