Time is running out. The month of April is nearly over and I have meant to write something about the fact that it is National Poetry Month. There is something so wonderful about the fact that we designate a whole month….not a day or even a week….to the elevation of the frugality of words that become a poem. To honor those people whose work it is to pare and chip away at all the paragraphs of lofty thoughts, ideas, concepts, feelings, until just the right few words are arranged into a poem gives me hope. Hope that we can still see beauty though the world might drag our eyes in countless, horrific directions. Hope in the idea that often it is just the few, well chosen words that make a difference in what is often a cacophony of rhetoric that bombards us each and every day. Hope in the slowing down reading a poem requires. Hope in the art of words.
And so, one hope is that you have read a poem during these evolving days of spring. Think back and try to remember if a poem crossed your path during the last 28 days. If you were in some churches this past Sunday, you may have read Psalm 23, one of the most familiar poems around. Though is is really meant to be a song, it is the poetry of words that pulls people in and has done so for some 3000 years. Perhaps you even memorized it as a part of Sunday School or even an English class.
Poetry and poets are, for me, the prophets of our time. I have been in many a meeting or at an event when the speaker knew that only a poem would do to prove their point…..one they may have been trying to make with thousands of words, slides or videos. Stopping to read the words of a poet, the meaning of the speaker’s message becomes as clear as the affirming heads bobbing up and down.
Earlier in the month I was listening to the local public radio station. I didn’t hear the beginning of the program so I did not know the name of the person being interviewed or even the subject of the broadcast. What I heard was a man from Somalia, now living in this country, say that in his culture poetry was used as a form of persuasion. He spoke of how, often, in a gathering where there is dissension or conflicting opinions, someone will offer a poem to persuade those present, to bring the people to a greater understanding of their particular point of view. I loved this! It sent my mind reeling in a hundred different directions.
Over the last weeks I have been imagining the many subjects that seem to divide us, those for which we gather to argue our point. Instead of arguing, what if we instead spoke aloud a poem?
For those who are wrestling over the issue of climate change, those who want to drag people to their side of the table, might be hushed for a few moments by the words of Sufi poet Hafiz:
“Even after all these years
the Sun never says to the Earth ‘you owe me’.
Look at what happens with a love like that.
It lights up the whole sky.”
Or what of those who, this very day, are arguing over the rights of those who declare their love and commitment to one another, rights afforded to some but not to all? What might happen if someone stepped into the words bandied about and spoke these words from one of Shakespeare’s sonnets?:
“O, how shall summer’s honey breath hold out
Against the wrackful siege of batt’ring days,
When rocks impregnable are not so stout,
Nor gates of steel so strong, but time decays?
O fearful meditation! where, alack,
Shall time’s best jewel from time’s chest lie hid?
Or what strong hand can hold his swift foot back?
Or who his spoil of beauty can forbid?
O, none, unless this miracle have might,
That in black ink my love may still shine bright.“
It would certainly hush the crowd for awhile, I’m sure, if delivered well and with the passion one person can feel for another.
Perhaps I am naive to think persuasion and poetry can go hand-in-hand. Perhaps we have too long been ruled by the ‘more is better’ theory of word. And yet, I know every time I stand to read…..”The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”……at a memorial of a loved one now passed on to eternity, I do so with the full knowledge that not much else need be said. These words, this poem, has the power to persuade those gathered grieving that they do have all they need. That they will get through this. That a few, with emphasis on few, words can speak the wisdom of the ages. That they dwell in the house of God…..forever.