Poetry to save your life

In my previous post on the Pleasures of Reading I ruminated on why we read and why as humans we find art so essential. I reflected that perhaps it was because we are essentially social animals needing to communicate and something about seeing life reflected that helps us give meaning to our experiences.

This got me thinking why I read or why I turn to a particular piece of work when I am in a certain mood. Sometimes it is literally reading to save myself, reading to see my melancholy and despair understood and experienced, reading for words of inspiration, reading as a balm for hurt, to be cheered, to laugh and to know that as Kahlil Gibran said we see only the ’surface of things and not their secrets’.  

Poetry is made for this kind of drama of the heart which is why it is so delightful to share. I remember (sometimes still now but more in my uni days) swapping poems indulging in wild despair with friends (other poets of course, my own excesses were locked safely in drawer of course).  

 Poems are like magnified, concentrated bursts of of bang.  Prose on crack. Which is why there is a poem for every feeling, from the follies of ambition and fame (Emily Dickenson’s  ’admiring bog’ , existential despair (Larkin), heartbreak (Yevgeny  Yevtushenko),  rage (Erica Jong), idealism (Elizabeth Barrret Browning) and of course soul-food (Rumi).

At the risk of crowding this post I am going to share some of my personal favourites.  Two of these are translated from the Russian and Farsi so let us respectfully acknowledge they are magnified by a thousand in awesomeness in their original language.  This one is one is “The Guest House” from 13th century Sufi mystic Jalaladin Rumi.

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. 
 

If that doesn’t get you through your worst day with that annoying telemarketer,   those hideous in-laws or jarring colleague I don’t know what will.

The best ones are the one sent by friends on the commiserations of failed love. This one ’Unrequited Love’ by Yevgeny Yevtushenko is on well, the obvious, and also the courage needed to transcend yourself.

We yawn and play at shabby little passions,
discarding hearts as though they’re last year’s fashions,
afraid of tragedy, afraid to pay.
And you and I, no doubt, are being weaklings
whenever we so often force our feelings
to take the easier,  less binding way.

Then there is the mysterious one left in your inbox that makes you laugh out loud and of course want some of what she’s having please.  This one is ‘I don’t want you for your beauty alone’

I don’t love you
For your beauty alone,
but also for your large vocabulary
When you say emporium and brouhaha instead of
shops and a fistfight it really turns me on.
tell me all the synonyms for smitten
and I’ll tell you what I am.

We can’t figure out who the poet is but apparently she is English (and a pretty cool chick). If anyone knows please enlighten us here. And of course let us know what are your favourite reads to save your soul.

From ABC bookshow blog

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