Friday, October 21, 2011

On Being Saved by a Poem

Poetry and I are old friends. When I had to move home for a year in college, poetry was the one thing that kept me sane (except for Robert Lowell). If you're not big on poetry, watch how poetry kept Kim Rosen sane. Trust me, me and Kim aren't the only ones poetry has kept sane. Over the years, bits of poetry have leapt off the page and rescued me from any number of close calls. Some have even thrown themselves into songs or chants so I couldn't help but sing them. Mostly though, poems don't require music, and it would be ruinous to try to arrange a marriage. Some poems need to be memorized, so you can carry them with you always. I once thought it might be nice to memorize T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets so I'd have something besides music to keep me company on that proverbial desert island. If I start now, maybe I can manage One Quartet before I move to the other side of the grass. My friends Cally and Ellen memorize Shakespearean sonnets, so I know there's still hope. I have memorized lots of shorter poems, serious and silly, the silliest being Thomas Merton's Never call a baysitter in a thunderstorm, which, for good or ill, has lodged itself in the bank of my memory (which pays precious little interest, FYI). I love me some poems like a serial monogamist, and last month, I was in love with Mary Oliver again (some people are worth falling in love with over and again - early Adrienne Rich and Audre Lord come to mind). Wendell Berry's The Wild Geese is almost finished being burned into my psyche (What we need is here...). Through the years I've been in love with so many poems, and one poet. Like that poet, the good poems are hard to keep out of my head, and will be forever lodged in my heart.

Kim Rosen's book Saved By a Poem: The Transformative Power of Words is a fine reminder of the importance of memorizing poetry and speaking it out loud. I read it in early summer and have been memorizing and re-memorizing poems since then. Poetry is powerful medicine, and as good as a song when it's time to try a little tenderness. The great poems in Saved by a Poem (and the CD included in the book) will inspire you to great feats of memorization, and possibly even compassion. Buy it now so you can get started. You won't be sorry.

Since forever, stray lines from some poem or other will pop into my head, almost like a mantra, and the last few weeks it's been "It is the three strange angels. Admit them, admit them." I've been keeping an eye on the Occupy Wall Street movement, along with the rest of you, watching new connections being made across the country. It's been a beautiful sight to behold the sweetness of the people, the peacefulness, and the emerging clarity. It's felt like a fresh breeze blowing through our civic discourse, which is good, because Congress has been doing next to nothing since January. I absently wondered if the three strange angels had anything to do with anything, and it's taken me until now to find it. Turns out I'd last read it in Saved by a Poem.

Song of a Man Who Has Come Through - by D.H. Lawrence

Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me!
A fine wind is blowing the new direction of Time.
If only I let it bear me, carry me, if only it carry me!
If only I am sensitive, subtle, oh, delicate, a winged gift!
If only, most lovely of all, I yield myself and am borrowed
By the fine, fine wind that takes its course through the chaos
of the world
Like a fine, an exquisite chisel, a wedge-blade inserted;
If only I am keen and hard like the sheer tip of a wedge
Driven by invisible blows,
The rock will split, we shall come at the wonder, we shall find
the Hesperides.

Oh, for the wonder that bubbles into my soul,
I would be a good fountain, a good well-head,
Would blur no whisper, spoil no expression.

What is the knocking?
What is the knocking at the door in the night?
It is somebody wants to do us harm.

No, no, it is the three strange angels.
Admit them, admit them.

1 comment: