At 18 years, I discovered the power of poetry.
My summer job in a Nursing Home got interesting when my grandfather loaned me an old school reader.
As I read poems, the room filled with the echo of old voices picking up the rhythm of long ago memorized lines.
Some poems told a story.
“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.” – The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Some poems could sound like the subject. Like this one about a brook:
“I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.” The Brook Poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson
And Tennyson could make a poem poignant too.
“Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,” Crossing the Bar
Poem after poem filled the room that summer. They taught me as many as I read them.
My heart could barely hold the words.
That flare of poetry-love was re-kindled a few years ago. I stumbled across Billy Collin’s Introduction to Poetry and realized he was describing a way of reading poetry that was like Lectio Divina. This ancient monastic practice had renewed scripture for me when I began to practice it.
So began “sacred reading” of poetry.
- Read Out Loud. Like scripture read well on Sunday mornings, words and images come alive in voice.
- Let go finding meaning; let it find you. Like scripture, you don’t need to know what the whole thing is about. It’s enough to find one line, one phrase, one word that stirs your heart or shimmers in your brain. Carry it around and it will feed you. Poems have layers. They take me deeper.
- Slow down. Poems are concentrated and their economy of words deserve slow reading. (This, too, is spiritual practice. See Slow Reading in a Hurried Age.)
- Ask, what in this poem is just for me? In the turn of a phrase, the crack of a metaphor, or the simplicity of image, there is often something that opens the heart to a new seeing or re-minds us of wisdom waiting to be newly embodied.
- Practice Silence. I love the blessing Nicholas Samaras offers in his poem Benediction, “For those who know that half of poetry is silence.”
Poetry leaps borders to the one Heart of all.
Is this a day to slow read a poem?