Before I came back to my writing my own poetry (after an 18 year break!) I came into recovery from alcoholism. I was encouraged to seek help from a ‘higher power’ – whether this be God, a support group, the healing energy of the Universe, didn’t matter. It had just ought to be something bigger than my own ego, to which I could ‘hand over’ my troubles and begin to be healed.
I am neither militant atheist nor devout believer in any one particular religion. All I really wanted to say was how I have always sought strength and solace in poetry during times of difficulty or sadness; during times when I’ve had obstacles to overcome. As I began to heal, lines of poetry kept coming back to haunt me. And, strange as it may sound, I could feel God in those lines. So I’d like to share them here today. Perhaps they can offer you comfort in times of need, or perhaps they will inspire you to compile a ‘Poetry Prayerbook’ of your own. Maybe you will just enjoy them as they are. It doesn’t matter, I just wanted to share with you the healing energy I’ve found within these words.
Lines which heal and rhymes which soothe
I’ll begin with the opening lines of Seamus Heaney’s ‘The Blackbird of Glanmore:’
On the grass when I arrive,
Filling the stillness with life,
But ready to scare off
At the very first wrong move.
In the ivy when I leave.
It’s you, blackbird, I love.
The whole poem is a meditation on the comings into and goings out of this world, contrasting the idea of ‘the house of death’ with ‘the house of life.’ Heaney remembers his lost brother, so poignantly recollected in his earlier poem Mid-Term Break. Heaney envisions God as a father, and the house of death is his father’s house: not a fearful place, but a place of rest.
Personally, I found a metaphor for my relationship with God in the image of the blackbird ‘Filling the stillness with life,/But ready to scare off/At the very first wrong move.’ When I still my mind during meditation, I can feel the love of God – universal love, universal light. But that feeling flees the moment I let stress and worldly concerns muscle in. To me God is not a belief, but a feeling. And the blackbird is not God, but the feeling of connection with God: a channel perhaps, between the material world and the spiritual, which are of course different sides of the same coin, for everything in the Universe is connected and interwoven in ways I don’t think we can ever fully understand.
The comet’s pulsing rose
The next lines come again from Heaney, this time from the poem ‘Exposure,’ which is published in the collection Poems, 1965-1975. In this poem, Heaney describes himself as:
An inner emigre…
Who, blowing up these sparks
For their meagre heat, have missed
The once-in-a-lifetime portent,
The comet’s pulsing rose.
These lines remind me not to get too distracted by the little things in life which niggle at my conscience but in the end don’t really matter. For example: I don’t want to miss out on my children’s childhood because I’m too busy checking my Twitter feed or tidying away toys. In the long term, all I will remember is those precious moments we spent together as they were growing up.
The experience of meditation
I have already mentioned this poem in a previous post, but what better description of the meditative experience can there be than these lines from Wordsworth, written more than two centuries ago?
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul:
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
No words I can offer here can do justice to the depth of beauty in these lines. It is only in this calm, relaxed and meditative (perhaps even hypnotic) state that we truly ‘see into the life of things.’ If you’ve never tried self-hypnosis, I recommend it for anyone who suffers from stress, anxiety and depression. It got me through childbirth (twice), so I can vouch for its efficacy!
The presence of God
Staying with the same poem, Wordsworth goes on to describe his own spiritual awakening:
…And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
When I hear these words, I also feel this presence. It can’t be described in any concrete way in words, because it’s not a concrete thing; but Wordsworth rather builds up the picture of a divine presence through his description of its dwelling-place. The power of the divine is expressed in the conclusion to these lines: ‘And rolls through all things.’ A profoundly beautiful, unknowable, untouchable presence. Aloof and distant, and yet also within us.
‘He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.’
This is a quote from William Blake, who saw everything in the material world as part of the infinite world of the spirit, or ‘Poetic Genius,’ as he termed it. Another favourite quote of mine from Blake is this:
How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense World of Delight, clos’d by your senses five?
Blake was convinced that our senses actually confined us to being able to see only the material; that we simply didn’t have the capacity to perceive other, infinite dimensions, but only imagine them. Blakes whole philosophy of religion is neatly summed up in the lines below:
He who sees the Infinite in all things sees God. He who sees the Ratio only sees himself only….Blake, There Is No Natural Religion, 1788.
Therefore God becomes as we are, that we may be as he is.
This turned out to be quite a long post, my conclusion being that I often find clues as to God’s presence in the lines of poetry itself. I even wrote a poem about this; it’s a strange kind of a poem but it’s an idea which really resonates with me. God is in the music, God is in our Art, and God is love. As a very famous poet once said:
…love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Shakespeare, Sonnet 116 (1609)
As soon as we turn our minds away from the love the and light, it will seem to evaporate, when in fact it is always near:
‘an ever fixed mark’
Like the blue sky above storm clouds which you see from an aeroplane at 40,000ft. We are all loved, and our lives are filled with light, although sometimes we lack the perception to realise it. Poetry has healed me, and in starting to heal I have started to write more and more. Another gift of recovery, which I think about every time I am tempted to drink: if I lose my recovery, I will lose my poetry. It’s not a sacrifice that I’m prepared to make.