Poetry: A vaccine for the soul

Last spring, before we knew exactly what was happening, the crushing unknown kept us awake at night. With our schedules cleared and our plans cancelled, we had no where to hide from ourselves.

We tried running,
we tried numbing,
we tried crying
we tried laughing
and sometimes these things worked.

Still I found that my longings were louder than my distractions. My only real relief has been to give the longing a voice through writing.

Sometimes it feels like Dumbledore pulling out strands of thoughts and memories to keep in his Pensieve. Other times it is like an old seed. Kept in the dark earth for too long and finally pushing through the dirt with life and freedom, adding oxygen to the air around me.

This is how it feels to write creatively, and also to hear or read writing which gives language to my own experience. I have long found the right poem at the right time to be like a flicker of understanding in the obscure and narrow hallways of my mind. This last year has been one of deep disconnect, and poetry has been a connecting point for many. I know I am not alone in this.

The New York Times recently published an article which acknowledged the power of poetry, especially in times like these. They highlight a book coming out soon by Dr. Rosenthal, a psychiatrist in Rockville, Md., called Poetry RX.

While we herald vaccines as potential saviors from the threat of a devastating virus, Dr. Rosenthal said, “Poetry can serve as a vaccine for the soul.” In a world that is so marred by loss and deprived of pleasure, he believes poetry can help fill in the gaps, offering a brief retreat from a troubled world and hope for a better future.

While we will never be immune to sorrow, I agree that poetry can strengthen us against some of our souls most brutal enemies: loneliness, bitterness, anger, fear, etc. Poetry is less like a shot and more like a friend. Here is one of my favorites for us to add to our memory for a lonely day.

Saint Francis and the Sow
By Galway Kinnell

The bud
stands for all things,
even for those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower
and retell it in words and in touch
it is lovely
until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing;
as Saint Francis
put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length,
from the earthen snout all the way
through the fodder and slops to the spiritual curl of the tail,
from the hard spininess spiked out from the spine
down through the great broken heart
to the sheer blue milken dreaminess spurting and shuddering
from the fourteen teats into the fourteen mouths sucking and blowing beneath them:
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.