“Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me.” ~ Sigmund Freud.
I still own a book of poetry that was sent to me by one of my aunts when I was about 8 or 9. The title called to me, ‘The Littlest one, his book’ since I was the youngest, and therefore the littlest in my own family. It was strangely appealing to a child, because it was written in the voice of a young boy. The strange part was that it was a boy from a different socio-economic background than me (they had maids and chauffeurs) and from an era probably thirty years before my own. But the poems were relatable, and there were illustrations that reminded me of those in the Christopher Robin books (of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet fame). My book of poetry is the only book from my childhood that I still possess.
When I was in high school, my mother had the responsibility of choosing the books that were awarded at Prizegiving. Nowadays students at that same high school may receive trophies, plaques, even cash awards to assist with expenses, but in my day we received books. Although my mother in person could be quite prickly, usually managing to offend at least one person a week (in a good week), when it came to gift-giving she was very thoughtful. She would remember something the person had said, some interest she was aware of, and would find a gift that touched the spot. It was the same way with her book choices. I remember receiving a beautiful book on the artist Renoir. But later it was a book by the poet Kahlil Gibran that touched my soul.
‘The Prophet’ was passed around my group of friends. He wrote in prose, not the traditional rhythmic rhymes, and yet his words resonated. The poem from The Prophet on Love were read at my wedding, at my daughter’s wedding and I am sure the weddings of many other people. Who can resist the words:
‘Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between
the shores of your souls.’
I probably should have paid more attention to the words, for the advice was sound. Another famous poet who has moved me over and over is the eloquent and cheeky Dylan Thomas. Who can forget the lines: ‘Do not go gently into that good night’? Or the rallying cry of Jamaica’s own Claude Mckay (born in Clarendon, the place where I grew up)? ‘If we must die…’ is said to have been read by Winston Churchill as England stared down the monster of Hitler.
The lyrical poetry of hymns is enough to make you cry. Perhaps it is because the words are set to powerful music, but some of them stand alone as powerful works. ‘Amazing grace’ does not need the music to bring tears to your eyes. Another includes the words ‘…let me to your bosom fly, while the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high…’ So many poets. So many poems.
The art of the poem is to distill life into its essential oils. Like those oils the hint of the scent is enough to trigger a host of memories, or stimulate a thousand discussions. The poet packs a punch, usually forced to choose the most potent imagery, phrases that slap you into consciousness or transport you into a foreign land. It is through the arts that we can learn empathy, for we get to inhabit the skin of another, to experience emotions and feel the pain of the life of someone with whom we have nothing in common.
But the poet can be too fanciful for current times. They may be dreamers and visionaries, and it seems we need pragmatists to keep the poets grounded. I am imagining a world where the leaders are comprised of these two types of people: the poets to inspire and focus our concentration and the pragmatists who will find real world solutions to steer us in the right direction.
This morning I read a piece about the development on the barrier islands of Florida. Those islands are places that inspire poetry, art, and relaxation. If you haven’t felt the powdery white sand of the gulf coast shores between your toes; if you haven’t stared at and captured at least twenty photos of a golden setting sun; if you haven’t been inspired to write a poem or two, then you can’t imagine why anyone would choose to live in such a place. But the writer of the piece quoted the Bible, which more recently was poetized (is there such a word) into the line: ‘The foolish man built his house upon the sand…and the walls came tumbling down’. We have all seen the tragic videos of the rains coming down and the floods coming up, but as the writer of the piece was saying, this was predictable and preventable. But when profits are valued over people, tragedy is the outcome.
This Friday morning, I am rooting for the poets and the pragmatists. We have to have faith that good sense will ultimately prevail. That the minds that invented computers and cars will also find a way for us to save our planet, our home, and thus human life. That the voices that can inspire hatred and division will be overcome by love and harmony. And I hope the poems of your childhood will inspire you to ‘…look up, and laugh, and love, and lift.’ Have a wonderful weekend, Family!