I recently read “Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World by Jane Hirshfield. It is a dense study of how written expression moves the human soul during times of strife and turmoil and the virtually muscular articulation of happiness. W.H. Auden wrote that “Poetry makes nothing happen”. However, poetry has the power to soothe or enlighten people. Jane says, “In the simplest act of recognizing the imaginative, metaphoric, or narrative expression of another, you find yourself less lonely, more accompanied in this life.”
I often turn to poetry when I’m troubled; when the outside world is not making sense to my interior world. I write, painting emotions in visual terms. Recently in a journal I wrote, “a sepia smear slides through the doctor’s words as the verdict is rendered”. It gives a deeper meaning for me than simply recording a sad but expected diagnosis.
It can be said as well that joy expressed in poetic terms layers an event with a calculus beyond the dictionary rendition of words. My feelings when I witnessed the birth of my grandson could not be contained in words like joy or elation. “His first breath coursed through me, the first breath of new life, evergreen hope, a rainbow of possibilities exploded my lungs. Tears sprang unheeded in rivulets of gratitude”, I wrote.
One example Jane uses in the book is a poem by Czeslaw Milosz, a Nobel Prize winning Polish-American poet of the twentieth century. He expresses the transitory nature of life in this short poem. A simple memory stirs a wider wonder. Who are we and where are we going?
We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.
And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.
That was long ago. Today neither of them is alive.
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.
O my love, where are they, where are they going,
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebble.
I ask, not out of sorrow, but in wonder.
Being able to use words to convey the deepest sense of who I am is my joy.