September 14, 2011

The Place of Poetry

Posted by with 3 Comments

A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore; it’s to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery. – John Keats

I recently shared the quote above on my Anam Cara Facebook Page. Being a poet at heart, it makes immediate sense to me, resonating deep within. But poetry, like mystery, is something that can be difficult, even frustrating, to enter into the first, second, even third time. If you are a "thinker" in Myers-Briggs terms, or a body-centered person in Enneagram terms (Types 8, 9 or 1), poetry can seem inaccessible, or even frivolous. 

I believe that poetry, and the space that it creates, is an essential part of the spiritual life. That doesn't mean it has to be your heartbeat, or even something that you consume regularly, but reading or writing a poem every once in a while can open you to the Mystery of God and His heartbeat in a way that simple words can't capture. It's a dive into the lake, as Keats says above.

While I've yet to see the movie "Bright Star", John Keats has always been a favorite poet of mine. Here's one of his—one of the handful of poems that I've made the effort to memorize.

This Living Hand

This living hand, now warm and capable

Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold

And in the icy silence of the tomb,

So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights

That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood

So in my veins red life might stream again,

And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—

I hold it towards you.                                                   John Keats


Admittedly, that one is a bit dark, but it speaks to me of the way that poets—and God—communicate through the ages. It's no coincidence, I believe, that a large percentage of the Bible is written in poetic form.

Poetry can be dark, mysterious and thought-provoking, but it can also be playful—just as God is playful. One the other poems tucked in my memory is this tender and silly parable of forgiveness by Winnie The Pooh author A. A. Milne:


I found a little beetle; so that Beetle was his name,
And I called him Alexander and he answered just the same.
I put him in a match-box, and I kept him all the day …
And Nanny let my beetle out –
Yes, Nanny let my beetle out –
She went and let my beetle out –
And Beetle ran away.

She said she didn't mean it, and I never said she did,
She said she wanted matches and she just took off the lid,
She said that she was sorry, but it's difficult to catch
An excited sort of beetle you've mistaken for a match.

She said that she was sorry, and I really mustn't mind,
As there's lots and lots of beetles which she's certain we could find,
If we looked about the garden for the holes where beetles hid –
And we'd get another match-box and write BEETLE on the lid.

We went to all the places which a beetle might be near,
And we made the sort of noises which a beetle likes to hear,
And I saw a kind of something, and I gave a sort of shout:
"A beetle-house and Alexander Beetle coming out!"

It was Alexander Beetle I'm as certain as can be,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought it must be Me,
And he had a sort of look as if he thought he ought to say:
"I'm very very sorry that I tried to run away."

And Nanny's very sorry too for you-know-what-she-did,
And she's writing ALEXANDER very blackly on the lid,
So Nan and Me are friends, because it's difficult to catch
An excited Alexander you've mistaken for a match.

So, I encourage you—add some poetry to your life. See what it sparks, what God might be inviting you to. Find a poem that speaks to you, and dialogue with God and others about it.

I'd like to hear from you, too, on the subject of poetry.

Do you have a favorite poem?

How has poetry formed your soul?

  1. Bryan
    September 14, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I like “Asparagus Rose”

  2. Shannon
    September 14, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    It’s been a little while since we talked. My writing project, which I thought was a huge paper, turned into writing poetry about touch and body. I cannot say how good it has been for my soul.
    Today, I’m musing on “The Wild Rose” by Wendell Berry. I also really love “Gethsemane” by Mary Oliver and “Sometimes It’s Easy to Know What I Want” by Julia Spicher Kasdorf.

  3. September 19, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Tomorrow my blog carries “Looking Glass River” by R.L. Stevenson
    I habe an old library-sale copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses that sits on my coffee table. Love Winnie the Pooh poetry! Thanks for that.