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A Poem For Your Pocket

It’s Poem in Your Pocket Day! Celebrate by choosing and sharing a poem you love with others. My choice: the first poem I was ever required to memorize and which I’ve never forgotten, a selection from Sonnets From the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

“Sonnet 43: How Do I Love Thee?”

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love the to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose 
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, and tears of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
— Elizabeth Barret Browning
 

Poetry can be a reminder of the beauty and range of emotion words can convey. It can remind us of a special person, place, or time in our lives. It can open our eyes to a new way of seeing or being in the world. It can set a musical rhythm to the simplest human experience and elevate it to greatness. Once learned by heart, a poem can rarely be unlearned and will be forever “in your pocket,” a valuable treasure that cannot be stolen.

The Academy of American Poets has other suggestions for celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day, listed below.  And if you’re late getting the memo, don’t worry. Every day is a good day to share a poem.

* Hand out poems in your school or workplace.
* Teachers: reward students “caught” with a poem in their pocket.
* Local business owners: offer discounts to those carrying poems.
* Start a street team to pass out poems in your community.
* Add a poem to your email footer.
* Mail a poem to a friend.
* Post a poem on your blog or social networking page. Use #pocketpoem on Twitter.

Which poem will you choose?

Beauty Break: Music For Your Ears, Part II

I don’t think there’s any such thing as too much Shakespeare. The Bard never gets old and when his poetry is read aloud by the likes of Alan Rickman, well, it’s simply time to drop everything and be seduced.

Sonnet 130 has always been a favorite of mine because it is so unexpected in its use of metaphor. Renaissance poets used the sonnet form to wax poetic about the beauties of the lady of the moment, comparing her to roses and sun beams and wildflowers and jewels. Metaphors and similes, lovely though they were, described human beauty in classic motifs that were decidedly familiar and revered. Shakespeare himself is no slouch in this department — we need only recall his 18th Sonnet or the glorious metaphors in the Petrarchan-style love poetry of Romeo and Juliet.

But Sonnet 130 turns all of those classic comparisons of beauty upside down and celebrates the true Beauty of the ordinary, true Beauty which is often overlooked or ignored simply because it doesn’t measure up to the grandeur of what is deemed beautiful by the culture or by history. Sonnet 130 rejoices in quiet Beauty that is hidden and not ostentatious and it celebrates a love that is more than skin-deep. This makes it the perfect poetic selection for one tiny violet, which focuses on discovering extraordinary beauty in an ordinary life. Sit back, close your eyes, and enjoy.

This is the second post in a series of three, celebrating National Poetry Month. You can find the first here.

Beauty Break: Music For Your Ears, Part I

National Poetry Month Poster 2013April is National Poetry Month and to celebrate the beauty of the written word spoken well, I’m sharing an audio series of three of my favorite poetry readings. Each is a YouTube video of one of my favorite actors reciting a poetic selection and, perhaps with the exception of today’s post, watching the video is completely unnecessary to enjoying to depth of music, emotion, and linguistic precision in these pieces. In fact, it is best to close your eyes and simply LISTEN and resist the temptation to be distracted by the visual images on the screen. With perhaps the exception of Hamlet, the images lend nothing to the experience of the poem itself, for the experience is dependent upon well-chosen language spoken beautifully. I chose these pieces not only because of the beauty of the written works themselves, but because they seem to me to come particularly alive delivered through these select “voices.”

Today, the “To be or not to be” soliloquy from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, performed by Kenneth Branagh in his gorgeous film production of the play.

For more information about National Poetry Month or for ideas on how to plant the seed that will grow a poetry garden in your own daily life, visit The Poetry Foundation and the Academy of American Poets.

Easter Sunday: The Encounter With Beauty

The Morning of the Resurrection, 1886 -- Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

The Morning of the Resurrection, 1886 — Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones

“. . . Mary stood weeping outside the tomb and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ Saying this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ ‘Rabboni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord!’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” John 20: 11-18

“The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes [. . .] draws man out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum — it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart; but, in so doing, it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings.” — Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI

“Faith in the resurrection of Jesus says that there is a future for every human being . . . God exists: that is the real message of Easter. Anyone who even begins to grasp what this means also knows what it means to be redeemed.” — Benedict XVI

The Gift of Christmas

“The God of love who gave us life sent His only Son to be with us at all times and in all places, so that we never have to feel lost in our struggles but always can trust that he walks with us.

The challenge is to let God be who he wants to be. A part of us clings to our aloneness and does not allow God to touch us where we are most in pain. Often we hide from him precisely those places in ourselves where we feel guilty, ashamed, confused, and lost. Thus we do not give him a chance to be with us where we feel most alone.

Christmas is the renewed invitation not to be afraid and to let him — whose love is greater than our own hearts and minds can comprehend — be our companion.”      Henri Nouwen  

Nativity, Edward Coley Burne-Jones,1888

Nativity, Edward Coley Burne-Jones,1888

“Christ is born to us today, in order that he may appear to the whole world through us.” — Thomas Merton 

Recovering A Sense Of Awe

Snowflake

They say that every snowflake is different. If that were true, how could the world go on? How could we ever get up off our knees? How could we ever recover from the wonder of it? — Jeanette Winterson, The Passion

The Sacrament of the Present Moment

The Holy Grail, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

One of the very best books I read this summer — perhaps all year — was Christian McEwan’s lovely World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down. I posted an excerpt here that really spoke to me. Christian points true north in her recommendation that we reclaim quiet and slowness, and relearn to savor awareness in lives too often gone awry by speed, haste, and multi-tasking, our creativity and imagination suffocated by the noise that attends these harried, unfocused but increasingly “normal” behaviors. I have an intrinsic horror of chaos and I do not believe it is possible for me to live a truly creative life, in either a spiritual or an artistic sense,  in an environment that seeks to encourage chaos instead of order, harmony, and balance.

The truth is, I don’t have to participate in the chaos. I do have a choice, though I may be made to feel as though I don’t, or that in exercising my choice to slow down and swim on my own side of the stream I am somehow “not with it” and need to “get up to speed.” I’ve been struggling with the sense that my life, my mind, my health, and my world have all been unravelling with greater speed and urgency over the last couple of years, so Christian’s book was just what the doctor ordered. I took quite seriously her encouragement to “Choose to refuse,” and have been practicing the simple art of saying “No,” along with the attendant art of not apologizing or feeling guilty for saying it and using the resulting new-found time to be more available to the opportunities God is offering to me in the sacrament of the present moment.

Being more present to what is happening in the moment is necessarily going to look different for each person. It all depends on how plugged in or overextended you are. A good friend of mine is experimenting with unplugging from the Internet each weekend to allow for quiet spaces to process her writing. One thing I’m doing is trying to stay with the task at hand and resist heartily the urge to multi-task — meaning if I’m helping my son with his math lesson and the phone rings, I let it ring. This is extremely difficult to do because as a full-time mother and housewife, full-time home schooler, and part-time high school teacher I’ve got my hands full and there is rarely a moment when someone doesn’t want or need something from me. How do I meet everyone’s needs and still have something left over? Prayer is essential, but so is slowing down and making a place for quiet and a more moderate pace through the day.

One of the things people praise our current Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, for is his ability to make the person with whom he is speaking feel like the only person in the world. This is a tall order. But should it be? Why is it so hard for us to pay attention to who or what is right in front of us, without being distracted by something or someone else? Obviously, prudence and discretion is required: if I’m driving and my son wants me to look at or listen to something that requires too much of my attention, well, he simply has to wait. Keeping us alive and safe in that moment is the most important thing. But in this time of instant gratification and self-centered social interactions, this kind of patience is difficult to acquire and practice, for others and for ourselves. Yet it seems to me essential. Rather than whipping myself and others into higher speed, I must learn to be OK with allowing myself and others to move slow, appreciating the time it takes to be on task and do a job well and thoroughly before moving on to something else, and allowing the person I’m interacting with the gift of my full and undivided attention. Because God is present to me in the moment, not in the next thing on my to-do list, not in what I could be doing instead. But right there, in what I am doing NOW, in who I am with NOW.

Michelle Aldredge at gwarlingo has taken up the clarion call issued in McEwan’s World Enough and Time and has an article today about Christian and her book as part of her new series on creativity, which I highly recommend following — it’s worth every minute you’ll spend reading. You can also hear an interview with Christian on Writer’s Voice with Francesca Rheannon. Christian’s book is worth seeking out and reading slowly. Treat it like a personal retreat, a gift to yourself, a promise to take back some of what you might be allowing to be taken from you. Reading it may be a step towards reclaiming a more creatively aware, spiritually intuitive self. Not everyone is going to be happy with your choosing to refuse and not everyone will understand the grace that will be revealed to you in each moment that you choose to pay attention and focus on what is happening NOW. But you’ll be better for it and the inner change it will work in you will be evidence that you’re on the right path to living a saner, more peaceful, more present life.

What have you got to lose?