Monday, April 9, 2018

The power of great poetry

"And there was a new voice, 
which you slowly recognized as your own, 
that kept you company 
as you strode deeper and deeper into the world...." 

~Mary Oliver, "The Journey"

Cindy La Ferle

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April is National Poetry Month. And while I'm arriving late to the party this week, I've celebrated poetry all my life. I fell in love with it as a child, and still recall sitting on the couch with my mom while she read the silly, sing-song rhymes of Dr. Seuss. 

Poetry opened the door to creative writing for me when I was a teenager. I composed a lot of (bad) poems years before I started writing articles and essays. In college, like many literature students, I read Emily Dickinson and was required to study a long list of 18th-century romantic poets, including Wordsworth, Blake, and Coleridge. Today, I count Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Jane Hirshfield, David Whyte, and Jane Kenyon among my go-to contemporary poets. I don't write much poetry myself now, but was thrilled when I got a haiku published in The Christian Science Monitor a few years ago. 

Poetry speaks to my soul in ways that novels and articles cannot -- and I love how I can read a favorite poem at different times and find entirely new meaning in it. The powerful piece below, for instance, always resonates whenever I'm feeling overwhelmed by the needs of others, struggling with a medical diagnosis, or trying to make a creative decision. I often read it aloud to students in my writing workshops. 

The Journey
By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began, 
though the voices around you 
kept shouting
their bad advice‚
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do, 

though the wind pried
with its fingers
at the very foundations‚ 

though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen 

branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind, 

the stars began to burn 
through the sheets of clouds, 
and there was a new voice, 
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper 

into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do‚ 

determined to save
the only life you could save. 


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